SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for "I, Vampire" #12, on sale today from DC Comics.
It was one of the riskier titles of DC Comics New 52 initiative. Unlike many of the unexpected series that were part of last year's line-wide relaunch, "I, Vampire" had neither a history as a solo title nor any established DC talent working on its new iteration. But one year later, the reinvention of the former "House of Mystery" lead feature is going strong in the hands of writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Andrea Sorrentino.
In the most recent arc of the series, protagonist Andrew Bennett has faced down a number of intense threats including his former lover Mary's army of undead bloodsuckers, the so-called Van Helsing Society's plans for his kind and roving packs of zombies unleashed in the American Southwest. To top it off, the secret heroes of DC's "Stormwatch" appear in this week's issue #12 to put a bloody finale on the first year of the series. But it doesn't end there.
CBR News spoke with Fialkov about what it took to make it this far as a "little comic that could," how the ending off issue #12 rewrites the rules for vampires in the DCU and Andrew Bennett personally, what guest stars do to a series like "I, Vampire" and how more villainous guests will appear in the year ahead and what October's #0 issue will reveal about the history of both his lead characters.
CBR News: Joshua, "I, Vampire" feels like a book that had a very specific story to tell from its start – the battle between Andrew and Mary as the vampire army rose around her. Many of the New 52 titles plotted their stories out through issue #8 while DC figured out who would go beyond that point. Did you have a full-year plan in place, or did this idea of the Van Helsing Society and the zombie battle in Utah grow out of the fact that the book seems to have retained a solid readership after the first eight?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: This might sound crazy, but the vampire messiah stuff? By the time I was working on the second issue, I was talking to [editor] Matt Idelson about that stuff. It was like "Here's where we're going! Just so we're clear, Andrew is going to become the vampire messiah." And actually we changed things up because Andrew ruling over the nation of vampires wasn't going to hit until the end of year one. But the crossover moved things into place. That was one of those necessity things where we needed to show people what we were doing, and obviously more people read "Justice League Dark" than "I, Vampire." So there was an opportunity to share the book with a new audience.
That being said, where we're going after this mini arc with the vampire versus zombies battle came out of nowhere. It just hit me, "We could do this!" The idea was that Andrew could take over the vampire nation and then would have to come to terms with the fact that he's completely unequipped to deal with it. And what's coming up in year two, starting with issue #13 is a story where literally in the first meeting I had with Matt Idelson, I said, "And THEN we're going to do THIS." He looked at me like I was crazy, but it was kind of like, "We're never going to make it to year two anyways, so do whatever you want, doofus." [Laughter] So now I'm getting to do stuff that is so completely awesome that I can't talk about it.
But essentially, with issue #13 our entire cast will be different. It's a whole new book and a reinvention of what you'd expect the book to be. Every time I get a call from DC about anything, I just assume they're calling to tell me to rewrite the issues because we're not allowed to do this. And it hasn't been! It's been fine, and Andrea is starting to draw issue #13 this week, so once it's on paper, I think we'll be set. I don't think they can take it away from me then. [Laughs]
Issue #12 wraps the "zombies arc," and brings another crossover in the form of Stormwatch playing a role. Despite the very mainstream expectation for what "zombie crossover" can mean, this issue is actually a real lynchpin story where you're taking a lot of characters off the board.
Yeah. Yeah, there is an inordinate amount of death in this whole arc. I look at issue #12, and I think about how a few years ago everyone was talking about doing comics in "Seasons." I still really believe in that. It's really practical in case we end up getting cancelled, because I want to have a solid ending to any story that also serves as a cliffhanger. [Laughter] People will be like, "What happened to that book? That book was great! Bring it back!" So I look at issue #12 as a wrap up to almost every thread we've been dealing with during the entire series. It changes how vampires relate to the outside world. It changes everything you understand and all the rules of the world, and it's a finishing point. It's an end to this story that then sets us up for the future.
So with issue #12, you've pretty much rewritten the rulebook for the series and vampires in the DCU in general. Can you give us a glimpse as to how this moment grew from the story?
Vampires everywhere have had their infection spreading where people not even involved with their war were going to get infected. So Andrew absorbed all the dark energy because he's the Demon's Lock. We'd set up that he can contain that power. He thinks he's absorbing all the evil in the vampire nation, but instead he cures vampirism. He's literally stopped every vampire in the world except for himself, and all that dark power that he's been harnessing and chewing on his going to make him really fucking evil going forward.
Now for the future of the book, Mary is human, and Mary is our hero. She's become the protagonist while Andrew is the villain.
In some ways, it feels like you're realigning the book to a reverse "Omega Man" where we're following one vampire in a world of humans. What drew you in to that premise?
In some ways, the problem with the book is the problem with all vampire fiction. You always have this one vampire – the vampire you care about like Dracula – and then you maybe have a few side vampires like the brides or just a hoard, a useless hoard of faceless vampires. That's true in "Buffy" and every other story. At the end of the day, Mary couldn't look at a world with a million vampires, but what happens after she loses is the idea that if you really wanted to build a vampire army, you wouldn't do it by just recruiting any old schmuck. You build an army by recruiting the very best. And as far as supervillains, there are a lot of guys to chose from. So Andrew is going to be out there now looking for generals in his vampire army, and in a world where there are superpowers everywhere, you've got your pick of some frightening generals. It's not like you'd walk around going, "Oh, there's a biker. Let's chose him!" [Laughter] "There's a pretty girl!" This is a literal recruiting drive for the best and the brightest in the whole world.
You've said before how bringing in DCU characters like Batman or the Justice League can help bring eyeballs to the book in a practical sense, but I also get the feeling that you've been playing with the way vampirism interacts with the kind of super science and super magic that exists within the DCU. Will this new "Season" of "I, Vampire" continue on that theme?
Yeah. That's the plan. The great thing about working at DC and in the New 52 is that there's a ton of us who are friends. I know, to some degree, pretty much everybody that's working on the books. And there are a lot of us who live in LA that I'm really close with who are big fans of my book and write books more successful than mine, and they've been very generous in loaning characters and helping pitch in ideas for how that works. Much like Andrew, I'm in war mode. I love this book, and I think it should be an important part of the DCU moving forward. So I'm going to make all of the readers realize that by hook or by crook.
Of course, before all that hits the series has September's #0 issue. Falling in between two major "seasons" of the book, how did you approach the task of doing an origin-like issue?
Because of what happens at the end of #12, we're now looking at Andrew as a villain. And when a character is a villain, I feel you need to explore them more. There's a need to understand where they come from if you want understand the fall and the tragedy of it. What we do is a Shakespearean tragedy which includes iambic pentameter in blank verse. It's the story of Andrew Bennett and his love for Mary, his transformation and his pain – all that stuff. We're treating it like a little one-act Shakespeare play.
I love the character and his nature and also just how dominating Mary is. She's so awesome that I feel like you didn't get enough time to spend with Andrew in year one. The #0 issue reminds you of what you're losing. It shows this great man – this man who was special and who meant hope to the world.
Andrea has done some very different styles to fit your story over the course of the series including a woodcut sequence in the "Rise of the Vampires" arc that involved Cane and the history of the bloodsuckers. Does he have a similar stylistic switch up on tap for #0?
We did a little bit of that. But we wanted to make sure that it fits our regular style because the idea of a #0 issue is to see what's in the DNA of the book. We want new readers to see what the series is all about, so going for a totally different style would be a little off the mark.
"I, Vampire" #12 is in stores today from DC Comics.