• Girlfiend TPB



    Published by: Dark Horse Comics
    Released on: Apr. 1, 2015
    Written And Illustrated by: The Pander Brothers

    Purchase From Amazon

    The Pander Brothers are back in action together, this time around taking a screenplay idea and giving it the graphic novel-treatment instead. With Girlfiend they throw themselves at the vampire-rom sub-genre and come away with something sincere, fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable.

    [SPOILER-HEAVY REVIEW FOLLOWS]

    Set in a very noir-version of Seattle, the primary story of Girlfiend centers on Karina, a young woman who seems to be on the run when she’s first introduced. She arrives in downtown Seattle, fends off a few lothario-types gently, acts a bit lovelorn upon seeing couples in love...and is then run over by a bus. This allows for the introduction of love-troubled young Nick who happens to work in the coroner’s office. He’s introduced by getting butt-dialed by his girlfriend Natalie while she’s in the middle of cheating on him. Not having the best of days, he resorts to a clearly old trend of cutting himself a bit in order to escape.

    Soon after Karina’s body is wheeled in, a huge chunk of metal sticking out of her chest. Oddly enough, too, is the fact that she’s in full rigor mortis already. So when Nick hits her with the hose to wash the body down she freaks out and comes alive. She’s scared, Nick’s freaked but they soon are trying to sort out what’s exactly happening here. They introduce themselves to one another, huddled and broken on the city streets.

    Meanwhile, expectant-father and detective-with-a-new-partner Russo is getting a bit of a (very useful) earful from his wife. She’s telling him to stay safe and, more importantly not to get dragged into the career-ending world of his new partner, an older detective named Drake. Russo drops his wife off in the wee hours at her bakery job while he heads off to his. Elsewhere in town, Nick and Karina begin walking around, giving her time to familiarize herself with the surroundings as well as time for the two to get to know each other. He turns on the charm and she plays the blushing girl quite well…

    Not far away, small-time gangbangers Skinner and Derek (both white so you know you’re in the Pacific Northwest) head into a convenience store. Their robbery is actually a high-profile seizure of a very special, small safe that happens to be at this store. They get their prize but when Skinner inadvertently reveals their gang tattoo on his arm Derek has to kill the shopkeeper. They also then are forced into murdering the car-ful of bystanders that had stopped in for some basics. Drake and Russo get the call and head over at speed to investigate.

    Nick takes Karina back to his place where she finally is able to notice the bandages on his arm, covering his self-inflicted wounds. It’s a little troubling for her, being a vampire and all, but Nick’s soon serenading her with a song and beer. She jumps all over him but then the fangs pop out and Nick understandably fights her off of him. Karina runs out into the night, over Nick’s protestations.

    Out in Montana a passenger car speeds over unseen tire spikes and crashes. Three ominous figures approach the survivor, trapped in the car. And rather than offering help they soon are helping themselves, using their fangs to feed off the injured driver. Speeding away, they don’t feel much better but are clearly on their way to Seattle, on the Karina’s path.

    Back at the mini-mart Drake and Russo put some clues together and find that the cashier isn’t dead yet. Other cops on the scene give Drake some grief over this bloodbath, giving him time for a bit of a blood-soaked flashback. Meanwhile, back at Nick’s apartment, he’s surprised by the shower running and Karina politely using up all his hot water. He sits on his bed, trying to work this all out when she comes in and climbs into bed next to him. She’s clearly fed and he asks after that at first, then decides maybe that’s not the prudent course of action. You see, he likes her and, as it turns out, Karina likes him, too. They end up telling each other this at full volume, then calm down and talk about her fangs. She has two pairs, both come out when she’s hungry and/or aroused. One pair is for feeding, the other for turning a human into their slave. Nick laughs at this, stating, “It’s always something…”

