By Andy Frisk
August 19, 2010 - 21:37
“At the end of his military career, Julius Caesar, drawn by tales of the immortal undead who walk in shadow and feast on blood, conquered the Transylvanian kingdom of Dacia. But not even the children of the night could stand against the might of Caesar’s ambition. No longer was Rome split between rich and poor, patrician and pleb, but by the living and the undead. The Dacian people were placed in silver chains, and Rome found a new name for slavery: vampyre.”
-Ides of Blood #1
It’s Romans verses vampyres. Well, not exactly…it’s more like Romans enslave vampyres, and while some revolt, others work their way up and out of slavery and into the confidences of Caesar himself, but once a vampyre always a vampyre and once a slave always a slave are the physical and social realities of this alternate reality. Being immortal, stronger than average, and possessing fantastic shape shifting abilities doesn’t necessarily place one at the top of the food chain here…
Combining the thematic elements of the HBO series Rome and True Blood (although there’s no direct tie between this comic book series and the network), Ides of Blood is full of intrigue, statecraft, politics, and the perils of empire building (themes which darkly reflect on our current Pax Americana world) and social commentary (vampyres are an underclass and an oppressed group). Most vampyres are slaves to Roman citizens, but some do rise above their lot. Enter Valens; former vampyre slave turned Praetoria Immoralis, “personal bodyguard to Caesar.” In love with Caesar’s niece Octavia, and tasked with finding the vampyre or vampyres who are killing upper class and well connected Romans in serial killer fashion, Valens, who has Caesar’s faith and trust, just might rise to the position of Caesar’s right hand man. This is only if he catches the killer and Rome proves itself ready to accept a former vampyre slave in such a high position, and so close to the throne…
Upon reading advanced info about this series, I firmly declared to myself that I’d have noting to do with it. Stupid vampyre stories seem to dominate pop culture right now. Putting them in ancient Rome and having Caesar battle them just seemed too much like a gimmick idea designed to sell books. While checking out the shelves at my local comic shop after collecting my pull list of issues for the week, I came across Ides of Blood #1. Sadly, there aren’t many good comic books that are set in the fascinating time period of the classical world of Greece and Rome that deal effectively with or are inspired by classical works, histories, or themes. The very few exceptions to this rule are Eric Shanower’s fantastic Age of Bronze and Peter Milligan’s late, but also fantastic series Greek Street. This lack of good classical world inspired graphic novels led me to want to at least peak inside and see how bad this series would portray one of my favorite historical periods. Surprisingly, what I saw when I flipped through Ides of Blood #1 actually convinced me to reverse my stance and give this book a chance. Rarely do I ever buy a book based upon its artwork. I remember how badly I and others like me were burned by the great looking, but horribly written early Image Comics offerings. Series artist Christian Duce’s recreation of ancient Rome was so good upon first glance though that I had to get a better look at it.
Duce manages to bring the classical world of Rome realistically to life in sequential art form as powerfully as I’ve only seen Shanower do it. Weapons, dress, background detail, architecture, and sculpture are all masterfully and painstakingly detailed by Duce. If Ides of Blood were a television series instead of a comic book mini-series, it would undoubtedly face a similar fate as HBO’s Rome series did financially. Part of Rome’s demise stemmed from the cost of production, which spared no expense or detail, much like Duce spares no pencil stroke on Ides of Blood #1. Duce’s talents don’t only allow for the creation of superbly rendered metal and stone though. The artist is just as skilled at recreating beautiful images of soft skin, beautiful visages, and penetrating eyes. When Carlos Badilla’s color work is coupled with Duce’s pencil and ink work, a wonderfully dark, shadowy, brooding, and sexy work of action, seduction, and blood letting (fang induced or otherwise) is born.
Great artwork can’t carry a sequential art series alone though, no matter how good it is. Fortunately, Stuart C. Paul crafts a tale full of the aforementioned intrigue, politics, and action, but this is also a mystery tale. The identity of the serial vampyre killer(s), dubbed the Pluto’s Kiss Killer, isn’t clear by any means. We’re just as much in the dark as Valens is. Where and how this all will lead up to Caesar’s murder isn’t clear either. Obviously, it will be some type of politically motivated killing like it was in real life, but the role that Valens, Brutus, and the murderous vampyre serial killer will play isn’t so obvious.
Overall, Ides of Blood is more than just another asinine vampyre tale that was hurriedly produced to turn a quick buck before the vampyre craze mercifully fades. It’s an attempt to tell a tale of alternate and fantasy tinged history that avoids succumbing to silliness while pandering to an immature goth crowd. It’s an intelligent story that meets all the requirements of a superb graphic novel/sequential art offering. Most importantly, maybe the vampyre angle will attract some kids and inspire them to seek out some of the real stories of ancient history. Stories that are way better, informative, and educational than any dime store romance writ large.
Rating: 10 /10