Graphic Novel Review

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Writer Christopher Golden presents an interesting, if problematic, take on vampires

By Jason Henderson     August 02, 2000

How do vampires work?

With a single film about vampires you can hedge your bets and leave how vampires work a little fuzzy, but with ongoing series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, there's a temptation to begin to quantify and classify one's vampires, to make sense out of them, presumably to define where your stories are going to go. It's a dangerous road to travel, because when you take a myth and begin to attach too many rules to it, the myth can lose its flavor. Joseph Campbell called this concretizing the myth, and comics of the last thirty years have done it a lot. The myth of Superman says, 'strong because of Earth's yellow sun.' The concretized revision says, 'strong because of telekinesis and lowered gravity.'

The theory Christopher Golden espouses in Angel: The Hollower is that vampires are really the demon possession of a dead human husk. To make it personal, let's say it's your dead husk. When you are vampirized, you die. Your soul leaves your body. Into your body goes a vampire demon who will henceforth use your body as its own. This vampire demon is evil, so evil will be its primary bent. But the demon lacks personality of its own and has to borrow the memories and personality still sparking around in your dead brain. All of which shouldn't matter much to you, since your soul is presumably off, as Socrates put the two options, at its reward or eternal sleep. But the effect of the animated corpse is that of a sort of 'evil-ized' version of yourself.

Golden throws this theory out and goes with it, springboarding from it a story about a creature that frightens vampires, a vampire 'bogeyman,' as Golden explains. That creature is the Hollower, a many-tentacled demon who hunts vampires and sucks the little demon out of them.

I'm not sure if this demon-possession theory is the prevailing vampire theory in the television Buffy universe. It could be true in the confines of the stories: characters do indeed become themselves, only dead and evil. The excuse usually given is that vampires have lost their soul--also a fairly meaningless turn of phrase. Here's another one: Angel is good because a gypsy cursed him with a soul.

I've always taken that gypsy curse to mean that the gypsy gave Angel a good soul to take the place of the bad soul Angel already had. Angel, it has been established, was a sadistic semi-lunatic before he ever became a vampire. The gypsy's curse gave Angel a conscience he never had.

But Angel: The Hollower suggests that Angel, too, is possessed by a demon, and that the effect of the gypsy curse was to circumvent the usual possession and allow Angel's original soul to occupy his body alongside the vampire demon. Here's a question: How did the gypsy accomplish this, anyway? Where did she pull Angel's soul back from, and since when can anyone do that?

All the vampires in Angel: The Hollower are well aware of how it works- that's why they're afraid of the Hollower. Here's a creature that victimizes vampires, does exactly what vampires do to humans. Golden cleverly shows tough vampires cringing and fearful at the thought of the Hollower. They gather up enough strength to turn to Angel, who in his evil Angelus the Vampire guise led a hunting party against the creature about a hundred years ago. Angel is reformed now, but he's more than eager to lead the hunt for the Hollower once again. This makes for an exciting story, one that I'd like to see reproduced in live action--Golden has hit on an image that I believe to be new to vampire stories, that of a vampire horde.

It's an exciting story, but at a high price--that theory still bugs me. Part of the power of the vampire myth is that shock that always registers on the face of the living when they see their departed loved ones up and craving blood. The sense of violation and desecration is the horror of the vampire. This sense is most powerful if the vampire is a corruption of the dead person, less powerful if the vampire is merely a physical violation with a penchant for imitation.

The latter theory, the Hollower theory, takes away the myth of the vampire and replaces it with a speculation about an alternate form of life. And that's never been the way Buffy sees it. The show has made it very clear that vampires--except blessed Angel--deserve to be killed. The fun has been watching the characters deal with vampires like Spike, who is charming, but evil as a matter of course, whether you like him or not. Vampires in the Buffy Universe rest happily at the dark end of the moral scale.

Whatever happened to the art of corruption? It's far more powerful an idea to me if we see a farmer's daughter corrupted into hunting children for blood than a demon doing the hunting. Golden makes some wonderful uses of this sort of evil when he has Angel admit that his memories of slaughtering the innocent are 'good memories,' meaning he remembers clearly the joy he felt.

Angel: The Hollower is a graphic novel that provides an excellent adventure story on its surface, but calls to mind a horde of vampire questions. Christopher Golden is a fine writer, but the questions raised are his--and perhaps that's the point. The art from Gomez and Florea, incidentally, is lovely and heroic--almost too heroic to my taste. When Golden spends pages on vampires hunting the innocent, we get to watch as humans scurry in fear. They die begging for their lives, and the reader is thinking, that's someone's daughter, that's someone's mother. There's nothing funny or heroic about a vampire killing, so why does it look heroic here? Because the characters are sexy and muscular.

Is this comic book being clever, asking us to question our beliefs about whether we can find violence palatable if we put an attractive face on it? Perhaps. That's a common vampire story riff. But I suspect that the art is simply neutral. Anything would look cool. And these deaths shouldn't look cool; they should look as frightening as they are. Personally I'd rather see things less clearly, in sweeps and scrawls of ink and shadow.

I mean, these are vampires. They don't do well with light--or with clarity.

Trade Paperback from Dark Horse Comics. Written by Christopher Golden. Art by Hector Gomez and Sandu Florea.


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