Archive for March 21, 2018

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Vlad Dracula, Count Dracula. There are two ways this limited comic book series by my friends, Edward Ambriz and David Moreno, lands. On the historical Count Dracula of Wallachia, thousands of Turks and other undesirables impaled to make a point about invading the sacred homeland. Or on the literary count given to us by Bram Stoker, where after all the copious amounts of impaling and the other forms of brutality depicted in the first version we will see some kind of vampire conversion probably as a last page reveal leading into more stories. And at two issues, there’s no way to guess.

So anyway, we have 44 pages of black and white comics telling us the early life of history’s more colorful tyrants/national heroes (he did keep the Turks out, you’re welcome Europe), who was as famously harsh upon the native-born sinners in Wallachia (part of Romania now) as the Turks. Vlad is the second son (the Spare) jockeying for favor and position from his father, also named Vlad, against his older brother Micea (the Heir, for now). A young lady (sorry, farm girl, lady being used in a more egalitarian sense these days), Elisabetta, has caught young Vlad’s eye and we will see how this plays out in future installments.

So far the reading experience progresses with a lot of intentional slow moving build up toward the inevitable blood bath of practically anyone in Vlad Tepes of Dracula’s way. We see the building brother fight and the senior Vlad’s preference for his namesake due to suspicions that Micea might be in the closet. Daddy regularly slaps both of his sons for the slightest infractions in learning the fine art of war. And the King, the elder Vlad’s older brother has just agreed to foster both of his sons in Constantinople to create peace with the Turks. Young Vlad instantly sees all kinds of angles that perhaps don’t bode well for Vlad’s cousins, the princes. Micea does not.

Reactions to this story will vary according to one’s personal preferences in terms of how fast the writer and artist cut to the chase and have the dynastic struggle play out amid slashed open arteries and the mass impaling to come. I personally teeter between – “shut up, not every story needs to unfold at the breakneck speed of a violent sibling rivalry tale on speed!” – and – “more bloodshed sooner, please!” Though, I do suspect that however these creators choose that more things will happen in Issue #3 regardless of which Dracula story they’ve chosen to tell, because at some point the story will fall off the metaphorical top of the rollercoaster.

Right now, the story gains its most interesting aspects from Vlad’s first person narration in various caption boxes. Clearly old Vlad narrates over young Vlad’s doings how he got that way with a reputation lasting through the centuries since. These text boxes do quite a lot to fill up the story with more foreboding and foreshadowing for the later parts of the story where Vlad will start picking off enemy’s and likely avenge whatever nasty things are in store for Dear Sweet Elisabetta who even now as the pretty face from the kitchen basically has a sign around her neck reading – HOSTAGE WEARING THE RED DRESS FOR THE EVENING.

Another interesting element of this story is a discussion between Vlad the Senior and the head housekeeper who really wants both of the Tepes-Dracula boys to stay off Elisabetta, because she’s good people that needs to find a good husband that will be less likely to make an offer once a royal nephew finishes up. Predictably from what we assume were the attitudes of the time, Daddy practically shrugs acquiescence. And we also learn of his aversion to having a potentially gay son inherit the lands and titles in this scene.

The read breaks down a little bit what with needing to introduce various players to the political drama of Wallachia with title cards as they discuss the apparently unpopular decision of the King to foster his children in Constantinople. Obviously, even without facetiously bringing up the many victims briefly shown in the first issue in a flash forward to the mostly unseen present where the adult Vlad is superimposed over the field of the impaled, we can say there is a cast of thousands. The title cards help as we see hints of the various political forces sure to play a role later.

I ended up having minor quibbles with how Mister Moreno’s art landed on the page in a few places. Specifically, I had to toggle back and forth between Micea and young Vlad on the page. These two boys practically have the same face. Luckily, like the various Peanuts characters, they wear pretty much the same clothes throughout the story. Micea had a neck ruffle and Vlad wore the Tepes-Dracula coat of arms on his chest. But, as time went by how they acted help me tell them apart.

Mister Moreno also did the covers and then brought in a colorist. It’s the same art style, but color really helps the emotional impact of the overall read. Yes, except for the quibble in the above paragraph, I found the black and white art highly atmospheric setting the mood for the dark events to come. It favors the dark inks to go with a story landing in the dark places where the main character becomes known to history as Vlad the Impaler.

As for Mister Ambriz’s writing, allowing for the intentional style to let this story build like a slow cooked stew, I found the scripting to be very workmanlike getting the job done with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of emotional impact. This helped me stay with the story despite what are ultimately minor flaws in the writing. The most glaring of these is that through two issues, so far I’ve found seven typos where I couldn’t help myself and highlighted these mistakes with Post-it notes. Hopefully, there will be more time to send the script to a proofreader before the Issue 3 goes to the letterer.

We have a dark atmosphere with an easy sell when it comes to subject, even if we only get the Historical Dracula. The build up bringing things up to the top of the rollercoaster where the winch grinds the cable just before the release still works for me. As such, I’m still waiting to see what happens in Issue 3 when it finally surfaces. And that’s enough for me.

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