The bitter bite of “Winter’s Teeth”

Grumpy RPG Reviews: Winter’s Teeth

Greetings to my listeners from the Waffle House located atop Galtier Tower. After a long pause, I am back to making grumpy reviews. This time I am reviewing the comic book series titled “Winter’s Teeth.”

“Winter’s Teeth” is a comic book series about vampires. Specifically, it is about bloodsuckers in the Vampire the Masquerade setting. It hit the stands in 2020 and is from Vault Comics.

Vault Comics itself is a small publishing outfit based in Missoula, Montana. They specialize in creator-owned properties and cross-media titles – like Vampire the Masquerade. This series is the first licensed property from Vault Comics, and it involved a deal between Vault, Modiphius, and Paradox Interactive. Game material appeared at the end of every issue and in the trade paperbacks.

These game materials are interesting and have potential use in a game. But some of it also becomes obsolete. Or information on characters becomes obsolete given how many of them die. 

“Winter’s Teeth,” tells a pair of stories. The first follows bloody busy vampires in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The other story follows the misadventures of some down-on-their-luck vampires. The tales overlap.

It is a deft move to place the story in the Twin Cities. For one thing, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are too familiar with the media. Vampire the Masquerade itself spends a lot of time in these cities. Minneapolis and Saint Paul are new territories to the game. This status makes them exciting and gives the writers freedom. Also, the Twin Cities are some of North America’s most horrific nightmare hellholes. And saying that has nothing to do with me being a Cowboys fan or my feelings on the long history of the Viking and Cowboys feud. 

Tim Seeley wrote the main story about asshole vampires acting like assholes. Seeley also penned tales for Image, Dark Horse and DC Comics. The second story in this series is by wife and husband team Tini and Blake Howard. The Howards have written for Vault, Marvel, Boom, and DC.

Devmalya Pramanik created the art for the main series, and he has done work for Image Comics. Nathan Gooden performed the art for the second storyline. Gooden himself is the art director for Vault as a company. Addison Duke handled the coloring for the series. Duke has done a lot of work for Image Comics and Vault. Aaron Campbell and David Mack created the covers.

Vampire the Masquerade – the basis for the comic – is a game about politics and moral decay. It is about playing the monster rather than someone who fights monsters. A major political faction in the setting is the Camarilla. It serves the status quo. That is where entrenched corruption and venal vampires define the status quo. Another faction is the Anarchs. They dedicate themselves to the cogent political position of “fuck the Camarilla.”

The series follows the hungry misadventures of Cecily Bain. She is an enforcer for the vampire political establishment of the Twin Cities. That establishment is the Camarilla. She once belonged to the Anarchs. So, she once belonged to the resistance. Then she joined the powers that be as a ruthless and violent enforcer. But the Masquerade is not about good people doing good. It is about being a monster and pretending to be human.

“Winter’s Teeth,” tells a story of murderous politics, bloody violence, and despair. That means it tracks to the game.

In any case, Bain is pursuing her vampiric existence. Bain makes herself useful to the Camarilla establishment of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. But she also avoids getting a formal position in that establishment. She avoids becoming too enmeshed in internecine vampire politics.

Or at least Bain avoided – past tense – getting enmeshed. In the first pages, she makes a choice that forces her to become involved. Things proceed to a climax that changes the local Camarilla and the characters. 
It is worth asking; what is this comic series trying to do? And does it succeed?

There is a lot of RPG-related material, and a lot of it is terrible or, at best mediocre. This material includes movies, novels, and other comic book series. So, another question is how well does “Winter’s Teeth” work as RPG-related media?

The comic does tell an engaging story in the Vampire the Masquerade setting. It succeeds in those terms, and the series is one of the better RPG-related media.

Art is good across the series. The styles of Pramanik and Gooden mesh well. The images are dark and red where they need to be and bright where the story needs them to be bright. Nothing disappears in the murk, and the action scenes are engaging.

While the art is good, it also shifts in some places. Did some other artists step in and do uncredited work on the series? These changes to the art style appear late into the second volume. 

A related minor quibble is that Bain’s clothing always stays pristine. She perpetrates bloody violence, suffers bloody violence, and is in an explosion. But her pink jacket with the frilly collar and cuffs is always spotless. It might be a magic item.

The stories from Seeley, and the Howards, are engaging. It also uses humor well – overdoing weak humor is one of the failings of RPG-related media.

Another quibble is a character who can transform into a mongrel dog. It looks like a cross between a German Shepard and a bulldog. This joke hits a similar comedic beat to the comic series Steve Lichman. A nebbish vampire turns into a chocolate lab only to be slapped by an ogre in that series. On the flip side, another vampire in this series can turn into a tiger – which is fantastic.
“Winter’s Teeth” handles exposition well. Exposition is usually a pitfall for RPG-related media. But Seeley, and the Howards, avoid that problem. For example, Bain possesses the game power of celerity or the ability to move damned fast. She never uses the term celerity. She just says she is damned fast. The story has good attention to detail – such as when a vampire reacts to a van’s headlights. The characters are all distinct in personality, behavior, and goals.

But there are flaws.

One character tells Bain she is under a blood hunt. In other words, she is currently the most wanted vampire in the city, and any other vampire may kill her. The hunt would have been more effective if he had not warned her. The warning did not appear for character reasons but for plot reasons. 

There is almost no grounding in the mortal world with either victims or servants. There are some exceptions, but these are rare. And the exceptions drive home the lack of human contact. By comparison, the game Night Road did a better job of making humans appear in the story. Night Road is another property based on Vampire the Masquerade. And it did a better job of making people relevant to the story.

A more serious flaw is the series destroys antagonists too fast. These foes include Anarch assassins, rogue ghouls, and mortal hunters. None of them last long enough to be memorable.

Connected to this are a group of hunters in the series’ final arc. They are all stupid. Too stupid to be a real threat to any of the main characters. The appearance of the hunters is a nice payoff to foreshadowing earlier in the series. But this is not enough to salvage the scenes where the hunters show up.

The short version of this is that the hunters show up at night. Nighttime is when the vampires are active and at their most potent. And the hunters are immediately outclassed by the vampires. The hunters wanted to prove themselves against the vampires. That is stupid. A solid rule in combat is if you are fighting fair, then you are doing it wrong.

The hunters’ weakness in their power and the writers’ use of them undermines the ending of the series. It means none of the big moments land the way they should. To make a comparison, imagine if some of Marvel’s X-Men fought only the mooks working for Hydra. Or if some Jedi fought only stormtroopers. The X-Men and the Jedi would make short work of the Hydra mooks and the stormtroopers. So much so there would be no menace, nothing at stake, and nothing proved by the end of the fight. There is the same sense at the end of “Winter’s Teeth.” The vampires roll over the hunters. The entire scenario acts like an exercise in gore rather than character moments or a satisfying emotional end to the series. Again, by comparison, the game Night Road did a better job of making hunters appear and be a credible threat. 

But the series is still good and worth reading. The series is one of the better RPG-related media. The comic does tell an engaging story in the Vampire the Masquerade setting. The book is solid and entertaining, so it is successful. “Winter’s Teeth” should pique readers’ curiosity unfamiliar with Vampire Masquerade. It does all this even if it doesn’t stick the landing.

I give it a 15 on a d20, or 3 out of 4 stars. 

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