Thousand Faced: Ides of Blood 1 & 2

Ides of Blood 1 & 2
Writer: Stuart C. Paul
Artist: Christian Duce
Published by: Wildstorm

It is October, the month of Halloween. This column will feature creepy features for the entire month. This week we’ll deal with vampires.

With all the trendiness and hoopla now engulfing the vampire genre ala Twilight and True Blood, I really didn’t want to be overexposed to any more mass marketed bloodsucking. Ides of Blood is the antidote to all that crap. It’s a combination of things masterfully woven together as opposed to badly stitched as say Franken Castle (shudder). As always I went straight for the writing, ignoring the art work at first. The first panel is well wrought; descriptive, smooth and informed. So far so good.

A fat member of Caesar’s inner circle and member of the Senate is cruising the back alleys of Rome looking for some boy action. Some things just never change, do they? Things go real bad real quick. His body guards are beheaded. The boy gets a feral gleam in his eye and lard ass is attacked by a golden masked man. He gets fanged in a most serious way. Oh goody, a killing by a mysterious murderer. Now I notice the art work. It’s all sanguine like somebody steeped these here pages in blood that dried on them. Ohhh.

Stuart C. Paul has clearly done his research. He has immersed himself in good influences and knows his stuff. The story and the look of the book from artist Christian Duce and colorist Carlos Badilla just drips with the overall effect.
Then there is the dialogue. A centurion calls up at Valens, the main character’s apartment, “We’ve got a floater at the Capitaline Baths.” Valens responds, Someone ought to tell Antony to quit taking a dump in the pool.” Hey these Roman soldiers speak like real soldiers. Trust me I’ve been around a few soldiers in my time. Yeah. This gets better and better. Valens is Caesar’s personal praetorian and a vampire as well. The tale gets rich in plot and subplot. There are really cool lines that stick with me and make me chuckle ruefully long after I’ve closed the book. Brutus wants a round of vampire crucifixions as an object lesson. Cicero tells him you can’t just round up Roman citizens and randomly execute them. Brutus delivers a very in-character response. I love this. “They’re not citizens. They’re corpses that pay taxes.” Yeah. When the film gets made that will be the line that goes into the trailer. Hey, at least their murderous bloodsuckers pay taxes. Well wait until they get control of the Senate eh?

Valens is a dark and moody vampire. He scrogs Caesar’s niece Octavia and gives her erotic love bites while he drinks of her sensuality. He is torn by the contempt of his own people and his love for Caesar who has elevated him for his intelligence and unwavering loyalty.

Caesar is Caesar. He is cool and in control or so he believes. Actually that is what he projects but unlike Roman society itself, he sees the corruption of his culture and the proliferation of vampirism for what it is. This is why he keeps his enemies close. In Valens case he encourages a twisted one-sided bromance. Caesar is Rome all right and for all the power and glory it is all wriggly in the gross nature of self-adoration. Tear off the mask and you can see the worms crawling in and out.

The Romans found vampires in Dacia (Now called Romania, for some reason I presume). The Empire just had to exert its manifest density and “conquered” the vampire race and brought them back to Rome in silver chains. Silly Romans, you brought the epitome of your parasitical culture back to where the food and power is. Now vampires are just everywhere especially in places where purse and toga strings are loosened. Like AIDS, another plague of the blood, they corrupt through human lust and weakness. Yet on the periphery, just hiding in plain sight is all the ookiness which is endemic to vampirism right down to bug eating off the walls. Mr. Paul, you have so uncuted the pouty emoness of star quality vampirism. Mr. Duce and Mr, Badilla have given it a seminal and sanguine look that vivisects the sparkly marketing vampire units shoved down teen throats. I bet Justin Bieber feeds on human blood too. And what if she did? Wouldn’t that just be too cute?

And now an interview with the writer of Ides of Blood, Stuart C. Paul.

by Bill Hilburn

Bill-Mr. Paul, The first thing that impressed me was the look. You said Rome was built on mud and blood in the book. I assume the sanguine look was your idea or did that spring from collaborative effort with Christian Duce?

Stu-If you’re referring to the coloring, the heavy reds that dominate the atmosphere actually came neither from myself nor Christian–but from colorist Carlos Badilla. He pretty much just saw the pencils and ran with it. The reference to mud and blood was fairly literal–at this period in history, Rome was not the city of marble that we traditionally see in movies, and obviously there was a lot of warfare and death in the city’s history. My description of the city in the first panel went like this:

“The upper left corner of the page bears a sculpture of the god Janus, who is depicted with two faces on each side of his head; one facing left, the other facing right. He is the god of beginnings and endings, so this image will bookend the first panel of our story and the last. A miasma of fog, subtly tinted blood-red, surrounds the Janus head and thins out as we move right across the top tier to reveal a wide shot of Rome, circa 44 B.C. It is NIGHT. Maybe the moon is out, maybe it’s peering from behind the clouds, maybe we can’t see it at all–whatever looks most eerie. We should be able to see a number of important landmarks that will play a role in our story. The CIRCUS MAXIMUS with its long oval track, the patrician estates in the hills, the squalor of the plebian insulae apartments crammed in the heart of the city, the open square of the FORUM. The LIGHTHOUSE is perched on a cliff overlooking the TIBER RIVER frame right. Torches lining the city’s complex network of roads give the city a subtle glow, but there are portions of the city that are in full darkness, particularly a coffin-shaped area of the city shrouded by an enormous black cloth. The overall impression should be of 75% historical Rome, 25% film noir meets James Whale meets The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” I feel like Christian captured that eerie version of Rome perfectly, so it was really just every person building on the work of their predecessor.

