Writer(s): Laurell K. Hamilton, Jonathan Green
Artist: Wellinton Alves
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Plot: Anita Blake, licensed vampire executioner, is working with St. Louis cops Dolph and Zerbrowski and fellow executioner Manny to solve a series of vampire-related murders of children. Unfortunately, this leads Manny and herself to a basement full of horrors.
Comments: This is the first of the eight issues Marvel has so far published to achieve the feel of author Hamilton’s cult novels, and also (perhaps coincidentally) the first not to feature the involvement of the original developers of the literary property, the Dabel Bros. Perhaps due to its success, perhaps for other reasons, Marvel has taken full control of this series, and it’s been a rather bumpy transition. “Guilty Pleasures,” the initial series, still has six parts to come out, and ended on a confusing cliffhanger.
The first of those, initially scheduled for the end of summer, has now been pushed back to January 2008. And this issue, the second of a two-part summer transitional series featuring new material by Hamilton herself (“Guilty Pleasures” is an adaptation of her first Anita Blake novel), has only just arrived in October. In addition, the art is by Alves, not the concept-defining Brett Booth, who won’t be returning for the second volume, which will have fill-in art until Ron Lim takes over.
Whatever all those changes mean, Alves does a passable imitation of Booth’s palatable, idealized style. His Dolph and Zerbrowski (the stoic Sergeant and the shabby detective) are far too young (and mislabeled on the introductory page) and handsome, but his portrayal of the suave, cold-blooded assassin Edward is effective. More importantly, this issue actually feels like Hamilton wrote it, bringing much more of her trademark violence to the fore (while the previous series seemed more focused on the sexualized nature of her quasi-romance horror tales). The last issue opened with the graphic dismemberment of a child, and this issue begins with a vampire being shot in the head until bits of brain and eye fall out. From there we get murderous bondage torture, decaying zombified corpses, a graphic decapitation with a sword, another scene of restraint torture, a human hunting threat, knives to the leg, neck and chest from our heavily weaponized heroine, and several napalm immolations of the big bads.
This is major improvement on previous installments, which felt somehow muted. This is what we read Anita Blake for; she’s a feisty and tough little broad, and one who lives in such a violent world that she’s learned to always be prepared. Though she will eventually become a vampire’s human agent, she initially is drawn to them to stop their violence, and because of her other talent as a reanimator of the dead. She can make zombies, not through voodoo, but through a natural ability that puts her on more equal footing with vampires than most.
That she won’t hesitate to use lethal force, but is still a moral person and a licensed government agent, makes her a singular figure in Hamilton’s monster-filled America. It also makes her best friend someone like Edward, an assassin with even more of a ruthless nature than hers, a man she fears as much as she respects. Everything with Anita is a negotiation, and it is his involvement in her case (outside of police knowledge, for his own purposes) that allows her to survive the brutal head vampires, including the child murderer and the sexual sadist, and to emerge from the slaughterhouse with only treatable scars.
“Guilty Pleasures” gets quite grim by the end, so here’s hoping for a much darker and more characteristic second volume that continues the extreme gorefest begun in this issue. It’s Grand Guignol for the twenty-first century.
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