Undying Love #2

From where I’m sitting, “Undying Love” is looking like one of the more underrated books in Image’s 2011 offensive. Where books like “Nonplayer” and “Who Is Jake Ellis?” are deservedly difficult to avoid, with thus far incredible reader response, you have to go looking for word of Coker and Freedman’s vampire action book.

It may be that the pitch sounds too familiar. Vampire action thrillers, and even more specifically vampire romances, have become common ground for most readers, now, and instead of amping up their popularity – because after all, bloodsuckers have always been popular – the glut of neck-sucking going on in popular culture is on the verge of reaching saturation point.

If that’s true, it’s easy enough to see how “Undying Love” might seem expendable to the reading public. The story follows ex-soldier John Sargent, who is trying to save his vampire lover Mei from her curse by killing the vampire that made her. This father-figure happens to be one of the most powerful people in Hong Kong, and one of the most powerful monsters on the face of the planet.

Put like that, this sounds pretty straightforward, but what a synopsis ignores is the execution.

The first issue of this book was intriguing and beautiful, but this second issue is explosive from the start. Sargent is on a mission from the first panel, and though Freedman and Cokers’ art is working from reference, there is cinematic savvy and frenetic motion that isn’t always present in similar work. Despite the romantic, supernatural impetus behind Sargent’s actions, the action itself is straight out of early 90s Hong Kong cinema, with clear choreography showing cause and effect, and a gritty tone in the inks and colours.

In my #MOMBcast review of number one, I focussed primarily on the art, which continues to be lush and beautifully composed here. Comparisons have been made to Alex Maleev and Arthur Ranson, and that’s fair, but sells Coker short as a stylish and individual artist. As with Maleev and Ransom, the use of photo-reference can sometimes look staged and static, but the book avoids this happening by keeping all the actors in constant motion.┬áCoker has been a favourite artist of mine for a long time, and I think his instincts for balancing out artsy line-work with hyper-real detail are sound throughout – when he wants you to fluidly slip through a sequence of panels, bold lines and blocks of colour are deployed, but establishing shots are full of fine inking to snag the eye and slow the reader down. Worth noting is that the artist never floods the narrative, despite being as fine-tuned as any Tim Bradstreet cover.

And the writing is equally as in tune with the story as the art is. Where many writers might feel prone to flesh out a world as rich in supernatural mythology as this with exposition – either in dialogue or captions – Freedman and Coker only give you as much information as you need to get you through any individual scene. There are explanatory discussions, but only where they make sense, and by centering the book around John Sargent, who is essentially a sketchily drawn cypher defined by his short-term motives and actions, rather than any searching scenes with Mei – entirely absent from this episode – the creators have given themselves license to use plot as a driver for narrative, rather than the other way around.

This is the model for most of the real classic action movies, and doesn’t diminish the effect that the book has on the reader, which is a sincere desire to know what happens next, and a real feeling that the stakes are high. Rather than talking about trying to create an action-thriller vibe, “Undying Love” distils what makes one work into a smartly told, crisp and beautiful comic book, that should work for fans of action movies and horror stories. It isn’t going to be for everyone – there isn’t much self-examination or depth here, but it cracks on at a hell of a pace.