Writer: Christian Ward
Art: Patric Reynolds
Colors: Heather Moore
Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Covers: Christian Ward; Rafael Albuquerque
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: March 29th, 2023
If you’re interested in this comic, series, related trades, or any of the others mentioned, then simply click on the title/link to snag a copy through Amazon as you read the Blood-Stained Teeth #10 Review.
Every issue of BLOOD STAINED TEETH saw Atticus Sloane fight humans, vampires, and his own horrible decisions in a bid simply to stay alive. It’s been an ugly journey. Now BLOOD STAINED TEETH #10 brings that journey to an end. Atticus may very well manage to win his survival. The harder thing to do is convince us that he deserves to.
The First Borns are coming for Doctor Phelps’ clinic. They try reasoning with her–try to convince her that there is a lot of money to be made in her method of using vampire blood to cure cancer in humans. That doesn’t work, though, so they decide to kill her. And Atticus led them right to her. BLOOD STAINED TEETH #10 delivers a fast paced issue packed with visceral fight scenes. Atticus has a chance to get himself off the hook with the First Borns, but a chance encounter with a musician he loves sets him on a different path.
BLOOD STAINED TEETH #10 is a very complex final issue. Indeed, the whole series has been complex–not least because of Atticus. He is not a sympathetic protagonist by any stretch of the imagination. While he can make decent choices, every one is outweighed by several ugly ones. There are just enough moments of decency, though, to let readers connect with him. Occasionally they can root for him and sometimes they can even empathize with him. Ward has walked a very fine line trying to make this work. Had he pushed too far in one direction the reader may not have cared about Atticus at all–or worse, actively rooted against him.
The payoff to following Atticus’s complicated and sometimes tortuous journey is this ending. BLOOD STAINED TEETH #10 delivers a revelation that feels like it comes out of nowhere. It turns out that in all the world there is something that makes Atticus happy. And it’s a human quality: the beautiful sound of music. While surprising, the reveal isn’t quite out of place. Ward did drop hints–very few and far between though they might have been–that this one thing from the human world mattered to him. They were subtle, though, and not designed to point toward anything. Without knowing what they meant, they read as nothing more than extra flavor for Atticus’s development.
It’s important to note that this reveal and the choice we see Atticus make afterward doesn’t reframe the character. There’s no real redemption here. And Atticus can really only be sympathetic to a point. There’s no undoing what he’s done over his many, many years nor his most recent bloody days. But like Joey (Atticus’s tragically dead friend who’s been “haunting” him throughout the series), we can find value in Atticus. There is something about him that justifies our going on this trip with him.
BLOOD STAINED TEETH’s visual identity is unmatched. Reynolds draws intense, passionate characters and this is particularly effective in BLOOD STAINED TEETH #10 where only the strongest vampires are left in this conflict. None of the featured characters feel weak. As a result, even characters that die emanate power right up until the end. Reynolds’ standout page is the one that gives us the new insight into Atticus. It’s divided into five horizontal panels stretching the length of the page. The top four depict Atticus in wide angle in different years: 1679, 1779, 1879, and 1979. Atticus is at the center of each panel. The people and setting around him are different in each time period. Atticus’s expression is unchanging. The fifth panel depicts what Atticus is looking at in the 1979 panel.
Finally, the last panel is a close up on Atticus as he responds to what he sees. The look on his face is of a man who has had an epiphany–perhaps even a moment of divine inspiration. Reynolds makes the revelation of Atticus’s emotional connection to music (and the power it has over him) work. Ward’s dialogue on the subject is minimal, and there is no internal monologue. Indeed, if Reynolds doesn’t really sell the emotion–and he only has three panels in which to do it–Atticus’s turn does not work.
Adding to the visual feast is Moore’s coloring. She’ll use a set color scheme for a particular setting, but when panels of extreme violence or consequence happen, she tosses that color scheme aside and uses a near psychedelic palette and arrangement for emphasis. As a result, when Atticus smashes another vampire’s neck, color explodes all over the panel. The surprise in Moore’s work comes on that same musical epiphany page. The top five panels feature the same expressive coloring that’s been a hallmark of the book. The final panel–the one that has to sell the reader on how enraptured Atticus is–fades everything around Atticus’ face into the background. And Atticus’s face has a bit of a pink glow that makes him feel alive in a way his ashen complexion never does.
Otsmane-Elhaou has a somewhat thankless job here. It would be easy to overlook his work in BLOOD STAINED TEETH #10 because of the intense visuals delivered by Reynolds and Moore. That said, Otsmane-Elhaou does add a great deal to the issue. His sound effects radiate from points of impact or follow the movement of weapons. They aren’t casually placed and as result feel like an organic component of the action. Also effective is the use of irregular and asymmetrical dialogue bubbles used during action sequences. As a result there is an extra sense of stress and exertion the characters are going through.
BLOOD STAINED TEETH #10 caps off a series that has had no equal. Nothing else charts a similar course visually. The writing is similarly complex. For instance, the general sense of discomfort Atticus evokes makes him more complex and compelling than any other lead character. Everyone should check out BLOOD STAINED TEETH.