    As they turn in for the night, Karina is haunted by the memories of the runaway teen girl she fed upon. Apparently, whenever one of her kind feeds on someone they also obtain all their memories as well. Nick awakes to find her standing in the dawn sun but she tells him to go back to sleep. Later, at his job, Nick sees the puncture marks on a young “Jane Doe” and puts things together. Elsewhere, Skinner and Derek are meeting with the other members of their gang - hard-nosed Lace and quiet psycho Hutch - explaining what went wrong with their heist of the safe. Hutch gets an intimidating text from clearly whoever ordered them to retrieve this; but they figure to keep it for themselves. They know someone who can safely open it, the Duke, a former member who apparently found Jesus while in a long stint in jail. The gang also see a news report about their activity, seeing that the clerk also survived…

    Karina, at Nick’s place, enjoys her coffee and figures to give the apartment a woman’s touch. Nick, meanwhile, stating it’s a bad idea, heads into work, to score some blood bags to help out Karina. Back at his place, his cheating ex, Natalie, slips a note under the door, apologizing and wanting to get back together. This sends Karina into a bit of a frenzy and she claims Nick as her own. Later, he’s brought the stolen blood back and while she doesn’t enjoy it he tries to get her to stick with it rather than hunting live people. Soon, then, they’re banging away at each other, and their relationship is set - he gets her the blood, they bang like rabbits and generally enjoy each other. Clearly, then, this will end well.

    At one point he asks her about being a vampire and how she’s able to walk around during the day. Karina explains she’s the only one of her tribe that can do that but only if she exposes herself to the dawn sunlight. Speaking of her tribe, the 3 pursuing her find another victim on their way and feed on her, still not entirely satisfied until they’ve found Karina. Back to the Blood Brothers gang of geniuses, they get ahold of the Duke and browbeat him into helping them with the safe. They make plans to meet the following night but then Derek shows up drunk and tries to shoot the safe open, only managing to be the target on the ricochet and killing himself.

    That’s a time-shift cue for Drake and Russo to investigate at the hotel, discovering a bit more about the Blood Brothers and finding they only made the one call to The Duke. They figure to stake out his hotel room and see if the others show up. Back at Nick’s apartment, Karina is heaving into the toilet, telling him the blood bags just aren’t cutting it. Her 3 pursuers continue to make their way toward her, giving up some names like Victor and Marko before their car dies and they have to head out on foot.

    At his work, Nick and the chief medical examiner comment on recent-arrival Derek, stating that no one will miss someone like this. Nick is inspired so he gathers up wanted posters for the other members of the Blood Brothers gang and proposes to Karina that she feed on these lowlifes instead. Nick’s not sure how this will work but Karina - once she has the scent of one of them - can hunt them down by smell alone. After a visit to Derek at the morgue they’re off across town on Nick’s motorcycle and, soon enough, Karina sniffs out her next meal. It’s the Duke who heads into a dive bar. Nick and Karina play a couple having a fight so she acts like she’s after Hutch for protection. He does so and then takes her back to his motel room.

    Which is what Russo and Drake have staked out and bugged. This gives the two time to talk some, mostly about meditation and purity from Drake. Russo’s able to bring up the shady topic of the cult that Drake had been working undercover and that he was the sole survivor of some massacre that featured many beheadings. Before his partner can offer more details, though, the Duke returns to the motel with Karina in tow. Nick is also nearby, waiting and watching to retrieve her as soon as she’s done feeding.

    Which is what sound comes through their audio bug, causing Drake to seriously freak out when he hears Karina hiss before sinking her teeth into the Duke’s neck. He’s a big guy and manages to stop her temporarily but she will not be denied. Outside, Russo is ready for action but Drake’s trying to get him to wait. But they end up rushing into the room, finding the Duke’s fresh corpse - and a blood-filled Karina bolting out past them. She manages to flee with Nick, getting a fresh smell of the other Blood Brothers who are on their way to meet with the recently deceased.

