Dark Days #2, August 2003, IDW Publishing
writer: Steve Niles
artist: Ben Templesmith
letterer: Robbie Robbins
editor: Jeff Mariotte
So many vampire stories imply that a secret bloodsucking network lurks beneath our commonplace society that if such a conspiracy was ever exposed in real life, I wouldn’t be surprised. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Blade, and 30 Days of Night are all excellent examples of this complex and intriguing yet gory and frightening genre, not to mention franchises that I have a casual awareness of, at best. So much so, that when I began reading Dark Days #2, I had no idea that this six issue miniseries was a sequel to the Niles/Templesmith vampire epic. Fortunately, with the exception of the characters’ motivations, which were undoubtedly established in the previous chapter, this issue stood well enough alone as an insightful glimpse into the world of vampires among us. Actually, the tale struck closer to home than I would’ve suspected.
See, Buffy and Blade were definitely vampire hunters, and they essentially dwelled in the underworld to stalk their bloodthirsty prey. In Dark Days, our hero is an author that has penned an autobiographical chronicle of her experience with vampires, including her husband’s untimely death. In this issue, vampires attack her during an appearance at a college campus – UCLA, to be specific – then later, she and her gun-toting friends (bodyguards?) take a room at the Standard, a trendy hotel on Sunset Blvd. First of all, since I live in a college town in Southern California, I found Niles’s choice of setting realistic and unsettling. To see Templesmith’s rendition of the Standard, an establishment I’ve frequented and see about once a month when I venture to Hollywood – drove the nail a little deeper into my brain. This isn’t some New York subway system, an environment glamorized in horror fiction like this (although just as tangible to many, I understand). In Dark Days, the vampires are in my proverbial backyard! I’m not sure a writer is my warrior of choice – unless her pen is made of pure silver and her canvas is somewhere over that nasty neck-biter’s heart.
A point of criticism: I enjoy Templesmith’s style and am relatively new to his work, as an avid reader of his Warren Ellis coop Fell. However, since so many of these scenes took place in settings with which I can relate, some of his renditions were too dark to be believed. The only real similarity his incarnation of the Standard shares with the real thing is its mod upside down marquee. His gray tones and sepias bear little resemblance to the hotel’s pastels, and the neon contrast might have made for some visually appealing ambiance. I don’t want to dub Templesmith a one-trick pony, but in this issue especially, I say his background details need work. Now diehard fans are reading this somewhere and snarling their fangs at me, I imagine. Great.
What is it about vampires that intrigues us so? Vampires defy the mystery of death, and in a dreadful way, offer a glimmer of purpose to the afterlife – the thirst for blood. Of course, no one wants to thirst for blood, but if something is truly better than nothing, then this perspective of death beats the alternative. Perhaps this is why most vampire franchises, like Buffy or the cult film Innocent Blood, offer a lighter side to an otherwise ghastly genre. Or maybe this conclusion explains why other epics, like Blade and 30 Days of Night, imply that pseudo-political structure to the vampirism underworld – politics is an evil we can easily understand. Either way, if vampires are really among us, I think they’re best kept after dark. The daylight greets enough freaks as it is.