Sometimes all you need is a good piece of horror to consume. So when seeing the eye-catching cover to Ex Sanguine on the stand with two giant heads, one of a pretty blonde and the other a vampire, and a dapper looking gentlemen against a blood-red background – it just called out to be read. Not remembering it from any of the Dark Horse solicitations, nor seeing any press about it also made it enticing in the hopes it might be a gem uncovered. Similarly, Undying Love Volume 1 with its stark white logo against a black background and a bleeding heart for an o, while a man is holding a girl and pointing a gun was quite striking.
As it turned out, both books were pretty good with Ex Sanguine detailing the tribulations of a vampire trying to go about his normal routines when trouble in the form of a blonde waitress enters his life. But she is not so normal herself, having had a tragic and abusive upbringing and now all she wants to do is leave her own legacy in this life and to be remembered. And as Saul, our resident vampire finds out, she wants to do it in blood. Throw in a couple of FBI agents and there is a ton of fun to go around. Over in Undying Love, Tomm Coker gives us a man and a woman on the run who head back to China to find Mei, our leading lady, a cure for her vampirism. Combining elements of Chinese folklore such as foxes and shape-changers, as well as hard action like the television show Strike Back, the book never lets the pace down.
A horror book was needed and both delivered but in a different way. Ex Sanguine was an enjoyable sort of horror, much like Fright Night or Scream while Undying Love was more akin to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Tim Seeley checked all the right boxes with his story, what with the monsters and the women, the tortured pasts and the dogged FBI agents – one the straight man and one who does not know when to give up. There was also a nice twist at the end which left it open for a sequel. One thing that would have been nice to see was a little bit more of Saul’s background and history to make him a little bit more understandable to the audience. When reading the book, you notice a few things here and there, such as the rats, and other items which hint at a bigger picture and a larger universe, so the fact that he did not delve that far into Saul’s past is something he might explore further down the road.
Coker’s story is flawless and quite beautiful in execution. His characters are interesting and diverse from the ageless little boy to the shape-shifting vampires who can turn into ravens and there is always something to look at. The story races and never lets down for a second, keeping you hooked through every panel. There was one major flaw in the book and that was the ending. Where Ex Sanguine ended definitively with the possibility of more, Undying Love ended the same with another four issues planned which never got published. So when the story ends on a cliff-hanger, it leaves us hanging permanently. It does not take away from what was published, but it leaves the reader to ascertain what happens next with their own imagination.
To match the perfect story from Tomm Coker was Daniel Freedman on art, and his images were just as beautiful. Most of the people look as if they might be photo-referenced, which is fine and maybe because of it, they give the book an almost ethereal look. It is gruesome and gorgeous and a shame that it had to end. On the other hand, Joshua Scot Emmons’s art was a good fit for Ex Sanguine. It has a clean and uncluttered style that is very reminiscent of Al Rio, and while perhaps not seeming a right fit at first for such a tale, it worked very well. Oftentimes the facial expressions he does are the most intriguing things on the page such as Ashley who is sly and mischievous, and we can see that she is hiding something beneath the surface but of course we never know what that is until it happens. So while there we have two totally different art styles from two different artists, they both compliment their books perfectly.
So, if you are in the market for some great vampire fiction, these two books will do you well. Ex Sanguine is recommended over Undying Love not because it is better, as they are equally good in their way, but because it has an ending that is absolute. If a sequel happens, it would be appreciated but the same cannot be said of Undying Love as the story was only half done, and will seemingly never be done. A real shame as it held so much promise.
Both 4 out of 5