Killadelphia – A Horror Comic Fable

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Before I start a new book, I’m always interested to see who else is talking about it. I like to think if creators I respect are praising the book then I too will enjoy it. So it’s safe to say my expectations were pretty high when I came across the much lauded graphic novel Killadelphia, which Jordan Peele claims is the “stunning and fresh horror fable” he’s been craving and Tananarive Due says is a “genuinely frightening horror graphic”. But therein lies the double edge of the sword, where cover blurbs and comparisons can sometimes over inflate an otherwise decent story and put it in a realm of expectation that is impossible to meet.

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Killadelphia horror comic cover
Killadelphia horror comic book cover

So, the question is does the Killadelphia comic live up to the hype?

I’m happy to report that for the most part it does. It’s bloody, gritty, and completely engaging.

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Zagone Studios masks and costumes

Killadelphia Horror Comic Synopsis

Jimmy Sangster Jr is a cop who has returned to his hometown in Philadelphia to bury his recently deceased father, detective Jimmy Sangster Sr. Their father-son relationship was never very strong, and the death comes as a relief to Jimmy. However, back in his childhood home he finds his father’s journal and reads a startling story about Sangster Sr and chief medical examiner Jose. Recently they had been investigating a string of bizarre murders and, as the bodies in the morgue come back to life, they realize the culprits they’re hunting are…vampires!

vampire art from killadelphia horror comic
Killadelphia is full of unexpected surprises

Turns out John Adams, a founding father and former president, is a vampire and has been slowly amassing a horde of followers over the centuries in a bid to take back the America he helped begin so long ago. His crooked revolution is 300 hundred years in the making and apparently now it’s time to put it into action. With the doomsday clock ticking down, Jimmy Jr realizes he’s going to need the help of someone he had finally let go of. With shovel in hand he digs up his undead father and together, with the help of Jose and a few others, they face the vampire army dead on in a final effort to save their city.

For a story about an undead former president trying to take over the city (and yes, I kept thinking about a certain Deadpool storyline from Brain Posehn), Killadelphia is firmly grounded in realistic characters and a gripping plot. Jimmy Jr has conflicting feelings about his father, who was at turns abusive and absent during his childhood. His mother was the glue holding their family together, and when she passed their fragile relationship seemed to have crumbled. But now father and son are going to have to learn how to work through their differences in order to save the city they both care for. As readers we care about their characters, but I am thankful their back and forth quibbling was kept to a minimum.

There are also many relevant social issues and ideas woven into the storyline, including class disparity, poverty, racism, gentrification, addiction, and political corruption. The city itself, with its historical implications and complex history of social unrest, plays a significant role in the plot and is the perfect setting for such a story. I also appreciate that this isn’t just a story of good vs evil, as arguably none of the characters are purely good or bad. Even Adams, with his disturbing plan to rebuild the country, truly believes what he is doing is right.

vampire attack art from Killadelphia horror comic
Resistance is futile in Killadelphia

Of course, in a story about vampires there is also going to be a fair amount of supernatural horror elements. Apart from the whole blood-sucking monster thing, there’s also an interesting twist involving a (relatively) young vampire named Tevin and a magical book that he is entrusted to carry by John Adams. Tevin is actually one of my favorite characters in the graphic novel, and I really like the arc his storyline takes. I can’t say much more because of spoilers, but I’ll just say the second half goes in some neat directions I did not expect.

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Killadelphia Vampires

Though the characters are strong and the plot is interesting, the vampires are definitely what elevate the story. Their design follows classic tradition for the most part: humanoid, yellow eyes, fangs, elongated fingers, and a healthy fear of sunlight. They can fly, they cohabitate in “nests,” and sleep hanging from the ceiling. Interestingly, they also are typically naked and cry tears of blood. They are also incredibly brutal, vicious, and efficient at killing. This is certainly a horror graphic novel, and there are several frightening and suspenseful moments along the way. It’s not Scott Snyder’s Wytches kind of scary, but it still works. I do love how much of the story is focused on the vampires’ perspective (be they “bad” or “good” they do make up most of the characters). And we get to see a lot of different perspectives on vampirism, from those who see it as a spiritual awakening or means to power to those who see it as a curse or form of slavery.

good vampire from Killadelphia horror comic
Not all vampires are bad

Killadelphia Comic Art

And the art! Oh my goodness the illustrations and colors are gorgeous here. The artwork of Jason Shawn Alexander excels in creating the dark, gritty noir atmosphere necessary for the story. I love the style, and it reminds me somewhat of comic artist John Bolton (whose style I also adore). Facial expressions and body movements are drawn in realistic detail, and it was interesting to learn at the end of the book how Alexander does photoshoots with live models to prepare for his pieces. Colors by Luis NCT perfectly compliment, bathing scenes in dark shadows and buckets of blood.

Here Rodney Barnes has given us a pretty solid story. There are some themes that didn’t quite pan out, and the romance angle between Jimmy Jr and Jose felt unearned and tacked on. But overall, I really enjoyed reading it. And though the primary storyline is wrapped up here, the ending easily sets us up for a sequel. I for one am very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into another volume of Killadelphia in the future!

Killadelphia is available now from Image Comics

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