Writer: Rodney Barnes
Artist: Jason Shawn Alexander
Colorist: Luis NCT
Letterer: Marshall Dillon
Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander have something special in Killadelphia, a comic about cops, corruption, poverty, and vampires. It’s made up of a lot of things that together promise a kind of horror that’s grounded in reality. The intention seems to get at the dirt and the grime that lies underneath urban vampirism. And that promise is already being fulfilled with a story that has a vintage Vertigo Comics feel to it but is additionally spiked with a special concoction of classic vampire mythos and real-world social anxieties designed to make these monsters dangerous again.
Published by Image Comics, Killadelphia follows a cop that comes to Philadelphia all the way from Baltimore to bury his murdered father. The father, a career detective, was investigating a missing persons case that led him straight into the mouths of hungry vampires. The son then decides to pick up the trail that led to his father’s death. Horror ensues.
Barnes and Alexander aren’t complacent with just telling a simple tale of blood-sucking in a big American city with a history of violence—the title itself is a term often used to reference Philly’s high murder-rate. Beyond the vampires is a look at how far the City of Brotherly Love goes to keep its ugliness away from the tourist-friendly spaces advertised as the original stomping grounds of the nation’s Founding Fathers.
The comic makes it a point to remind readers that a city’s bad elements are always the product of key choices, either made by the government or other groups. There are scenes in which the book’s characters offer brief historical insights, via captions or voice-over text, to explain why certain parts of the city look so forgotten and decayed.
These short but deep cuts into the backstory of Philly situate the comic’s characters in a place that was allowed to become bad, with every drug-riddled corner and every forgotten housing project bearing the marks of their origin stories (be it to explain how poverty or crime came to be in those areas).
Alexander’s art is truly a sight to behold as it makes space for worldbuilding and character development in spite of a text-heavy script. This isn’t a knock on the text, though. Barnes has a lot to say but never at the expense of pacing. It’s very structured and calculated with an eye for detail on things the comic will circle back to.
Alexander and letterer Marshall Dillon give the text a chance to breath, but they too know when the art needs to carry the weight of the storytelling and vice versa. This is an impressive feat considering his style finds strong echoes in the works of Jon Jay Muth and Dave McKean. It’s dense and requires a slower read to fully appreciate.
Luis NCT’s colors balance the art well, excelling in highlighting the more supernatural elements in each scene. Glowing eyes, blood, and vampire skin are all given an additional shine that makes things stand out in the inky blacks that dominate each page. You’ll know when something bad is coming.
It’s obvious this first entry was to be as full an introduction to the story as possible. We meet the main players, we get a look at the locations they’ll be frequenting, and we get a sense of place that compares to the one Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell managed to pull off in Infidel, where the apartment building the story takes place in is given history and an overbearing sense of personality. It all combines to prop up the perfect spot for vampires to build a nest in.
Killadelphia’s vampires, at this point, look quite classical. We have red and yellow eyes that pierce the dark, sharp fangs, and deadly claws. Nothing too exaggerated, but it’s conscious of the idea that oftentimes less is more. They reminded me of the vamps from the movie The Lost Boys (1987) with traces of those from Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987), both of which transform into vicious monsters without entirely letting go of their more human aspects.
There’s one scene that just sends chills down your spine. We see a group of vampires hanging from a ceiling, tightly grouped with their skin exposed. They look like slumbering undead killers, and most importantly, they look dangerous. They look as if they’re one step away from breaking into a feeding frenzy. With a central mystery that leads to these kind of vampires, it was refreshing to see some late-80’s/early-90’s vampire designs thrown in there and put to good use.
With a haunting final image and even more vampires looming in issue #2, there’s no doubt that this new horror series has set its sights quite high. There’s a full and intriguing cast of characters that are vying for attention and it looks like Barnes and Alexander are all too eager to give it to them. Barnes’ and Alexander’s Killadelphia is going for a slow burn with its story and I couldn’t be happier. It means more time inside this dark blood-thirsty world. Keep an eye on this one.
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