Thursday, August 5, 2010

True Blood #1 - Cross Promotion That Doesn't Suck

It's hard to deny the appeal of vampires. I could spend six whole blog posts lampooning Twilight, but I won't. Pretty much everything that has been said about vampires, sparkles, abstinence, Team Edward, Team Jacob, and Robert Pattinson's hair has been said. Now there's another reason I haven't made many tween jokes here lately. I actually have a confession to make in that respect. I enjoy vampires. There, I said it. I think vampires are awesome, just not the Twilight vampires. For me, the epitome of what makes vampires awesome is embodied in one of my favorite shows, True Blood.

Now I've been following this show for a while now. At first I just watched it because it had the promise of showing Anna Paquin naked. But surprisingly enough, there is a damn good story to be told here. True Blood has created a complex and intriguing world full of vampires, shape shifters, and werewolves and they do it all without watering it down for pre-teens. There is sex, there is blood, there is violence, and everything else you would expect from creatures that are supposed to be the stuff of nightmares and not some 13-year-old girl's pussy boner. In True Blood the vampires of the world are a minority like any other, but with some very extreme issues. They've been around for centuries, having to stay in the shadows because to survive they need to find a victim and drain them. Then something amazing came along called True Blood, which I know is a lame way to make the title seem more important, but it works. In this series True Blood is a blood synthetic that is like the diet coke of real blood, allowing vampires to survive without hunting. It has allowed them to 'come out of the coffin' as they say and be part of society. True Blood the series takes that premise and runs with it. Since the show has become so successful, already earning it's own panel at this years Comic Con, it's only natural that the series would branch out into comics. And since a comic is so much easier to put together than an hour long episodes, it opens the door to all sorts of awesome possibilities.

So this past week, the first issue of it's kind came out. True Blood #1 was released courtesy of IDW comics. The creator of the series, Alan Ball, was even nice enough to write it. He doesn't get too fancy with it. You don't have to be following the show to read this, but it helps to know the characters. If you don't, then you have no excuse in this day and age. What do you think wikipedia is for? Just get the gist of the main characters like Sookie Stackhouse, Bill Compton, Sam Merlot, and Eric Northman and you'll be able to enjoy this issue and get a taste of what True Blood has to offer (that was not meant to be a vampire joke by the way).

This issue starts off at a familiar location to anyone who was cool enough to watch the show or check wikipedia before reading the first page. Sookie is working on a stormy night at Merlots, the restaurant owned by her friend and part-time stalker, Sam Merlot. Yeah, it's not too extravagant or anything, but neither is the show in the sense that it tries to stay grounded. If you're waiting for a fifty foot swamp creature or a 100 foot killer robot, look elsewhere. You'll just get Sookie in all her beauty drenched in rain, a look that would make Anna Paquin proud. If that's not enough for you, then you're just being difficult.

What follows is the most overplayed horror cliche in the history of horror. The cute blond hears a sound from the bushes and investigates. Usually that's the signal for the masked psycho killer to come out, but only after she takes off her clothes and starts humping the nearest guy. That doesn't happen here though. It's just Sam Merlot, playing his stalker role and playing it well. It's small gag that helps give the readers a brief taste of some elements from the show, namely that Sam has an on-again, off-again fixation with Sookie and will often put her in an awkward position. It's actually much more complicated than that, but since this is comic with limited amounts of ink it just puts that issue on the table in it's simplest form.

Then the story goes inside Merlots, which perfectly displays the unique look and feel of the restaurant from the show. There are some familiar faces as well such as Jason Stackhouse (Sookie's dim-witted yet charming pussy hound little brother), Tara (Sookie's childhood friend who has way too many family issues to list in one post), and Lafayette (Tara's very slick and very gay cousin).

They make some small talk and throw in a few dick jokes for good measure. It's immature, yes, but that's to be expected from an HBO show. If there isn't a dick joke somewhere, then the writers aren't doing their job. Then another familiar face enters the scene and this one isn't friendly. Eric Northman, the vampire sheriff of the area (all areas have a vampire sheriff), shows up looking about as cuddly as a landmine. He's the kind of guy that sucks the air out of the room, among other things. He also has a morbid fascination with Sookie that makes Sam Merlot's stalking look tame.

