Bittersweet Vows (#1) – A.J. Scherkenbach

3 out of 5

It’s probably not great when I can’t tell you much about what an issue is about while reading it, or a moment after finishing the last page. A.J. Scherkenbach’s Bittersweet Vows: …vampires? I guess?

There’s a vamp-like creature hunting the elderly, and then on the eve of (presumably) one such target’s 100th birthday, the lass has a flashback to Chicago, during the rootin’ zootin’ days. Yes, some events do reconnect with that creature, and so back in the present we can assume there’s some long-standing grudge here that will likely get filled in over the course of Bittersweet’s preceding issues, but Scherkenbach spends all of this premiere doing one-page cuts between many characters in the frame of this flashback, all of the cuts fairly en media res, meaning there’s never a sense of the story settling down and establishing a focus. We get cute couples, and couples that just moved to Chicago, and mobsters, and maybe some other mobsters – and a vampire – and though everyone arrives on the page with a sense of personality, we’re still dropped right in the middle, and then shuffled along to another “middle” a page later.

However – that ‘arriving with personality’ concept is helpful: it gives us confidence to keep reading. It lets us know that Scherkenbach likely has this all mapped out, and has plans for where everyone, and the story, is going. It’s just unfortunate that that story is likely written to be read in one go, and not split up into issues – or at least not divided so this first issue is a clean read.

Artist Gustavo Novaes is a similar mixed bag of impressive confidence and then perhaps too much style. Their framing, and the way the pages are broken up, are really engaging to look at, making a lot of talking heads into emotive, moving pages. But it also kind of moves past the page, zooming us around in a dynamic format that just increases that sense that we’re never settling down in a moment.

I’d certainly rather have creatives who are working extra hard to Wow us versus delivering a book that’s phoned in, and that effort makes Bittersweet entertaining, but not necessarily immersive. Some pacing and visual restraint could’ve kicked things up a notch.