    Back at the motel, the cops continue their investigation. Drake, though, is having a hard time with what happened, getting strong flashback vibes. The other Blood Brothers arrive and, seeing all the activity, head in the opposite direction. Back at their apartment Nick gets into a shower and Karina soon joins him. Time passes and she gets to apply that woman’s touch to his place and he seems completely content with that. They fall back into their pattern of food, booze and sex, now getting more of a chance for Nick to find out more about the life that Karina escaped. Her tribe was apparently very controlling and she wanted her freedom. Part-way through this discussion, though, Natalie calls, wanting to reconcile. Nick doesn’t exactly push her away, further infuriating Karina. This, too, will probably end really well…

    Later in the night Russo and his wife put the finishing touches on their baby’s room while Drake has harrowing visions of what happened with that cult. The Blood Brothers, meanwhile, continue to try and get someone to open this safe for them rather than giving it to their mysterious employer. Karina’s pursuers continue to get closer and Karina gets a chance to hang up Nick’s phone on Natalie when she calls it. Nick, however, gets bad news at work - they’ve had surveillance recordings on when he stole those blood bags for Karina. And back at his apartment Natalie shows up unannounced, looking for her things. Karina points her toward a back room for them and is just about to pop her fangs on her when Nick shows up. Slamming doors multiply and Nick’s left outside, trying to explain to Karina that he indeed loves her and not Natalie.

    Having now reached the point of announcing their love Karina also admits that she’s hungry. So off into the night they ride with Karina soon catching the scent of another Blood Brother. It’s Lace and Skinner who stop for gas. He leaves her filling the bike so he can go take a leak, giving Karina just the opportunity she requires. Lace takes the time to call Hutch and complain about his bad plan but they stick with it. Nick walks in on Karina mid-feed, trying to get her to finish quickly and then he heads back out and throws up at the sight. Lace, sensing trouble, heads toward the restroom, gun drawn. She soon finds Skinner’s drained body as Karina and Nick make their getaway.

    Hanging out in their car, Drake asks Russo what he thought he saw back in the Duke’s motel room. He’s not sure but figures the biker gang are who they need to be concerned with. Drake, though, knows they’re the least of their worries. Vampires are and he needs Russo’s help to take them down. This “crazy talk” is quickly disparaged by Russo but then they get the call to investigate Skinner’s murder scene. Back at their apartment, Nick’s a little shaken, disturbed by what he saw. But Karina points out that this is what she is and that by helping her he’s no better. Nick storms off and she sits down on the couch dejectedly. Her commiseration is interrupted, though, when she gets an old, familiar scent through the open window - her 3 pursuers have reached Seattle, it seems.

    While standing over Skinner’s corpse, Drake asks Russo what he sees again, focusing on the clear bite marks. Russo makes the usual excuses but Drake’s having none of it, bringing up the topic of vampires again and knowing they’re going to have to hunt her down. Russo protests at the outrageousness of it all but Drake’s a man convicted (like any proper vampire hunter). Russo’s more concerned with soon being a father, though, and Drake tells him the time’s coming when he’s going to have to choose. Back at their apartment, Nick heads out to look for work, maybe getting a paying gig at a club. Karina heads out with him and Nick finds success while she finds some strong incense candles to burn.

    These manage to temporarily put her pursuers off her scent as they cruise the city streets at night, windows down. Frustrated by this, they decide to eat and, spying a lone female in the fading hours of the night, decide to make a meal of her. As the young woman leaves her bakery she senses something might be wrong and is in the middle of dialing 911 when they grab her, take her down an alley, and feed on her until she’s dead. Karina’s candles burn out, and she knows she’s safe for another night but how long can that last? The trouble comes when Drake and Russo get this call and, the closer they get, Russo realizes who this latest victim might be…

    Karina decides she has to split from Nick in order to keep him safe. She divulges to him about her pursuers and what fate awaits them both when they find her. But desperate times call for desperate thinking, and Nick mentions overhearing Lace’s conversation about the safe. Karina saw it, too, in the memories of Skinner so Nick’s plan is to grab that for themselves and escape for good. They decide to do so that night. Speaking of decisions, Russo’s now realized that Drake was right and wants nothing other than to find the vampire that killed his wife and end her.

