Friday, October 11, 2019

Dracula vs King Arthur #1

Halloween 2019 Post-A-Day 11
Dracula vs King Arthur #1

Dracula vs. King Arthur!


Story – Adam Beranek and Christian Beranek
Art – Chris Moreno
Colorist – Jay Fotos
Letters and Post Production– Nick Beranek & Heather Addley
Editor – A. David Lewis

We are day two into “Dracula vs (fill in the blank)” and I have a sweet surprise for you. Today we visit the first issue in a four-issue mini created by a team I’ve reviewed in the Crapbox once before. Thankfully, the good folks at Silent Devil appear to have been on their game this time around, producing one of the slickest small press independent titles I’ve seen. Gone are the days of Silent Forests' silly art and confusing word balloon placement.

Nope, this title is one I can heartily endorse.

The art chores by Chris Moreno are not just serviceable, they are evocative and dramatic. Jay Fotos coloring sets mood and tone effectively, adding in just enough touches to feel special without tipping over into excess. But best of all, Adam and Christian Beranek have a handle on their characters, convey the plot well, and craft the beginning of a story I am excited to read. If you ever needed proof that practice makes perfect, you need only look here. (and it doesn’t hurt that the book isn’t self-edited, just saying. Editors make a difference.)

Don’t believe me? Can’t wait to get to the good stuff? Well then, lets dive right in shall we?

We begin with a series of panels that mirror the lives of our two adversaries. Arthur’s shining sword from the stone moment is paralleled by an unnamed moment on the battlefield for Vlad where he hoists a decapitated enemies head aloft as a sign of triumph. And right out of the gate we get a sense of both characters from Moreno’s art.

Arthur looks young, calm, and sure, Vald looks ruthless, angry and violent. The color effects give us a shining Arthur and a burning Vlad.

The juxtaposition of Arthur’s knights' pledge around the round table is the perfect counterpoint of Radu’s army swearing vengeance on Vlad.

Not to mention the cross cutting of Arthur’s wedded (for the moment) bliss to Guinevere above the tragedy that is Vlad’s bride throwing herself from the castle balcony.

The loving comradery of the knights being the polar opposite of Dracula’s solitary existence. As you can see, this is just background setup too, but it is all so important in establishing our characters and the conflict between them. All of this sets the stage of what it to come.

Everything about this introduction works, from both word and pictures. If your appetite isn’t whetted by this, you might be an inhuman monster yourself.

And the text boxes flow naturally. (Sorry, Beraneks. Couldn’t resist one last dig)

Then we get a title page and we dig in to the meat of this story-banquet with a coach arriving at Castle Dracula in 1476. That date is significant, because these two icons of the distant past actually have a bunch of distance between them. Victorian era London is a far cry from the 5th and 6th century of Arthurian times. Let’s see how the Beraneks tackle that issue…

We begin with the coach dumping two Ghostbuster-reject demon dogs at Dracula’s front gate. One of them bears a scroll of some sort.

Dracula’s henchmen have no clue what to do with this and it seems like telling their master could go either way on the scale of earning a promotion or being impaled on a giant wooden spike. Luckily this chap has the right idea. 

The demon dog relinquishes the scroll to Vlad, which we find to be an invitation by ole’ Scratch himself. Lucifer wants an audience with Lord Dracula. But will Vlad accept?

Appears so. Even when counseled NOT to go. 

Vlad ascends the coach and rides off over the mountains. Can not say enough great things about the art and colors here. Everything about this book is first rate. When Vlad is finally disgorged at the end of his trip, we find the prince of lies waiting his arrival like a dark nightmare.

Vlad shows how ballsy he is by ADMONISHING Lucifer for addressing him as Lord Dracula in the letter. It’s a nice little touch that shows these two are on equal footing when it comes to evil and attitude. 

Lucifer has it in the power area, however. Power that he uses to show Vlad that the love of his life is not living a blissful life in Heaven but is instead tormented daily in hell. This drives Dracula insane with grief.

Turning the temptation up to 100, Lucifer really lays into Vlad about his actions. Vlad musters up a weak defense, but Lucifer puts all of his history on the table in a way Vlad possibly has never seen. A view that isn’t sympathetic to his cruelty and torture. 