Bill-The writing is strong but I loved Valens first words about Antony not taking a dump in the pool when he is told they found a floater. It was very Mickey Spillane. So this is a Roman-vampire-noir detective tale then?

Stu-Yes! Mickey Spillane is exactly the noir influence I was going for! Yep, it’s a Roman-vampire-noir detective yarn. The story screamed to be a noir with the conspiracy and mystery surrounding Caesar’s assassination, plus Valens ends up as an innocent man on the run, trying to clear his name. Also, the city is always a character of its own in noirs, and there’s no city with more gravitas attached to it than Caesar’s Rome.

Bill-I don’t want to give it away but the clues are thick and obvious. Caesar brought the vampyr to where the food and power is and realized it too late. Is he afraid of them or making a bid for immortality through them?

Stu-The only thing Caesar fears is his own mortality.

Bill-The 13th Legion hasn’t really “retired” has it?

Stu-Aw, man… that would’ve been a great twist. There are myriad machinations afoot, but the 13th Legion is not one of them. It was really just a historical reference. Hmm… I’m saving that one for the sequel.

Bill-I suspect if I ask about your literary influences you’ll say “everything” but I’m curious about specifics?

Stu-Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, L.A. Graf, Chandler, Hammett, Spillane, Garth Ennis, Poe, Philip K. Dick, C.S. Lewis… Sandman is what got me interested in comics as an adult, and American Gods is just brilliant. L.A. Graf is my favorite writer of Star Trek books. I guess if I’m talking Star Trek, I also have to begrudgingly mention William Shatner (and less begrudgingly Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens) whose resurrection of Kirk in his Ashes of Eden books carried me through middle school. Poe was a big influence on the Soothsayer’s captions that are interspersed throughout Ides. Any time you use the word “inexorable,” you’re doffing your cap to Poe whether you want to or not.

Bill-There’s a hint of Antony and Cleopatra about Valens and Octavia. Will that relationship expand politically as well? Is Caesar keeping his “enemies” closer that way? Come to think of it is there some Don Corleone in Caesar’s character as well?

Stu-Caesar is definitely using Octavia as a tool to control Valens, no question about it. He’s the type of guy who will take advantage of anything at his disposal, and if it’s not at his disposal, he’ll find a way to change that. I think that ultimately, if you ask why Valens chose Octavia of all the chicks in Rome to go after, obviously he’s drawn to her social standing, and I think that he definitely gets a thrill off being with a woman above his station. To Valens, Octavia is a conquest in a sense–if he could openly be with her, it would mean he had acceptance from mortals and from the patricians. Most importantly, it would mean Caesar’s acceptance, but that’s still just the surface level. Deeper down, I’d say Octavia is a substitute for Caesar. I’m not saying Valens is gay, but he does have a major man-crush on Caesar. The truth is, I think everyone has a crush on Caesar. In Valens’s mind, loyalty and love are all mixed up.

For Octavia, I think it’s more about boredom. How does a girl who has everything get her thrills? Treading on taboo excites her. I think some part of her does care for Valens, but ultimately, she has too much of her uncle in her to actually love anyone beyond herself.

To get back to your questions, no, Octavia and Valens aren’t going to be political allies. There are some big surprises in store for Octavia, but in the wake of Caesar’s assassination, she is just scared–she no longer has the protection of her all-powerful uncle and she just wants to keep her head down.

As for Caesar as a Don Corleone figure, I think there’s definitely parallels–not purposefully, just because any time you have a figure of that much might and ambition, you’re dealing with the same archetype.

Bill-Did this book come together as a collaboration between you and Mr. Duce or had you written it already and he just synced up with your vision?

Stu-I wrote it first, then Christian brought it to life. We ended up collaborating a bit more as the project went on, but for the most part, the script was the extent of our communication. He just totally got it.

Bill-I loved the movement on the page where the soothsayer eats the bug off the wall. Would that be our Renfield reference right there?

Stu-The blood is life!

Bill-I really liked how you depicted shape changing. Do different vampyr families adopt forms which suit them? Is there a Roman eagle form coming for the right lineage?

Stu-Ha! Well, we don’t actually get into the details of this in the book–if I have a chance to expand the mythology and tell the story of the Dacian conquest in more detail, I’ll get into it, but basically your bloodline is like skin or eye color–you just inherit it based on your parents. However, there are some vampyres, who at puberty, do get to choose which shape they will associate with and lock into. Sort of like daemons in Golden Compass. And evolution is always at work, so any form is possible with the new Roman blood. I can tell you that we have two more shadow forms coming in the future issues.

Bill-If this goes well and it is; do you plan an ongoing series set in this time in history? I see so many possibilities with this. As a writer and a gamer I could just run with your inspiration. That’s how it is with the really good stuff.

Stu-I would love to do a prequel about Dacian history, and like I said, expand the story of Caesar’s conquest so we can see how he actually overpowered the vampyres. However, the story I’d most love to tell is how Cleopatra plays into the vampyre mythology of this time. I didn’t get a chance to investigate her and Caesar’s relationship in the limited series, and the next thing that comes in Roman history is the Antony-Cleopatra-Octavian civil war. Also, if you recall, Cleopatra died by “snakebite.” But with Wildstorm closing, I imagine we’d have to have some pretty fantastic sales numbers to convince DC to greenlight an ongoing series… so if you want some Egyptian vampyre action, tell your friends to check out the comic!

by Bill Hilburn

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