From Image Comics and Rodney Barnes comes Killadelphia, one of the boldest vampire stories I have ever come across.
While it’s far from perfect, I can’t help but respect its attempt to reinvigorate the subgenre. The basic premise of the story is that beat cop James Sangster Jr. comes home to Philadelphia to bury his father James Sangster Sr., who was a Philly detective. Turns out that James Sangster Sr. had discovered the presence of vampires in Philadelphia – vampires led by none other than the second president of The United States of America, John Adams. I’m not kidding.
This bizarre premise was enough to hold my attention initially, but Killadelphia can only ride the coattails of its curious nature for so long. I pray that this plot device grows into something more engaging and memorable in the future, because as of right now, it feels like little more than a gimmick.
John Adams himself has failed to captivate or intrigue me. Maybe that’s because I’m not a history buff, but then again this character doesn’t seem like a very realistic depiction of George Washington’s successor. His wife Abigail has a demonic dominatrix thing going for her, but as of right now her intrigue is only surface level. At least John seems to fear her, which gives me high hopes for our second first lady.
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With Stronger Character Work, Killadelphia Could Blossom
Killadelphia has struggled to build relatable, exciting, or fresh characters, and that could prove to be its undoing. The tale of the angry son who blames his hard-boiled, callous father for the death of his cancer-ridden mother is a story lifted right out of the Luke Cage TV show. That’s not to say that Luke Cage has a monopoly on that storyline, it’s just to say that I’ve seen this story before – and to be quite frank, I’ve seen it done much better.
Both Sangsters, Junior and Senior, feel like caricatures; depictions of what the writer thinks cynical cops in inner cities are supposed to look like. That being said, this weird buddy-cop dynamic still works. I care about their detective work, I hope that they repair their relationship, and I want to see them grow. Just as was the case with John and Abigail Adams, there’s potential to make these characters fresh and exciting, I just hope that the creative team taps into it soon.
The one character whom I fully expect to evolve into something special is Seesaw, a young Vampire who has learned the secrets of John Adams mysterious book of spells. He failed to interest me initially, but issue #5 set Seesaw up as the man who could save Killadelphia, figuratively and literally.
We know very little about this spell book, with two big exceptions. We know that Adams doesn’t want Abigail to possess it and that he himself could never unlock its secrets. We also know that by learning its ways, Seesaw has gained the ability to turn vampires back into humans. That bit of information is slid into Killadelphia #5 very casually, but it may prove to be the most important line of dialogue in the entire series so far.
The Beautiful Artistry Elevates The Mediocre Story
Despite an unbalanced script and some underdeveloped characters, Killadelphia is a league above the rest for one reason – the beautifully macabre artwork. Jason Shawn Alexander, best known for his work on Spawn, runs point on the illustrations, and his artwork is easily the highlight of this series.
The vampires he draws are grotesquely beautiful, powerful and vicious but still quite human. Alexander is a master when it comes to facial depictions, especially the eyes. The eyes of these beasts are haunting, filled with bloodlust, emptiness, and more than anything, hunger. Vampires haven’t been this terrifying in a long time.
The coloring is handled by Luis NCT, and his palette choices make all the difference. Philadelphia is portrayed as a filthy, sooty, muddy town choking on it’s own toxic fumes. He sets the backdrop perfectly, distinguishing an otherwise messy illustration. Philadelphia’s design is so jagged and rough that without NCT’s craftsmanship, it would be quite difficult to navigate.
I also have to commend him for taking a page out of the Something Is Killing The Children playbook and being very deliberate and intentional with his use of reds. He’s a little more liberal with them than Miquel Muerto was in SITKC, but it works to his benefit. In this town, the mud and the smoke mix with the blood to cast the entire town in a ghoulish and malevolent light.
Killadelphia looks like a nightmare in the best way possible. Taking the designer of Spawn’s hellscapes and having him craft a world of vampires in a crumbling city was a truly inspired idea. The story is interesting enough to hold your attention, just don’t expect to be on the edge of your seat. The characters are a bit shallow, but this is only issue #5, so I can forgive Killadelphia’s shortcoming in that department for now. Killadelphia may not be reinventing the vampire genre, but it’s certainly upping the ante when it comes to visual delight.
What do you think of Killadelphia so far? Did you ever expect to see John Adams as a vampire king? Let us know in the comments below or on our social media pages!