Vampire stories are a genre unto themselves. Bram Stoker’s vampires operate by different rules than Anne Rice’s vampires or Stephanie Meyer’s vampires. But for those of us who play Vampire: The Masquerade obsessively, the World of Darkness vampires are the end all, be all of the species. Not only do they behave by different rules, but their unlives are filled with different worries, different problems. They concern themselves with specific sects—the political machinations of the Camarilla, the reckless violence of the Sabbat. They are belong to certain clans and bloodlines; they are beholden to specific elders and antediluvians. Writing a Vampire: The Masquerade story specifically comes with a wealth of canon and a responsibility to hit on certain themes that are central to the World of Darkness. It also comes with fans, like me, to either impress or disappoint—and Winter’s Teeth #1 impresses.
Vampire: The Masquerade: Winter’s Teeth #1
Addison Duke (colorist), Nathan Gooden (artist), Blake Howard (writer), Tini Howard (writer), Devmalya Pramanik (artist), Tim Seeley (writer)
August 5, 2020
Vampire: The Masquerade and the entire World of Darkness have a long and complicated history, being owned, sold, licensed and re-licensed nearly countless times since it was first introduced in 1991. Today, the tabletop game, the LARP and the video games are all being made by different companies. For this comic, which is Vault’s very first licensed title, they partnered with Paradox Interactive, which is the publisher that does the Bloodlines video games—but the publisher of the tabletop, Modiphius, is also contributing to the project in the form of exclusive 5th Edition materials that are included at the end of each issue. The first issue included V5 character sheets for the two main characters of the comic, which was very neat to read! (I honestly have no idea if this licensing investigation is interesting to anybody but me, but I find it fascinating, so I probably can’t be the only one.)
But let’s talk about the actual comic! It features two separate stories which are currently completely separate from each other, but are meant to connect in interesting ways later in the series, which I’m excited to see. They both take place in the area around the Twin Cities, which is a truly great choice for a setting—it has a unique character and it’s meaningful to many VTM fans because it has a lot of interesting history in the canon. (Plus, Twin Cities by Night is a popular VTM podcast.)
Another thing both stories share is excellent art. I absolutely love the art and I love the cover! VTM has an extremely distinct 90s aesthetic, and both of the artists did a great job of emulating the old style enough that it feels like Vampire, but not so much that it seems dated. It’s dark and brooding without feeling like it’s trying too hard to be edgy, like the old art often was. Addison Duke’s colors steal the show a bit here; they are intensely moody, and they give the stories very different feels. Winter’s Teeth is illustrated in mainly dark blues and purples, while the Anarch Tales is characterized by a dusty orange shade, and it really changes the aesthetic a lot.
The main story, Winter’s Teeth, is about a Camarilla enforcer named Cecily Bain. She’s a former anarch who joined the Cam for some stability in her unlife—particularly because she’s secretly taking care of her elderly mortal sister, who’s struggling with dementia. Of course, once you’re in the Cam, you naturally get caught up in Cam politics, which is starting to happen to Cecily, in what seems like it’s going to be a big way. (Both of the Twin Cities are historically united under a single Prince, but from the looks of it, they might not be for long.) Cecily also finds a fledgling vampire practically on her doorstep, newly embraced and confused, and it appears she’s going to take her under her wing—although the cliffhanger ending suggests that there may be more to the fledgling than meets the eye! That’s a lot of plot threads and it will be interesting to see how they all play out and connect.
The side story, The Anarch Tales, is described in the plot summary as being about an Anarch gang tasked with investigating a murder, but the first issue doesn’t even get to that point in the story after introducing the Anarch characters. The main character, Colleen Pendergrass, is a thinblood who was embraced by her abusive husband and is now stuck with him in death. Her situation is pretty grim, and while it’s certainly in-genre to have a rough life, the Anarch Movement is all about freedom and libertas and I was hoping to see a story that focused more on that. The Anarchs are my favorite sect in VTM because they have a little bit more room for actual joy and friendship, rather than the constant political backstabbing of the other sects, and Anarch characters have a tendency to be colorful punks rather than traditionally edgy vampires. (Think The Lost Boys versus Interview with the Vampire.) That said, I haven’t given up hope—if The Anarch Tales ends up being a story about a thinblood coming into her own, ditching (or killing) her abusive partner who’s weighing her down, and truly embracing the ideal of freedom… I would be here for that.
These stories really do capture something about what Vampire: The Masquerade is really about. Cecily behaves like a monster at times, but also clearly has a sentimental side, in the way she interacts with her sister and even in the (slightly begrudgingly) trusting way that the way she treats the fledgling. This touches on a major theme of Vampire: fighting against your inner beast that wants you to be a monster, making concessions to it, but trying to preserve what pieces of your own humanity you can. They also make a point to portray vampirism as the curse that it is. Being immortal and powerful doesn’t make up for the pain and all-consuming hunger that comes with being a vampire. Colleen is living this every day, and Cecily knows it too—she chooses not to embrace her sister, even though it would cure her ailments, because she doesn’t want to foist the cursed life onto someone she loves. Political intrigue is a big theme in Vampire as well, of course, and it seems like we’ll get plenty of that too.
This book certainly appealed to me as a VTM fan, but it didn’t forget to introduce the specific lore for non-fans to enjoy as well. Vampires from VTM have a distinct flavor that separates them from the vampires of other stories, and this flavor manifested itself in subtle but meaningful ways. Some of this is about using VTM words—”Kindred” are turned into vampires when they are “embraced” by their “sire,” for instance, and they must protect the “Masquerade” so that humans don’t find out about the supernatural. Cecily is of clan Brujah, and the book does a good job giving some context into the nuance of what that means, without stopping the entire narrative to completely explain. Cecily’s primogen (another VTM word!) comments on her “clan renowned ferocity and lack of sentimentality, without all the usual dissent” which really does say a lot about the Brujah. (I’m excited to see how the handle the rest of the clans as well!) Even little canonical things, like seeing one of the characters crying blood, was a nice touch.
Overall, Vault definitely has me excited about this Vampire: The Masquerade story! Ending the first chapter of Winter’s Teeth with such an intense cliffhanger is slightly infuriating to me, but it definitely did the job of getting me anxious to read the next issue. I’m desperately ready to unfurl the conspiracy that’s creeping through the Twin Cities. How is this mysterious fledgling involved? How will the Camarilla and the Anarchs end up interacting as part of it? How deep does the intrigue really go? Vault managed to transport me back to the 90s in the best way with this comic and now, like the vampires, I’m hungry for more.