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Bite Club #1
Written by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman
Art by David Hahn

The vampire genre has been crossbred with just about every kind of story we have a name for. We've had space vampires, cowboy vampires, bunny rabbit vampires, vampires in Ancient Egypt, vampire pirates, family friendly vampires who pal around with that kid from Jerry Maguire, vampire muppets, and probably more vampire porn than anyone… well, almost anyone would care to catalogue.

Yet the vampire mafia sub-genre has never really gotten a chance to shine.

Oh, sure, John Landis took a whack at it with Innocent Blood, but he didn't even scratch the surface. While there's definitely a lot of bloodspray potential there, Landis never saw beyond that to the big questions that arise when you give an organization of ruthless criminals eternal life, super strength, an aversion to sunlight, and a nearly limitless thirst for human blood.

Enter Bite Club, the mini-series that finally attempts to answer all those questions which a vampire Don might face every day.

The story kicks into high gear right from page one, when Eduardo Del Toro, the vampire Don in question, is gunned down (with wooden bullets, natch) by an unknown assailant. Then he falls about twenty stories before being impaled on a patio umbrella, so we can be pretty sure he's dead. Word of his death spreads to his daughter Risa, a record exec who's sexy and sexual beyond all reason, his son Eduardo Jr., a made man trying to make a better life for his own homicidal 15-year old son, and the other son, Leto, who has given up the Family life and been ordained as America's first vampire Catholic priest.

Of course, it isn't long before news gets out to the whole of Miami that the head of the Del Toro Family has been assassinated, and, just as the deceased is being laid to rest, the hunt for his killer is beginning. Oh, but then there's the little matter of what the Don wrote into his will…

Now, I know this title's going to draw immediate comparisons to The Godfather or The Sopranos, and that's pretty understandable when you consider how this first issue goes, but Bite Club moves us into interesting new territory for both the vampire and mob genres. It establishes that the vampires are indeed nigh-invulnerable and can, in fact, wear enough sunblock to move around in the daylight, but it also informs us that they age and fall apart just like humans do (the best scene in this issue has to be when Zeph, the two-hundred-something consigliere, is seeing the dentist to get fanged dentures).

Most of the vampires in Miami seem to belong to the Del Toro Family, so far, but we also know they can spread the "gift" as some people in town choose "vampirism over plastic surgery to maintain their near-eternal youth." What I found most shocking, though, was that the vampires were known to be… well, VAMPIRES! From the radio blaring out that the late Don emigrated to the U.S. in 1847 to the Miami PD's Vampire Crime Unit to the apparently convenient market for blood smoothies, the city seems geared to the fact that vampires rule the underworld.

At first, the idea of vampires abandoning their dark and mysterious trappings to very publicly rule over an American city may seem like a bit of a leap in logic. I mean, think about it; these people NEED to feed on human blood. By definition, they are the enemy of the human race. But, when you consider it, is the prototypical mobster any better? Wouldn't he also mercilessly kill and maim just to put food on his own table? And, when you consider the euphoria one's supposed to get from a vampire bite and that people might actually want to be bitten, doesn't the mobster seem like the greater villain, in the end?

One of the things that may prove somewhat harder for modern comic readers to swallow is the narration from the "God perspective." It's getting hard for me to remember the last time I read a new comic where the narration wasn't coming from a character in the story, some narrator who was clearly there when it all took place, or even a big book that everything has been written down in. Nowadays, the style of free-floating narration may be seen as old school, but it could also throw newer comic readers and just be seen as old hat.

A bigger problem at work, however, was word balloon placement. Ridiculous, I know, but a couple scenes of heavy dialogue exchange got really awkward really fast just because the order of those damn balloons was screwy. Hopefully, they'll avoid that next time.

But on the artistic side of things, the team comes through marvelously. David Hahn, using a remarkably steady hand, has no trouble giving us the raucous Miami party scene, the subdued settings of everyday vampire life, the horror of Underboss Victor Sanchez unleashed, and chilling tension of the monster that lurks inside Risa Del Toro. Kudos also to Brian Miller for delivering a simple yet appropriately detailed color scheme that sets a strong, consistent mood for every scene.

While I don't think it was intentional, their work is reminiscent of the 2D art used for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which isn't too hard to imagine since both revolve around gangsters in Miami. It'd be nice to believe others may have noticed that, as well, and that the book might pick up some readers based on the similarity, but I fear that market may be lost if they keep using covers like this first one. Don't get me wrong; I like the cover and the cute yet scary image of Risa with a milk carton full of blood, but Frank Quitely's art is NOTHING like what's inside the book. Now that they've gotten the first issue with the popular cover artist out of the way, I really hope they'll allow the series' artists to take over those duties.

When all's said and done, Bite Club takes two old genres and gives 'em a good punch in the stomach… or a nice chomp on the neck… depending on where you're coming from… anyways, it works. Read it. Don't make me tell you twice.


Jason Schachat

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