A vampire must escape New York and the monster hunters who pursue it. Some spoilers ahead!
Cover by Aaron Campbell and Tim Daniel
Written by Tim Seeley and Aaron Campbell
Illustrated by Jim Terry
Colored by Triona Farrell
Lettered by Crank!
The year is 1871 and a handsome vampire whose current existence has been turned upside down by a team of monster hunters in New York. Knowing that she must leave the city and return to her ancestral soil in New Mexico; she and her trusty familiar Dooley embarked on a journey through the wild frontier, a still-shaping and recently torn United States.
In the final years of the American Civil War, a young Confederate soldier tasked with burying the dead after a battle hears a ringing sound coming from a nearby grave. Believing someone will be buried alive, he digs up the coffin to find a beautiful young woman. Giving this man, Dooley O’Shaughnessy, no further information, she asks him to accompany her to New York. Fast forward ten years, the story quickly becomes one of continuing the turn of the 20th century and exactly what Dooley, his fellow vampire Constance Der Abend, was up to the last decade. There is a certain fun and gory vigilantism on foot.
Although the trappings of this issue, and presumably the upcoming series, look a lot like a low-budget 1970s horror movie, as the story progresses it’s clear that the inspiration and execution are not as close as one might expect. As most of the variant covers for this premiere take the cult B-movie route, the story as a whole features an interesting mix of that vibe and a tighter, more polished end product. There’s still plenty of ironic fun to be had on every page, but the tone is tighter than that. All of that is far more useful than a short-string midnight movie you’d see at the drive-in, or these days on Shudder. There are a few slightly bigger ideas at play and a brighter look overall. Obviously comic book art doesn’t have to depend on all the factors of a movie and can easily be better than something with a low budget, but having something that looks grainy, dirty and schlocky would have been nice .
Seeley and Campbell cleverly use this era to lightly push this period of post-Industrial Revolution capitalism, early American classism, and social class crimes. In just a few pages, they comment on class, wealth, work, racism, and more. While there are many other forms of media that stick their toes into such social commentary just for fear of digging deeper and walking away from these ideas, “West of Sundown” #1 gives us some samples and backs up. not out of fear, but knowing how much it will serve this particular story. We’re getting just enough to set the table and that’s all that’s needed right now. This tells us about Constance’s motives; which inspires him to choose his victims. Like a combination of Robin Hood and Sweeney Todd, she takes those wealthy citizens who make life worse for everyone, drains their blood, and melts them in a bath of lye in a hole in the ground. All with the help of Dooley telling him who will make the best victim. Incredible.
So while she’s clearly there for herself, Constance at least knows she can do good by weeding out bad individuals so she can feed herself. She never lies to herself or Dooley that her self-preservation is really what drives her. It is Dooley, however, who is unsure of his true purpose. Sure, he helps find his victims, but is that all he is? Is that all he’s good at after a decade of being his trusty assistant? It’s this revelation, about halfway through the issue, that both raises questions, but is also quickly dismissed for further study. After injecting herself into the upper strata of society seemingly quite easily, Constance is having the best time of her life and may have gotten a little sloppy. After the masquerade ball that opens the main part of this story, Constance and Dooley return home to find their house has been burned down, setting them on a new path to Constance’s ancestral land in New Mexico. There are plenty of allusions to classic vampire tales like “Dracula” or a number of cult vampire and monster movies from the 60s and 70s. It’s all a delicious mishmash of references, without feeling uninspired. or lazy. Everything is fun and has its own tradition to develop and explore.
Jim Terry’s artwork is fun, slightly cartoonish, yet a strong enough effort that it never felt underproduced like many indie horror comics. Sometimes it feels a little too well done rather than leaning into a glorious schlock. Finely illustrated panels and layouts give it a slightly cinematic feel and energy, and its pace never stops. His work helps the already strong script really shine. And as awesome as Triona Farrell’s color work is, it would have been a lot of fun to get some muted tones and distortion on the pages to give it a real cheap film grain look. But that’s just picking. Everything is superb and fits perfectly with the story that Campbell and Seeley have decided to tell.
I was pleasantly surprised throughout most of this issue, it didn’t quite go the way I expected. Took risks in some areas, while playing it safe in others. I wish it had hit more grit and gore, but it’s still a fun, violent, smartly made vampire thriller. It doesn’t break new ground in vampire lore or the horror genre as a whole, so those familiar with these things shouldn’t expect to be rattled, but it’s safe to say it’s a read fun and a stronger premiere issue than even the most seasoned fans might expect.
Final Verdict: 7.5, A gory, fun vampire game with some solid twists that even the most jaded horror fan might not see coming.