Now he claims he just wants to talk and Sookie is convinced that the sound she heard in the bushes earlier was him. Eric politely (and by politely I mean with words that would make any cute blond reach for their pepper spray) says it wasn't him. Sookie, being the trusting southern belle that she is, decides to hear the guy out despite the risks that always come along with talking to a guy who literally wants to eat you. But first she has to keep serving tables as any good waitress should. That's when she comes across a tough looking guy sitting in a booth. He asks for a drink for him and his date. But here's the thing...his date is kind of a corpse. It's only in True Blood where that actually makes sense.

Now it would be strange enough if this guy was just a necrophiliac with an active social life. I'm sure that would go over perfectly fine in a town used to vampires. But this guy is a bit more than that, which may or may not be a good thing. He claims he's here because someone has done him wrong and he intends to find that someone. Oh, and one more thing...he also is some strange Cthullu-like tentacle/vampire monster. Yeah, I know. It makes about as much sense as you expect it to, but at least it's done in a way that's pretty damn awesome.

This creature is about as subtle as it is attractive. As soon as it reveals it's true form, it throws a hissy fit rather than try to use a little tact in seeking it's goal. Since this is a bar in the deep south, there are bound to be some tough-nosed stereotypical rednecks looking to make trouble. Apparently if you ingest enough alcohol and haven't seen much Japanese anime porn, nothing scares you. Some poor saps try to attack the creature, but it does the exact opposite of work.

The creature then sets it's sights on Sookie, who always seems to be the key in True Blood. Eric Northman could be the hero here and get himself one step closer towards getting in Sookie's panties, but he once again blows that chance by trying to negotiate with the creature. Never one to turn down a fellow monster, he seems perfectly content with wanting to make a deal. He seems to think that helping this thing use Sookie is a good idea. And this guy wants to bang her? I guess being alive for 1000 years has an adverse effect on common sense. Luckily, the smarter vampire in Sookie's life shows up. Bill Compton shows up with his usual swagger, which is always a plus because every time it happens Edward Cullen whimpers a bit.

Bill goes into his usual role of protecting Sookie, which in the show happens no less than three times an episode. But usually in the show he fights off werewolves, other vampires, and potential rapists. He's never had to fight a full fledged swamp monster before and since HBO would probably never give Alan Ball the budget for this sort of thing, it really is a sight to behold. Except the fight isn't nearly as one-sided as it usually is with Bill. The swamp creature makes quick work of him and pretty soon he's in the kind of trouble that would require a hell of a lot of makeup sex from Sookie.

Not to be outdone, Sam Merlot tries to help out. But he's about as effective as BP's safety regulations. It's not the usual protracted fight you would expect in a superhero comic so it definitely feels different, but in a good way. It's still a fight you can see happening in the show of HBO let Michael Bay do an episode. Sookie tries to step in, which seems pretty futile given she's never been known for her fighting skills. She doesn't even get the chance because the creature, which still has Bill Compton in it's grasp, sets it's sights back on her. It makes for a solid cliffhanger at the end and sets the stage for the next issue.

Now usually when a TV show becomes a comic you get a mixed bag of awesome. There's a reason TV shows stay on TV and why comic books stay in the comics. They have certain elements that work well within their medium and when you try to put them in other mediums, you tend to get a little messed up in the same way you mess up a watch-maker by giving him a sledge hammer. It's not easy translating these elements and to Alan Ball's credit, he makes a concerted effort. Even though a comic book offers him more flexibility than a TV show, he doesn't go overboard with it. He presents a story that could certainly happen within the context of the show. The characters are all there with their personalities intact. The setting is certainly there and well-represented in the art. However, I would have to be glamored by a vampire to say that it's a smooth transition.

For one, the expressions on the characters are painfully bland. There really isn't a lot of emotion conveyed, even when a tentacle-wielding swamp monster shows up. In the show you would expect more than just someone screaming on a single panel. It's that lack of emotion that really hurts the comic. There's nothing too gripping here. It's just a string of events without a lot of impact. In addition a lot of characters are under-utilized. Jason, Tara, and Lafayette really don't do much. They're just there for the sake of being there. It contributes to an overall feeling of blandness that hinders what is definitely an awesome premise.

While the transition from TV to comic has it's share of shortcomings, it's still safe to say that this comic doesn't suck. If you're a True Blood fan, you'll like it. If you're not a fan, you won't be completely turned off. If you're looking to get into True Blood, this is a nice way to get a glimpse inside the True Blood world without going through every episode from every season thus far. Altogether, True Blood #1 gets a 3 out of 5 for it's efforts. It can definitely improve, but it has a solid foundation of awesome to start building upon and heaven knows that Alan Ball needs more money.

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