    Drake talks him through this thinking a bit, knowing once they’re committed it will be full and total. Russo’s borderline insane with what he’s just experienced, though, so Drake knows they’re ready. He takes Russo out to his garage which is stocked with vampire-hunting equipment. He has strobe lights which cause temporary paralysis, his crossbow and his axe for removing the head at the end of it all. This little tidbit causes Russo to realize what happened with that cult, that Drake killed all of them, having to be sure and take no chances in case they were all vampires (even some who weren’t).

    Karina soon has found another Blood Brother elsewhere in the city. This time, it’s Gator, the filed-teeth-sporting drug dealer. She gets into his van, using her sexiness to lull him into a stupor. However, he figures it’s time to party so he hits his van’s party lights which happen to be strobe lights. She immediately begins convulsing and fighting him but, in this state, she’s not strong enough to take him. Nick, watching outside, sees that something’s wrong and rushes to her aid. He bursts in and begins bashing Gator’s head in with his Mag-Lite. But Karina stops him, making Gator into her slave so he can lead them to the safe.

    And that he does, to one Larry’s Garage. But Gator doesn’t know how many people might be inside. Currently, though, it’s just Lace who’s very jumpy after Skinner’s death. She’s on the phone with Hutch who’s heading back with Larry and the drill to open the safe. When Lace hears Gator’s van approach, though, she assumes it’s their employer, out to get them all. Hutch loads up for bear as Larry speeds them back to his garage. Karina heads inside while Nick gets to another vantage point to keep watch. Back in his van, though, Gator goes full vampire. Inside, while trying to get to a better spot, Nick gets attacked by a watch dog. Surviving that he’s then able to accidentally spy the secret hiding spot for the safe. However, behind him, Lace has other plans…

    But before she can deliver her fatal blow Karina crashes into her, all fangs and hissing. It’s then that Hutch and Larry arrive and burst through the front door. Karina and Nick hurriedly climb back into Gator’s van, only slightly worried by his absence. Back inside the garage, Lace is having a hard time, trying to convince Hutch and Larry that the woman after them is a full-on vampire. Hutch tells her to straighten out and leaves her with Larry while he goes after the safe. Larry does his best to calm her down but then he’s attacked/eaten by the recently-turned Gator. Lace freaks and runs away while Hutch confronts Gator, still reluctant to harm another Blood Brother. But he finally does so with his shotgun, further burying a prybar in Gator’s chest for good measure.

    The cops are there next, with Drake questioning what happened to the bodies. Gator’s been taken to the morgue, it seems, while Russo finds Nick’s pen from the same place at the crime scene. While Drake goes down into the morgue proper and beheads Gator up in the offices Russo asks Nick’s former boss if she has or has had any employees recently acting odd - so of course she offers up Nick’s name. This sends the pair toward Nick’s apartment but it’s now empty, due to Nick waking to find a goodbye note from Karina and setting off after her. Karina’s pursuers are also aware of this change, smelling her on the run and that she has a “slave” or “pet” now.

    Drake and Russo explore the apartment, with Drake piecing most of the story together. He figures that they were using the Blood Brothers gang as a food source, to feed on the guilty instead of the innocent. Russo’s got a point about his wife, though, and Drake suspects there’s still more to come with this story. So they bug the apartment with both audio and video surveillance, then take up their place in an unoccupied apartment above. They’re counting on the pair returning since, as Drake says, “Breakups are never easy.”

    Meanwhile, Karina heads to the bus station to get outta town and is spied, unbeknownst to her, by a hooded figure. Back in their stakeout, Drake notices on the video feed where Nick’s hidden that darned safe. He heads down to investigate that, telling Russo to stay behind on watch. Back at the bus terminal, right before she’s about to get on the bus Karina smells Nick, who’s recently cut himself again, but also his proximity to her pursuers back at the apartment. She hurries back there, tailed by the hooded figure as well.

