On the surface, Subspecies looks like yet another addition to the vampire genre that has been oversaturated with TV shows, films, books and comics over the years. However, for the uninitiated (like yours truly), doing some research reveals there is more to this tale than meets the eye.
Subspecies was actually a direct-to-video series produced by Full Moon Studios in the ’90s. Set in Romania, it featured the continuing efforts of the vampire Radu Vladislas to turn college student Michelle Morgan into his minion. The story played out over four main films and one spin-off released between 1991 and 1998, with Radu’s death at Michelle’s hands serving as the highlight of each film and the next film proceeding to bring him back.
On Action Labs’ official website, cowriter Cullen Bunn is pretty clear that this 3-part miniseries is a direct sequel to the films; it’s a love letter to Full Moon and fans of the original Subspecies saga. While it certainly may be helpful to have the detailed backstory about the films, Bunn, cowriter Jimmy Johnston and artists Daniel Logan and Yann Perrelet make sure to recap the events of the previous four films for any newcomers. While the recap slightly drags as it takes up almost all of the first half of the book, it gives Logan a great excuse to interpret the events of the films and he gets to jump right into setting the artistic tone of the book, highlighted by blood, headless bodies, blood, sharp objects, and a lot more blood.
The rest of the story is dedicated to setting up the “next round of fun,” so to speak, while managing to present an interesting twist on the struggle of the vampire trying to go straight and live a normal life. However, this status quo doesn’t last very long as the tradition established by the films continues — there’s a moment where Michelle thinks to herself “the fourth time we finally got it right” in regards to Radu’s death, only to be proven horribly wrong shortly afterwards as Radu resurfaces in a very public way. He immediately resumes his stalking of Michelle, which she appears to be able to overcome at first, only to find out she’s gone from the proverbial frying pan into the fire as the book is left on an interesting cliffhanger.
Bizarrely, it seems that Action Labs (in the official solicit for the issue) and Bunn himself, in his comments previously noted, were happy to spoil this cliffhanger. We’ll try to maintain the surprise ending by not spoiling it here, but it seems rather unfortunate that both parties felt they had to give it away, possibly as a hook to draw in readers and fans of the film series.
Lest you think it’s all blood and guts based on my earlier comment, Logan does a fantastic job depicting Radu in all of his previous and current incarnations, making each version “distinct” beyond just changing the environments. There’s a bit of Neal Adams in his style, where the angles on faces in particular are punctuated and there’s frequent manipulation of lighting and shadows in general. In keeping with the dark tone of the story, he seems to convey an almost permanent shakiness to the characters and the background settings. In a way, this serves as a nice appetizer for the action shots, which don’t ever hit you over the head but get the point across serviceably.
Yann Perrelet’s colors are a perfect fit for the overall vibe of the story, as Michelle can only maintain her day-to-day life at night and the weird-looking orange light that seems to follow her in almost every panel seems to almost mockingly replace the sun and serve as a symbol of how Radu will similarly keep coming after her. Perrelet also reflects the crippling nature of living exclusively in the evening by essentially limiting his palette to only a few key colors, including the aforementioned orange, creepy green in the hospital where Michelle works, and dull greys, dark blue and brown. This makes the red of blood stand out even more in the action scenes in stark contrast to the dullness and moodiness of everything else.
Subspecies #1 is a promising start to a series that has adequately set the stage and now needs to pick up the pace. The artwork by Logan and Perrelet carries the issue and covers for the slightly lengthy recap and introduction, but Bunn and Johnston’s knowledge and passion about the history of these characters is obvious and should guarantee an explosive showdown next time.