And in a masterstroke (by both Lucifer and the Beraneks) we arrive at the comparison between Arthur and Dracula, a temptation that Lucifer dangles without explaining why.

His offer comes next, the gift of power in exchange for the destruction of Arthur. Even Vlad isn’t jumping on board right away, but the setup for this is delicious and with the added pieces from the introduction make selling this idea something the audience can really buy into. Great job, everyone. 

Vlad accepts, of course. Lucifer transforms him into a vampire, gives him a few rules, and sends him back in time to seek out Morgana. Simple setup. Neat payoffs await. 

As an aside here, the ONLY thing missing from this four part series is that I don’t see how Dracula has an emotional stake if he loses. Now I don’t have all the issues so it is possible that his lady love somehow factors her way back into things. However, given the different time periods in play here, there really aren’t stakes (ha! Vampire pun) on his side of the deal. He doesn’t have anything to lose, aside from another kingdom, one built of undead minions. There are no vassals to be lost. His bride isn’t reformed, whole and unmolested, with him having a chance at redeeming her or redeeming himself to her. And while going the whole “pure evil” route works for the book, I would have loved to see Vlad have something on the table to be lost and a bit of the old "will he or won't he" choice in going all in on being a devil himself. If only to make his eventual demise all the sweeter for losing that thing too.

But the story doesn’t appear to go that way. The way it does go is skipping to King Arthur, awaking from a nightmare where he is seeking the Grail. And the cup of Christ has apparently fallen into evil’s clutches. There is a brief moment between Arthur and Gwen where she implores him not to leave her on another quest. Which in the regular legend would lead her to stray with Lancelot. Here…well, best not to speculate on what evil might befall his beloved.

Arthur brings up the matter of the quest to his knights at the next round table meetup. Love the little touches on things like Galahad’s ornate chair as compared to his companions.

The art and words really differentiate the characters in these scenes, allowing you to get an understanding of each knight’s personality. Love these bits.

And in the end we get our D&D adventure group of Percival, Bors, Galahad, and Arthur to go a hunting. 

And while Guinevere is mightily upset (and checking out Lancelot), a strange man approaches Arthur…

…It’s Merlin, but he appears to have taken a page from Johnny Depp’s Tonto playbook (or maybe the other way around, given the time this was published), arriving covered in a strange getup of crow’s feathers. 

Thankfully, his advice is as sage in this version as in others. I LOVE the Merlin character, given his penchant for saying the right things at the right moments with little regard for how the words land. The Beranek version doesn’t disappoint. Love the subtle hint in the middle panel. Great stuff.

Meanwhile, Dracula terminators in through Stonehenge…

…snacks on a couple of locals…

…starts to get a handle on his powers…

…then seeks out Morgana. Who happens to be having family dinner at the time. That shining lad is Mordred, son of Morgana and the bastard of Arthur. In legend, he proved the end of his father in battle.

But here, the disgusting pig of lad might never get the chance. Dracula arrives, bearing the bodies of two slain guards and he takes on Morgana’s magic…

…returning it to her with no effort, as he does Mordred’s clumsy blows. Looks like the young man won’t be getting any older…

All of which is just a show to gain both of them as his thralls in the upcoming conflict. Effective, brutal, and I hate to admit it: a ton of fun. Perverting the mythology is what makes these things so good and the Beraneks really prove their storytelling mettle here.

As Dracula gains two new powerful vampire adversaries here…

…our last page is given over to Merlin finding Dracula’s first kill. The mad looking magician knows something unnatural has occurred and we end the book with him on Dracula’s trail.

Loved this start! Sad it’s only four issues, but if they are packed in like this issue, they make diving through the stacks worth the trip. At 37 pages, you get a really big story per issue. The Beraneks have even voiced a desire to return to the property (unsure how that would work exactly, but you have the Devil and time-travel involved, so any result is possible including a complete alternate timeline deal). As it stands, this is comic book horror-fantasy at its very best. Look for it!

1 comment:

  1. its amazing im a big fan of dracula so i realy like this book, i wish i could see the other 3 issues


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