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Dracula... Graphic Novel and TPB Reviews
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Bram Stoker's 19th Century novel about the Transalvanian vampire -- a character for whom Stoker borrowed some of his history from the real life Vlad Tepes but, so I understand, was not, literally, meant to be Tepes (despite later literary historians claiming Stoker "based" Dracula on Tepes) -- being in the public domain has appeared in zillions of movies, books, and comics, by various authors and publishers, often with little connection between them...

Blade II
see my review here

The Curse of Dracula
see my review here

Dr. Strange vs. Dracula: The Montesi Formula
see my review here

cover by Yeates Dracula vs. Zorro 1994 (SC TPB) 64 pages

Written by Don McGregor. Pencils by Tom Yeates. Inks by Rick Magyar.
Colours: Sam Parsons. Letters: John Costanza. Editors: Jim Salicrup, Dwight Jon Zimmerman.

Reprinting: the two issue mini-series

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by Topps Comics

In the 1990s, long time trading card company, Topps, made efforts to become a genuine comic book company. One property they latched onto was Zorro, who in addition to starring in his own (short-lived) series (which introduced the cult heroine, Lady Rawhide) also landed a mini-series or two. One of which was Dracula vs. Zorro (Topps was also in the midst of doing a few Dracula-themed comics).

Written by Don McGregor, whose association with "The Fox" of Old California included not only the Topps monthly series, but a short-lived run published by NBM, and a Zorro newspaper comic strip, and drawn by Tom Yeates (who also drew some of the Zorro newspaper strip), the premise has Zorro in Europe, picking up a sword crafted by a master swordmaker (and alchemist) and finding himself on a sea vessel where his other passengers include a lovely Senorita...and Dracula, lord of vampires.

Beginning his career in the early 1970s at Marvel Comics when a lot of newcomers to the field were pushing the conventions of comics in terms of themes and pretentiousness, Don McGregor's scripts tend to be overwritten and pompous, full of purple prose and dense captions full of ruminations on life and love. When it works, it works well, creating lyrical, thoughtful comics that are so much more than just the surface action...when it doesn't, it can just seem ridiculously verbose and without subtlety. I tend to be in McGregor's corner, liking some of his stuff, even as I'm aware even his best stuff can be erratic (not unlike, say, Ann Nocenti).

But the problem with this story (and, indeed, some of McGregor's other later work) is there's a feeling he's trying too hard to milk thoughtful captions out of material that doesn't really have that much juice in it. McGregor likes to harp on gender and sexuality themes (presumably enjoying the way editorial standards have changed since the days when comics were seen as mainly for kids) but it all feels a bit like he's trying to make his story seem deep and meaningful and thought provoking...when it just ain't. As well, the plot is pretty basic, much of the action taking place on the ship, in one night. (In fact, for all that dialogue intimates it's a passenger ship...we don't actually see any other passengers on board!)

The nature of McGregor's analytical style is that relatively minor scenes can get stretched out far more than they warrant, and fight scenes can spread over multiple pages -- hence why he can get sixty-one pages out of a story where not too much happens. And by changing the milieu, we lose some sense of what makes Zorro...Zorro; that is, by being in Europe or an the high seas, it lacks that Old California presence that is as much a character of the Zorro saga as he is. McGregor did it, presumably, to make the story fresh and off-beat but, as I say, it's problematic. Now that's ironic because, conversely, another criticism is that as a Dracula just seems like a stock Dracula story, with nothing particularly interesting or unusual to the story.

Funnily enough, Marvel Comics did a Spider-Man comic in the 1970s in which Spidey and Dracula...are on a sea vessel together (yet I actually think there was more twists to the plot in that 30-page Spider-Man comic than this 61 page saga).

With that being said, McGregor does do some nice stuff with characterization, with trying to flesh out his limited cast (which basically is Zorro, Dracula, Senorita Carmelita and Dracula's henchman Skorka). Yet even then, the limited plot means McGregor more tells us about the characters than shows us. The scene where Zorro, as Don Diego, first meets Dracula and they get into a verbal sparring match is well done. McGregor threads a theme, by having the Senorita casually say to Don Diego that no one can "promise" to keep someone safe, and those words echo in Zorro's mind when later he is trying to defend her from Dracula -- but even that becomes a bit thin by virtue of its repetition.

Despite McGregor's clear love for the Zorro character (having written for the character in so many different venues) part of the problem is that his Zorro never fully comes together as a complex, intriguing hero (the way McGregor's Black Panther did). It's hard to milk nuance out of a guy whose defining characteristic is, well, that he's perpetually upbeat!

Tom Yeates' art is certainly decent (and with some cute touches, like making the henchman look like Boris Karloff)...without quite being exceptional. I think of Yeates as having a vaguely sketchy style, evocative slightly of Joe Kubert, which can be quite attractive. But maybe Magyar's firmer inks rob it of some of that flavour (which, over some artists' pencils, can be beneficial). Or maybe being presented in colour it loses some of the stark appeal it had in the Zorro newspaper comic strip.

The bottom line? If you're looking for a stand alone tale of Zorro (or Dracula) it is that. I don't think it's appreciated much over the years, so it should be cheap enough to acquire. But it's a pretty rudimentary plot that doesn't really warrant the length, even seeming a bit plodding precisely because of McGregor's efforts to pad things out with character and philosophical musings.

This is a review of the story as it was serialized in the two-issue series.

