Mother of God. Mother of God. Reading Universal Monsters: Dracula #1 is like mainlining your illicit drug of choice straight into your temporal lobe. And then doing it again, and again, and yet again, until you lie prostrate on the ground, emotionally and physically shattered, but utterly thrillingly gobsmacked at the same time.
Universal Monsters: Dracula #1 is not based on the novel by Bram Stoker (though it does feature the same characters) but instead takes its cues, as the title hints, from the 1931 Todd Browning directed version, based in part of the Broadway production. As such, Renfield takes the role of Harker, in that it is Renfield who goes to Transylvannia to transact legal business with our favourite blood sucking fiend, and returns via the Vesta before being condemned to a lunatic asylum where he proceeds to eat every insect known to man. And then stuff gets really real…
As I intimate in the opening, Universal Monsters: Dracula #1 is an assault on your visual senses. Martin Simmonds artwork is a masterclass in how ink and the judicious use of colour (though frankly Simmonds goes berserk with the way he splashes colour around during this opening issue, and it is a total sensory freakout when he does so) can elevate the material beyond the page itself. Simmonds is also excellent at creating unnerving scenes, particularly anything featuring Renfield, whom he depicts with a white face around a mouthful of needle sharp teeth. Check out page 3 – Renfield stares straight at the reader with bloodshot blue eyes, the whiteness of his skin (testimony to Dracula battening on him body and soul) obliterating his features, reducing the man down to a bundle of needs and neuroses, culminating in him approaching Seward with his teeth bared and hunger stamped in every pore of his being…
These and a half dozen other wonderful images elevate Universal Monsters: Dracula #1 above the standard comic book fare.
Writer James Tynion IV has done well to distil the essence of the film adaptation into this opening salvo. Universal Monsters: Dracula #1 is slightly disorienting if, like me, your sole exposure to Bram Stoker’s creation is the novel, and not the myriad adaptations such as Nosferatu or the 1931 movie itself. But all the main elements are present, and all handled very well. Essentially, Universal Monsters: Dracula #1 is an introduction not only to this slightly sideways world, but also the characters themselves. Renfield is easily the highlight, but then even a slightly inebriated chimpanzee could do something with this crazed, insect obsessed paranoiac, howling at the moon in praise of his master one moment, and in the next, expostulating at length about his master’s true (and frankly horrifying) plans for humanity. It is gripping stuff.
I could go on even longer about how blazingingly fantastic Universal Monsters: Dracula #1 is – the artwork is like pure adrenaline for the mind – not only the way Simmonds makes the world a shadowy, hazy, and hard to pin down bedlam for the characters, but also when Dracula is on the hunt – the world dissolves away into disparate images of blood, blazing eyes weeping blood, and a cyclone of ravening beasts and bats that all resolve into the caped fiend himself.
Universal Monsters: Dracula #1 is one of the best comics I’ve read this year. For those of you who read with fanatic interest Tynion and Simmond’s The Department of Truth, Universal Monsters: Dracula #1 is a step up in terms of writing and art. For those of you reading this in the Northern Hemisphere, this issue, and the series itself, promise to be a delightfully frightful way to embrace the long, cold nights, and the things that haunt it.