Writers: Laurell K. Hamilton adapted by Stacie M. Ritchie
Artist: Brett Booth
Publisher: Dabel Brothers Productions for Marvel Comics
Plot: In Anita Blake’s world, vampires, were-animals and zombies are real, and she should know, because she has two jobs. As a necromancer, she raises the dead for a fee. And as Executioner, she legally sanctions vampires who’ve broken human laws.
Comments: There are two challenges that come to mind when one thinks of a comic book adaptation of Anita Blake’s ever growing series of adventures. One (the most important) is tone. Anita is a very distinct character, one who declared her singular mix of focus, determination, pride and practicality in the first of Hamilton’s novels (which is the source of this adaptation).
And the other is how to deal with all the sex. Hamilton’s phenomenally successful series of stories straddle the line between horror and graphic X-rated romance fantasy, and the latter isn’t going to work in a comic book aimed at anything other than mature readers. It can work in a novel sold on regular selves, because (A) who reads anymore and (B) you can leave a lot up to the imagination, and envision those sexual situations to your own pleasure (or, do as I often do, and skip over them to get back to the cinematic and gritty mix of action and dark magic that Hamilton is also gifted at portraying).
The sex scenes might work in manga, but American comics don’t often mix their sex and adventure so freely. By the current book in the published series, Anita has the following regular lovers: Jean-Claude (vampire), Richard (werewolf), Micah (were-leopard), Nathaniel (another cat), Damien (a vampire), Asher (Jean-Claude’s lover), and occasional fill-ins. Not that she’s by nature promiscuous (she’s actually a Catholic who does voodoo); she’s required to have these lovers, by a convenient aspect of her growing supernatural powers called the ardeur that requires sex acts to raise power for herself and her partners.
But it wasn’t like that in this first story, when Anita’s job as necromancer was her major duty, which only occasionally called on her to execute anyone. As a federal marshal, she’s a quasi-cop, called in to consult on supernatural homicides by gritty regular cop Dolph. At this point, she’s aware of Jean-Claude, the vampire proprietor of the kinky strip club Guilty Pleasures, but he’s not yet Master of the City of St. Louis (which he will become with Anita’s help). He’s still only the minion of the true master, the horrifying girl-child Nikolaos.
We don’t see her yet. What we see in this story is Willie, a newly dead vamp who tries to enlist Anita’s aid in finding out who’s killing the weaker vamps around the city. When a friend drags Anita to the vampire club for a hen party, things begin to go wrong from the moment she has to check her cross at the door (don’t want to burn any vampires by accident, now that they’re legal citizens with rights).
What we needed to see at this point was Anita the Action Hero, because Hamilton’s action scenes rival her sex scenes for drama and excitement, and are written in a manner that conjures up gritty gun-riddled cinematic shoot-outs galore. This issue doesn’t get very far in that regard, but it goes far enough. The most important thing is that the peculiar mix of bravery, stubbornness and nobility that characterizes Anita come across, and it does.
Visually, Brett Booth is a bit too Image-y for my taste, but he fits the quasi-romance setting perfectly. He draws idealized humans in a Jim Lee mode of seductive sensuality. Anita is weirdly white-skinned already (long before she starts to acquire vampire powers herself), but she’s also an alluring brunette. Jean-Claude is a dream of a Gothic prince (speaking without contractions as befits a centuries-old Frenchman), and the weirdness of the vampire world slowly seeps across the pages.
I’m reminded of another important comic book version of a vampire series, the 90s Innovation imprints of the Anne Rice novels. This series is not as ambitious as that one, contenting itself to normal rather than deluxe format and quality comic-style art rather than full painting. But that’s fine, if it doesn’t reach as high, it might also not fall as far. Things seem to be in place for a long run, and hey, if they cut all the sex scenes, they might even get up to book two or three in the next decade!
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