Writer: Eliot Rahal (@eliotrahal)
Artist: Emily Pearson (@emilypearsonart), Fred C. Stresing (@FredCStresing), Crank!
Publisher: Oni Press (@OniPress)
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 crimes and FBI Agent Felix Franklin is certain it’s part of a wider plot. But the truth is much more sinister than he could imagine. The four robbers—who call themselves The Vain—are vampires: immortal, physically powerful, and after decades of honing their skills, practically untraceable. But in a world that is rapidly changing, stealing blood is harder every day and with each decade that passes, Agent Franklin inches closer to the truth. Eliot Rahal, Emily Pearson, and Fred C. Stressing kick off a series that spans nearly a century of wild eternal youth and reckless abandon across history.
October is always a good time to find a new comic with either vampires, werewolves, witches, or zombies. Sometimes all them, but in this case I was pulled in by Oni Press’ new book The Vain. Really the first two words of the publishers blurb hooked me. Chicago, 1941….with vampires. I am in! Vampires in a period book intrigued me, and then I read on to see this group of vampires are running heists at blood banks. So then you start thinking, “Are the good vampires? Are they the Ocean’s 11 of vampires?” I just had to know!
Right away I notice the illustrations by Emily Pearson. There is unique flatness to the style that give it more of the 1940s feel. Like I’m reading a comic printed in the 40’s, but at the same time there details and composition that give it a modern feel. I’m guessing kind of how I would expect a generations old vampire to be, classic and nostalgic but with a modernness that give you an odd sense about them. Pearson’s catalog of work shows she can do just about any style she wants (see her twitter feed if you need proof) so I have to think these are very conscious choices she is making. And boy, does it work.
Now to the story: The book opens on a heist that reads like you’d expect a typical bank robbery in the 40’s to look like, but it’s not that kind of bank….it’s a blood bank. It’s important to note here that our group of robbers do not show any vampire qualities at this point. In fact, if you were to just have this comic to an unsuspecting reader and told them nothing of it, the only thing that might give it away is the cover, depending on the version you handed them. Mid-robbery we cut to FBI headquarters and a young agent pouring over his notes on his way to a meeting. He’s trying to convince himself that what he’s looking at is not a random set of coincidences, they are calculated connected events. Our agent, Felix as we learn, has to convince his boss that something hinkey is going on.
Snap back to the robbery! Still nothing weird or supernatural. In fact, other than the guns in people’ faces, our robbers seem kind of nice. We do see little things here and there. They want the blood, real bad, and there seems to be a touch of mesmerism, or maybe magic. At the same time they congratulate the nervous nurse on her pregnancy. Kinda nice people. Save for when the old security guard speaks up. (Why is it always the old security guard?) And we get to another spot where I had to spend some time wondering if Eliot Rahal meant this to play on multiple levels. The security guard tries to make a moral stand and calls the robber a “animals” and states that he’s “not afraid of your kind!” Did I mention that two of our robber/vampires are black? No, I didn’t. Two of them are black, or at least dark complected. This is Chicago in the 1940’s when racism is publicly practiced and people were proud of their racist beliefs…no social media to hide behind, they were public bigots. I believe that’s what Rahal is playing out for us. One more level to our story……fuckin racism.
We cut back to Felix and his meeting with FBI director J. Edgar. Hoover where he explains this rash of robberies on America’s blood banks. His theory…Nazis. Wait, what? Remember it’s 1941. America isn’t actively in WWII yet, but Hitler and the German war machine are laying waste to Europe at this time. Felix thinks the robberies are a plot to weaken America before being forced into the war. It’s a solid theory. Much more believable than a group of vampires creatively surviving.
Weeks pass and some things happen. Our robbers separate and join back together in Las Vegas. We see them watch the news real on December 7th, 1941. A day that will live in infamy. The Attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States has just entered WWII, and our group of vampire robbers get an idea. They pay a visit to the FBI director’s, J. Edgar Hoover, office, admit they are vampires, and they want to kill Nazis!
Everybody judges new comics differently. My measure has always been a simple one, “Do I want to read the next issue?” Not only do I want to read the next issue….I HAVE to read the next issue. The last panel of The Vain #1 gave me an audible, “Holy Crap!” reaction to where my dog started barking and my wife immediately thought something was wrong. This is a book people will talk about. It releases on 10/11/2020, so get to your LCS and get one put on.
About OniPres Oni Press is a premier comic book and graphic novel publisher located in Portland, Oregon. Merged with Lion Forge Comics in 2019 but established in 1997, Oni Press publishes a thoughtfully curated line of award-winning original and licensed graphic novels and comic books for readers of all ages. Oni Press also publishes inclusive sex education, gender studies & erotica graphic novels under the Limerence Press imprint. Notable titles from the Oni Press Lion Forge Publishing Group include: The Tea Dragon Society, Sheets, Gender Queer, A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, Scott Pilgrim, Stumptown, Achewood, Sanrio’s Gudetama, and Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty™.