Bite Club #1

Written by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman
Art by David Hahn
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Which came first: the title or the concept? While not as theologically sticky as the whole “chicken or the egg” question, I think it’s still a legitimate query. It’s certainly a clever name for a series, evoking a certain image in the buyer’s mind. But did the title come about because of the contents of the series, or did Howard Chaykin and David Tischman retrofit certain ideas into the comic after he decided on a name? Because right now, I’m leaning towards the latter.

Eduardo Del Toro, the head of his family and corrupt businessman extraordinaire, has just died a particularly gruesome death near his home in Miami, Florida. As his diverse clan begins to assemble for his funeral, several things will become very clear. Eduardo Del Toro had his fingers in a lot of pies. Almost his entire family is just as corrupt as he was. Oh yeah, and the Del Toro family are all vampires.

As a crime story/primetime soap opera, Bite Club is a blast. It’s easy to imagine Bite Club #1 being the pilot episode of a new television show, with the scheming, down-and-dirty members of the Del Toro family all coming together over the death of the patriarch, even as they continue to plot their own ascension among the family. (Think of it as Six Feet Under meets The Sopranos.) And on that level, it really succeeds. Chaykin and Tischman do a good job of quickly introducing the cast, and while they’re all painted in pretty broad strokes for this introduction, you get a pretty good feel of who everyone else. There’s certainly enough story potential set up here to maintain the rest of the mini-series, and based on this first installment I’d probably be interested enough to read on. What’s strange, then, is the inclusion of vampirism into Bite Club. For being such a major advertised element of the series (and plastered across the cover), it’s barely in the book itself. In many ways, it’s really no different than if the characters were all of a more mundane ethnic minority; aside from the longevity of the characters, there doesn’t seem to be that much of a difference between the vampires and other people in Bite Club. Vampirism is very much in the open and accepted here, after all, so aside from little things like an extra need for dental care and really high levels of SPF in your sunblock… well, where is this going? Now it could be I’m jumping the gun and the vampire aspect of Bite Club will be more important in later issues, but viewing it just as a debut issue, it just comes across as distracting rather than interesting.

I am a big fan of David Hahn’s series Private Beach, so I was looking really forward to seeing what he did with Chaykin and Tischman’s script, since they as writers tend to be a little grittier and harsher than Hahn’s own stories. It’s a strange match, but I think it works. Hahn’s stripped down, iconic art style makes the characters seem a little more innocent than perhaps the script had originally envisioned, but I think it ultimately strengthens the story as a whole, giving the Del Toro a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” air about them. That’s not to say that the characters can’t look menacing—Victor and Eddie’s scenes certainly prove otherwise—but there’s something attractive about the way that Hahn draws people that make you want to trust them even though you really shouldn’t. Hahn’s art also helps Bite Club a televisual look to the comic, with sharp zoom-ins on specific elements that lead to pans across the area to help the reader drink in the whole scene. It’s a very nice use of storytelling, and it keeps the reader moving through the book at a nice pace.

It’s funny, because if Bite Club had just been a straight crime family story, I’d definitely be pushing people to buy this and the next issue as well. Instead I’ve got a bit of hesitation in doing so. Don’t get me wrong, the art is great (and Frank Quitely’s painted cover is nothing short of fantastic) but the inclusion of the vampire elements gives me a bit of worry for the rest of the series. If future issues still don’t use the idea to its full potential and just prove to be a distraction, well, that’s a big problematic. Hopefully that particular part of Bite Club will really come into focus quickly, because while it was one of the most interesting ideas in the initial pitch, the actual realization of the book has it as the weak point. Bite Club is a six-issue mini-series from Vertigo/DC Comics.

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