Sunday, September 4, 2011

True Blood: All Together Now Is Surprisingly Satisfying True Blood!

The Good: The characters look like they are supposed to, Ties in well with the television series
The Bad: Limits itself on language at the beginning, Not a vital story.
The Basics: Fun and found inexpensively enough now, True Blood: All Together Now is bound to please the fans of True Blood and is a good primer for those starting Season 3 who do not have the time to watch the prior seasons.

In reading graphic novels these days, there are many that I purposely avoid and some I review because I like bringing balance to the reviews. So, for example, within about three seconds of opening up the media-tie in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon - Rising Storm graphic novel (reviewed here!) I knew I was going to pan the hell out of it because the characters looked nothing like the movie characters. Sure, a good story could have saved it, but I didn't hold my breath (and I am glad I did not). But with my wife and I getting into True Blood on television (Season 1 is reviewed here and Season 2 is reviewed here!), I had been wary of picking up True Blood: All Together Now, the first graphic novel compiling the first six issues of the comic book series from IDW, ironically the same company that owns the lucrative Transformers comic license.

This sense of trepidation came from the fact that many of the IDW titles I read and looked through while working at a comic book shop are based upon popular media franchises, but feature artwork where the characters are so unrecognizable that characters have to say their names so you know who they are. Moreover, True Blood is frequently characterized by delightfully excessive nudity, troubling levels of gore and language that forces it to be on premium cable (if it ever is syndicated, episodes will be about fifteen minutes long), so the idea of a comic book where all of that was cut out made me sad to consider. But, with True Blood: All Together Now soon to arrive in trade paperback format, places like Barnes & Noble have slashed the price on the hardcover more than 40%, so I picked myself up a copy and gave it a read.

I need not have worried, I suppose, though the book begins with the language parsed quite a bit with some self censoring. Early on, there is an instance where "damn" is used instead of "fuck," but later in the book the language takes a turn toward the more familiar True Blood style. That is not to be salacious; the characters start sounding more like themselves, which is refreshing. After all, how weird is it to consider that when realistic characters from the near future find themselves in life-threatening situations, they begin sounding more proper and stiff?! Fortunately, this book does not force us to consider that too long and thus it gets smacked with the tag "For Mature Readers," which is fine for be because the source material is intended for us, too.

A "bottle" story, True Blood: All Together Now is set prior to the third season and includes, near its conclusion, implications of what is to come in the third season (reviewed here!) in relation to Eric's hunt for Russell, though Russell is not named explicitly in this work. The story is a character study and it continues the True Blood tradition of blending the supernatural horror with the horrors of daily human life. Unfortunately, while season three of True Blood beats to death the question of "What is Sookie?", True Blood: All Together Now features a character that does not ask that question, which actually weakens the overall story some. That said, the graphic novel is engaging enough.

Sookie, Eric, Jason, Tara, Lafayette, Sam and some supernumeraries are sitting around Merlotte's bar and grill around closing when one of the patrons at the bar, a stranger, reveals himself to be an Imp Shaloop. Ted only looks humans but he has tentacles that crush humans easily and can slice them in half. This is illustrated pretty vividly when Bill arrives and Ted mauls him, nearly killing him. To save his life, Sookie allows him to feed and she agrees to do what Ted wants, which is to reveal dark, personal secrets to him.

Ted extorts those in Merlotte's for their deepest, most painful secrets. Sookie tells of being abandoned by her parents, told she is unloved on the day they are killed, while Tara discusses her relationship with her mother in an attempt to buy time for Sam to attack Ted. Unfortunately, the attempt is blown and in their turn, each patron has to reveal something personal which Ted feeds on, much like the similar creature in the Angel episode "Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been."

True Blood: All Together Now has some of the character depths that make True Blood so powerful, most notably in the Sookie storyline. Sookie's life is painful and as a "person" who can read minds, she has often found herself alienated. That sets off the events in the book when she realizes Ted's status as an Imp Shaloop and in her backstory. But some of the stories are not nearly as deep. Eric's story of turning a woman is pretty shallow in comparison and while it is explicitly revealed later on that that was not his most horrible moment, it doesn't feel terribly horrible while he is explaining it. Similarly, Jason Stackhouse, who had pretty recently tortured a vampire and nearly been killed by an antivampire cult after an otherwise mundane life, has little to reveal in his story.

What brings True Blood: All Together Now up is the sense of continuity. Sure, Sam shapechanges in front of everyone and there seems to be a pretty limited window of time in which this adventure could have realistically happened in the True Blood universe, but the references to Godrick and Eric's pain regarding him are good. As well, Ted makes for an interesting adversary and because Sookie can only save Bill (and Eric), the sense of extortion reads as very real and very true.

As well, the artwork is vivid and most of it looks good. The characters are all recognizable and they look decent with coloring that has enough depth and shading to keep graphic novel connoisseurs happy. Ted looks a bit blockish in some frames, but otherwise, the book looks pretty decent.

That said, writers David Tischman and Mariah Huehner get the voices of the characters right, but are forced into a story that is a standalone tale in a largely serialized work. The result is something fun for the fans or a fast primer for those jumping into the True Blood television series without enough time to watch all of the prior episodes, but not stunning literature. IDW once again capitalizes well on the current trends to make a book that will raise some money. It's a fun gift now that it is inexpensive, but it hard for serious readers to take seriously.

For other media tie-in graphic novels, please visit my reviews of:
Cowboys And Aliens
Legion: Prophets
Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale


For other book reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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