Comic Judgment: Vampire Huntress #1

Vampire Huntress #1
Writer: L.A. Banks with Jess Ruffner
Artist: Brett Booth
Colors: Stephen Downer
Letters: Bill Tortolini

I really want to love Vampire Huntress, the comic book based on L.A. Banks’ popular series about paranormal battle. For one thing, the main character is a black woman, gorgeous spoken word artist (yeah, I know) Damali Richards, who also happens to be a vampire slayer. As The Neteru, a person born every 1,000 years to take on demonic forces, Damali fights the good fight with a band of equally attractive, racially diverse heroes.

Take away the impossibly long torsos, perfect hair and supernatural happenings, and Vampire Huntress is that rare comic that reflects the multi-hued world I live in. That’s definitely something to cheer, and artist Brett Booth’s cover image — Damali strikes a don’t-cross-me-pose, complete with wings and a sword — piqued my curiosity.

The good: The women in this comic book are not to be trifled with. Washboard abs aside, several of them are pregnant (including Damali, who is carrying husband Carlos’ twins), but they refuse to be sidelined when trouble arises. After getting word that a resistance group has been slaughtered, Damali rejects Carlos’ advice to sit out the action, and she and her fellow mothers-to-be bristle at the notion that they need a medic on call: “Nobody in here is disabled,” Damali shoots back.

Booth’s interior art reminds me a little of ‘90s Jim Lee, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. Damali is gorgeously drawn with flowing Nubian locs and the kind of lean, fierce look you’d expect a vampire slayer to have. The female characters’ faces are too similar, but I like Booth’s bent for exaggeration — epic afros and clothes that appear to be painted onto the characters’ bodies. Those highly stylized touches work well here.

Damali comes across as a fully realized character who fights and loves fiercely. There’s a tender opening scene between her and Carlos, and I was struck by how infrequently I’ve seen that kind of romantic interaction between two nonwhite characters in comics.

The meh: Vampire Huntress is meant to be accessible to newbies who haven’t read any of Banks’ novels, but even with a the-story-so-far introduction, I found the entry a little bumpy. The story is likely to resonate much more with readers who have followed Banks’ work and want to see these characters in a different medium. Coming in cold, I just didn’t feel a strong attachment to the players.

The bad: Dialogue can make or break a comic, and nothing hampered my enjoyment of  Vampire Huntress more than the corny lines. Look, I’m not going to pretend I’ve never called my husband “boo,” but the script was working way too hard to remind me that these young vampire hunters have mad flavor, yo. All the fist-pounding and pronouncements of “Feel me?” and “True that” suggest the consultation of  “A Guide to Urban Youth-Speak: 2001 edition.”* (On the other hand, I would pay good money to see a panel of Batman telling Wonder Woman, “I got this, boo.”)

Final verdict: Since this is a first issue with some good bits, I’m willing to give  Vampire Huntress comic a little time to find its legs. As much as I hate spoken-word poetry, I think Damali is an interesting character who represents something comics could use more of. I’m also considering checking out one of L.A. Banks’ novels, since vampires (and their enemies) are all the rage these days.

*I totally made that up.

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