REVIEW: A History of the Vampire in Popular Culture (2021)

A book by Violet Fenn

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

A History of the Vampire in Popular Culture is a interesting new book that goes in detail of the subject matter at hand trying to inform, but not necessarily, as the author stresses, to be some sort of encyclopedia of vampires or the like. large swaths of vampire history are not present, but that’s fine as the point of the book is to look at common tropes within vampire media, and elaborate on them using examples from various TV Shows, Books, Films and even folklore.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, as the author used quite a few examples that are usually never referenced in books such as this; for example, referencing something like the popular gothic soap opera Dark Shadows is usually not something you see in books like this, despite its popularity many decades ago. Other topics included everything to Count Von Count of Sesame Street fame, as well as Twilight (shudders). While I’m not a fan at all of that franchise, I begrudgingly respect its place in popular culture.

There’s a fair bit of historical discussion here as well, including forays into various vampire themed moral panics, including a bizarre one where children were led to believe a random cemetery was home to a murdering vampire, which led to hundreds of pint-sized Van Helsings to descend on it – with the entire debacle being used as a catalyst to push comic book censorship.

I think there were a few missed opportunities here; perhaps a sequel might be in order? Most of this opinion comes from the fact that the more Romance-based vampire things (Twilight, True Blood etc) are not my cup of tea, but the author was very passionate about them and their presence in vampire history, so I can’t fault her for that (once again, its not an encyclopedia). None-the-less, this is an enjoyable read, and gave me a few thigs to jot down to read or watch in the future. The book is well-written, packed full of facts and anecdotes, even a couple of interviews. While not a perfect book, there is a lot to sink your teeth into.

REVIEW: The Vain (2021)

A graphic novel by Eliot Rahal

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Generic Vampire stories are a dime a dozen these days. If you don’t just have a weird version of Bram Stroker’s Dracula, but this time he’s in SPACE or something, you have the other side of the coin that alters them beyond recognition, perhaps into teenage sparkly pretty boys – and it all sucks for the most part. For me to get into a modern Vampire story, it has to be something different (but keeping with the lore), and this volume by Eliot Rahal fits the bill. Spanning more than 40 years, The Vain tells the story of a group of Vampiric survivors – changing with the times to stay alive at any means necessary. If that includes enlisting in the military to kill Nazis, or starting a vampire drug cult in the 70s, if thats what it takes that’s what they do.

Chicago, 1941. A blood bank is held up in a robbery, but no cash is taken—only blood. It’s the latest in a string of similar robberies and as the United States prepares to enter World War II, FBI Agent Felix Franklin is certain it’s part of a wider plot to weaken the United States by depriving it of its blood supply. But the truth is much more sinister.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like this at first. At times, some of the art in the book was somewhat simplistic, but as the story goes on, it improves drastically. The dialogue is also kind of janky in spots, but overall the script is pretty good, and you honestly can’t beat the setting. Vampires living through the Cold-War is something I’m pretty certain I’ve never seen before. As it went on, I was interested to see how The Vain (their WWII Codename) dealt with the zeitgeist of whatever decade they had made it to. The book didn’t overstay its welcome, and had a logical ending that made sense.

I haven’t read much by Oni Press, although I have seen them at Comicon in the past. Once Covid-19 dies down I will have to do a deeper dive on their library if conventions ever come back, I’d love to see if the quality of this book continues on.

Doctor Who: Project: Twilight (2001)

Project_Twilight_cover

A review of Big Finish audio drama no. 23

  • Written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
  • Directed by Gary Russell
  • Sound Design and Post Production by Gareth Jenkins
  • Music by Jane Elphinstone and Jim Mortimore
  • Starring: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe), Holly De Jong (Amelia Doory), Rob Dixon (Reggie Mead), Rosie Cavaliero (Cassie), Stephen Chance (Nimrod); Rupert Booth (Dr William Abberton/Matthew), Mark Wright (Mr. Deeks),Kate Hadley (Nurse), Daniel Wilson (Eddie), Gary Russell (Newsreader)