    Drake finds the safe but is then surprised and attacked by Karina’s pursuing vampires. Russo hears all this go down and rushes to action. The vampires get Drake’s memories, see that he’s not only a cop but, also, a vampire killer AND on Karina’s trail as well. They think it’s a trap - right when Nick returns home and opens the door. They capture Nick and their leader, Marko, smells the extent of their relationship on him and starts smacking him around. The others head out to find Drake’s partner and keep a lookout for Karina. Nick, though, really does believe her to be gone from his life so isn’t afraid of dying, which Marko is happy to oblige.

    But then in bursts Karina who puts herself between them. Marko tries to order her to leave with them but she’s resolute in her determination to do nothing of the sort. Upstairs, Russo lies in wait for one of the vampires and fires his crossbow, only to just miss. The vampire attacks but Russo hits the strobe lights and, while the vampire convulses on the ground, Russo takes off its head with his axe.

    The talk between Karina and Marko begins to escalate, with him declaring his love for her and her rejecting him - mostly due to him being her brother but, also, because of her love for Nick. Back out in the hallway, the severed head of the vampire lands at the other vampire’s feet so he grabs Russo right through the ceiling/floorboards and drags him down. Russo manages to load and fire another crossbow bolt - right into his own leg. But just as it looks to be lights out for him it’s Hutch that shows up, sinking a huge knife into the vampire’s chest.

    Karina finally manages to convince Marko of their love and that, if he does love her, he’ll not want anything to happen to Nick, either. As she and Nick embrace Marko has a moment where he might strike them down but then lets the machete in his hand fall harmlessly to the floor. Russo has recomposed himself but comes downstairs only to find his assailant missing. That vampire - Goran - has pulled the knife out of his chest and storms into the apartment, intent on finishing their mission by killing Karina. Now it’s Marko’s turn to intervene as he and Marko lock into their fight and inadvertently kick on the strobe lights Drake left behind.

    This gives Russo his opportunity to barge in and finally hit center mass with his crossbow, taking out Goran in the process. He then slowly makes his way over to the convulsing Marko and decapitates him, too, much to Karina’s horror. And just as Russo’s about to strike Karina down he’s knocked flat by Hutch’s shotgun blast (but, as is revealed, is at least wearing serious body armor). Hutch wants the safe, after all, and Nick doesn’t anymore so he tells him where it is. But Hutch also has a score to settle for his brothers and turns his shotgun on Karina. Somehow, Nick manages to deflect the barrel just prior to the blast and Hutch kicks him in the face for his efforts.

    As then Hutch levels his shotgun at the now-unprotected Karina again he’s suddenly attacked from behind, a wire around his neck. As the life goes out of him and Hutch drops to the floor, his attacker is revealed to be the hooded figure from the bus station. He then opens the safe and just takes out a locket, revealing a lover’s picture, and tells Karina, “Hold on to what’s important.” All the money falls out of the safe but he leaves it behind. Nick comes to and they figure they need to get out post-haste. As they make their way to the door, Russo is also coming around and raises his gun toward them. But he’s interrupted by Drake who, having been bitten, knows he’s about to turn and asks Russo to end it. Russo, begrudgingly, does so and then collapses, muttering about vampires when the cops finally burst in on the bloody scene.

    The final bit finds Karina and Nick safely away, to Paris, enjoying their new lives thoroughly. Well, all except one thing, Karina says - now, she’s hungry again…

    The Pander Brothers have a tremendous cinematic style to begin with so it’s no surprise that this graphic novel flows as well as it does. Its stark black-and-white artwork is dramatic and full of horror-film flourishes while never losing sight of the star-crossed lovers at the story’s center. That story is well-paced and packed with a variety of characters that provide just enough varying elements to inform the real punch of it all. Love isn’t easy, clearly, and often doesn’t go the way you want it to here - and that’s rich fodder for such strong visual storytellers like the Pander Brothers. This one-shot is very much worth every penny for horror, action and comic fans alike.