Original cover price: $__ CDN./$5.95 USA

Essential Tomb of Dracula, vol. 2
   For my review at, go here.

Essential Tomb of Dracula, vol. 1
see my brother's review here

cover by Seppo MakinenScarlet in Gaslight 1989 (SC TPB) 112 pgs.

Written by Martine Powell (co-plotter Wayne R. Smith). Illustrated by Seppo Makinen.
Black & White. Letters: Pat Brosseau. Editor: Chris Ulm.

Reprinting: The four issue mini-series (1988)

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Additional notes: intro by Powell; intro by Dean E. Haspiel; sketch gallery by Makinen.

Published in slightly smaller than average TPB dimensions by Malibu.

Victorian detective Sherlock Holmes finds himself face to face with the supernatural when his arch-foe, Professor Moriarty, enlists the aid of the vampire lord, Count Dracula. Holmes, his sidekick Dr. Watson, and the vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing, must work to stop them before they overrun London with a vampire army.

The story begins with Holmes and Watson being summoned to the rural home of Lucy Westenra (who was in the novel Dracula) and encountering Van Helsing, which might lead one to suspect the story is just going to be a re-telling of Dracula with Holmes inserted into the story. And though it does cover similar ground, it's not simply a straight adaptation of the novel, and goes off in its own directions. Though writer Powell does occasionally lift Holmesian scenes straight from other sources -- such as a conversation between Holmes and Moriarty in Holmes' flat taken from the seminal 1899 play "Sherlock Holmes".

The concept of doing Sherlock Holmes pastiches blending in other figures and characters from the Victorian era is nothing new. Writers have already set him investigating the real life crimes of Jack the Ripper (in stories, plays, and at least two different movies) and Holmes has butted heads with Bram Stoker's infamous vampire in other medium (such as novels like The Holmes-Dracula File and Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula -- the latter adapted into an entertaining radio play starring John Moffatt).

Here, writer Martin Powell does a pretty fair job of evoking a Victorian spirit in speech patterns and does a nice job of capturing the characters of Holmes and Watson (I re-read some of the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle recently for comparison). Though the tendency to throw in decidedly modern violence and a kinky raciness seems a bit out of place in a Holmes story.

There's a clever sequence where Powell shows Holmes being, temporarily, unhinged upon discovering the existence of vampires -- as his ultra rational mind must acknowledge the supernatural. The alliance between Moriarty and Dracula -- temporary alliance -- is also well handled, with Powell even deigning to give Moriarty a (slightly) humanizing motivation involving a loved one.

The black and white art by Seppo Makinen invokes a great ambivalence, being composed of equal strengths and weaknesses. There's a decided crudeness to the art at times, as if Makinen is only a step removed from underground comix artists, some panels cluttered, some scenes confusing. At the same time, his intricate, free hand drawn backgrounds are evocative of the period milieu, his choice of character designs suited to the characters (particularly Moriarty and Watson, though his Holmes is a little too leading man-ish, and his Dracula reminded me of Iron Man's alter ego, Tony Stark). And the very roughness of the art can lend it a kineticism, as if the (seeming) speed with which he draws invests the figures with their own energy. And at other times, the faces and figure work is well handled. As well, his style vaguely suggests just the kind of Victorian illustrations one might have expected to accompany a Sherlock Holmes story in the 1800s. But it doesn't really instill the characters with life, the scenes with atmosphere, the way, say, a Mike Mignola or a Gene Colan might.

There are also some problems with the lettering, where it's not always clear who's speaking, or in what order the dialogue balloons are meant to be read.

The story has some twists and turns in the shifting alliances between characters. But it falters a bit because Powell, like too many who write Holmes' pastiches, attempts to emulate the characters but not their genre. This isn't a mystery, or a puzzle, even though Holmes is required to use deductive reasoning from time to time. Rather, it's an action-thriller. We know who, what, why, and how pretty early into the story. Moriarty's plan -- to create an army of vampires to overrun London -- is explained early, and he has no furthher agenda that unfolds later. And since Moriarty creates his vamps early in the storyline, even that doesn't really build over the four chapters.

As such, what could have been a sophisticated story ends up more just a comicbook adventure, which, like many comics, is devoid of much in the way of extraneous supporting characters that might add some freshness to things. Though real life actress Sarah Bernhardt crops up in a significant supporting part (which also allows for a cameo by what one assumes is supposed to be Dracula creator Bram Stoker, who was an agent in his day job).

Powell tries to add to the mythos, postulating a backstory for Holmes' misogyny, and his conflict with Moriarty, and he re-interprets some elements of Holmes and Dracula lore (implying this is the real story and the accepted cannon just a cover up). At the same time, in his introduction Powell states this is a Holmes story with Dracula just a guest star -- unfortunately, it doesn't always seem that way. In fact, Moriarty and Dracula at times seem to get more space than Holmes and Watson, yet Holmes and Watson, being heroes, are the more interesting.

Ultimately, Scarlet in Gaslight is a reasonably entertaining diversion, nicely evoking aspects of the Holmes stories, with art that is uneven but modestly effective. Though the violence and luridness almost warrant a "mature readers" warning. Subsequently Powell and Makinen produced a few other Sherlock Holmes mini-series, at least one (Sherlock Holmes: A Case of Blind Fear) has been collected in a TPB.

Cover price: $11.95 CDN./$9.95 USA.

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