Full disclosure here: In all honesty, I’m not much of a fan of vampire fiction. While I would say that Nosferatu is, quite possibly, one of my favorite horror films, anything after the 1950’s is pretty hit or miss for me. Things that “try something different” with the legendary creatures like Hellsing, Vampire Hunter D, I am Legend or even Lost Boys are fairly interesting, but exists as diamonds in the proverbial rough of all of the other vampire stuff. I especially am not a fan of the more “romantic” side of vampire fiction, meaning that anything from Anne Rice novels to True Blood aren’t necessarily bad, but are not my most favorite thing to watch/read/ listen to. So imagine my apprehension when I come face to face with an audio drama that is not only about vampires, but has the word “Twilight” smack dab in the center. If there is anything that I don’t like it’s a story of pre-pubescent love between a vampire werewolf, and a caricature of a high school girl, but I digress.

Doctor Who has tackled vampires before, to varying degrees of success. We have seen things like fairly classical vampires in State of Decay, fish monsters that have fangs in Vampires of Venice, or grotesque mutations with a taste for blood as in Cure of Fenric. I think one of reasons I’m not too enamored with these stories is that they go leagues out of their way to explain common vampire tropes like an aversion to garlic, thirst for blood, and sensitivity to light all with a scientific slant. This has been done so often since 1954’s I am Legend that it almost seems silly at this point; it’s quite similar to how contrived many of the “origin stories” for zombies have become. In the 50’s, Richard Metheson breathed new life into a tired genre by making his vampires somewhat science-based, 60 years later it’s yet another tired cliché. I honestly can handle these mythological creatures, there doesn’t need to be an elaborate background of expositionary dialogue to set everything up.

doctor-who-Project-Twilight

In Project: Twilight we find ourselves knee deep in just such a situation, with vampires being explained in a silly way. It appears that the ‘Twilight’ vampires were a form of botched scientific experiment, having been humans (typically prisoners or war wounded) created during the First World War by the Forge, a top secret government initiative to research means by which a superior soldier class might be engineered. So basically, the vampires in this episode are like a messed up version of Captain America.

The reason The Doctor and Evelyn end up coming face to face with this situation is The Doctor’s hunger for what he says is the best Chinese food in all of the galaxy, located in the most unlikely place – a dockside in south-east London. He assures Evelyn that he has sat for dinner with the legendary Kublai Khan, and not had Chinese take-out as good as this restaurant – The Slow Boat. Once they are chowing down on MSG-filled wontons and noodles, they discover the remnants of what can basically be called a “nest” filled with carcasses of brutalized small animals and other refuse. Next thing you know something like a mafia hit appears to happen nearby, and The Doctor and Evelyn are stuck in the middle of another bad situation.

‘Private. Do not enter.’ Oh dear, perhaps I should tell them that’s ancient Gallifreyan for ‘Doctor come on in, have a snoop around.’

We are introduced to the staff of a shady nightclub and casino called Dusk, run by a man named Reggie Mead who is obviously in some sort of organized crime syndicate boss, oh and a vampire. Other characters are varying degrees of likability, but a character name Nimrod stands out the most. he is described as an older man, donning all sort of futuristic vampire hunting technology. He is apparently nearly one-hundred years old, and was a twisted scientist in his past. He was mortally wounded and had to inject himself with the very same serum that created the vampires in the first place, cursing himself to hunt the earth for his own kind. My mind immediately slipped to the Marvel comics character Blade, who was a vampire himself, and yet hunted other vampires.

I liked Project: Twilight for what is was, but it’s not my favorite entry of the Big Finish line. Try as I might, I just have trouble enjoying vampire stories as much as other people and I’m not sure why. I like the inclusion of the shady governmental organization Forge and Nimrod, and hope they show up up again in a later installment. Much like with a few of the New Adventures related Sylvester McCoy dramas, I disliked how gory this episode was. I am not squeamish to this sort of thing, but I don’t see Doctor Who as the prime place for exploding people and vampire torture with added “squishy organ” sound effects. I originally didn’t finish this drama a few years ago because it got silly towards the middle with this stuff, and I was especially burnt out on vampire stuff having worked at a retail store when those Twilight books and films were coming out. On the second listen I’m glad I finished it, and I would say that it’s above average.