3 out of 5
A.J. Scherkenbach’s ‘Bittersweet Vows’ arrived with a lot of confidence: a full-steam-ahead mashup of depression era drama – money woes, relationship twists – with gangsters and vampires, framed by a present day birthday celebration of an elderly woman, whose memories form the narrative… while a familiar, pasty-skinned creature spies from the background. This was given energetic, cinematic flair from artist Gustavo Novaes, never skimping on extreme angles or interesting paneling.
But it was… a bit much for an introductory issue, clearly a tale that was wholly constructed, but then perhaps not delivered in the most digestible fashion. Scenes felt chopped up, such that it was hard to get a read on the actual focus; this was then doubled-down on by the art, which seemed a bit too dramatic to properly support dialogue, or down beats. Interesting, but scattershot.
While the remainder of the series proves that the confidence of that initial presentation had merit – Scherkenbach has some solid narratives strung across the issues, with some key scenes, but emotional and horrific, that are quite effectively scripted and drawn – the sensation that there’s too much going on still remains. The storylines – the relationships, the mob, the vamp – are all interwoven, but I’m not sure they needed to be; I kept refiguring the story with one of those elements dropped, and I think it helps to streamline things. As is, the series more carries the feeling that something was added in just to make things more “unique” – and based on a thank you note, I’m supposing it was the mob angle – but it ultimately just makes it cluttered. Scherkenbach’s method of trying to delineate events that are happening concurrently also leads to that constant flipping back-and-forth between scenes, page by page, always linked by carryover narration (e.g. end a sentence on page one with a character speaking and ending in an ellipses, carry it over as a voiceover box on page two); this makes the pacing choppy, and the transitions repetitive.
Novaes continues to impress with some really wonderful layouts, but little details added in for flair are sometimes more distracting than in service of good eye direction, and again, the highly cinematic style doesn’t help to smooth out the above mentioned structural hiccups.
However, I did end up really liking the story, from a bird’s eye view. And each character was well defined, with a solid voice. Once you’re past the blur of the first issue, you can pick out the key touchpoints of the story pretty soon afterwards, and, honestly, rather guess what direction things are going to take – but it’s still interesting even with that knowledge, suggesting a solid tale. I admittedly needed some encouragement to check out these issues after being a bit turned off by the first one, and they’re still problematic in similar fashions, but I’m also very impressed by this duo’s confidence, and I like walking away knowing that I enjoyed the story, even if I maybe didn’t always love how it was told.