If the arresting front cover of Universal Monsters: Dracula #3 by Martin Simmonds doesn’t tell you all you need to know about this issue and this series authored by James Tynion IV, then I don’t know what to say.
What I do know to say is that Universal Monsters: Dracula #3 is a standout issue. Beginning with the funeral of Lucy Weston, we are immediately reintroduced to a dark and ominous world, where Count Dracula lurks blood tinged just beyond the gates of the cemetery, from where he is forever barred. Lucy’s best friend, Mina, confides in her soon to be husband John that ‘she feels cold, and colder every day.’ If ever this series had a leitmotif, then it is this aside by Mina – when Dracula enters your world, everything that is good and holy is leached away, until a cold, desolate shell remains.
Let us count the ways in which artist Martin Simmonds bestrides Universal Monsters: Dracula #3 like a Hannibal on the battlefield. His ability to convey the meaning of a scene without the supporting crutch of dialogue is pure, such as when Van Helsing kisses a cross when he sees a bat in the night sky, gives the reader a strong sense of the man and his understanding of the true threat they all face.
And his impressionistic artwork is a masterclass in conveying mood and dread. During the first appearance of Dracula in Universal Monsters: Dracula #3, he is haloed in crimson. His next appearance, as a ravening beast with blood streaming from his eyes, with a wide, gore-tinged mouth, and the entire page speckled with deepest red, while not subtle, tells you everything you need to know about the true core of Dracula.
Indeed, blood is everywhere in this issue. And why wouldn’t it be? From the theatre of Dr Seward’s failed efforts to save a patient, where the floor is literally covered in the patient’s (victim’s?) life blood, we see an otherwise muddily drab world underscored by the beating heart of this story. One senses that writer James Tynion IV is saying that the supernatural Dracula brings a whole new freshness and vitality to the mundane world of fallen man, but at an appalling cost. While we may yearn for better things, Dracula is living proof of being careful of what you wish.
Tynion’s writing skewers the heart of the story. Mina is searching for the cause of Lucy’s death, of the cause of all that is ill that has befallen the people around her. Her encounter with Renfield in the sanatorium illuminates the true horror of Dracula – that he is a parasite, a blood leach who dangles what they most desire while tearing away from them their immortal souls. When some sanatorium workers congregate in the local tavern and share stories about Seward’s bloody experiments to save the victim’s of Dracula’s unslakable thirst, it is their plain old common sense, as opposed to Seward’s dangerous and ultimately useless experiments, that shines through.
Indeed, Tynion sticks a knife (or is that a stake) in the patriarchal nature of late Victorian England – people like Seward with all their learning fail again and again to recognise the true menace of Dracula. Science has separated them from the natural world and blinds them to the peril all around them. Similarly, it is a woman like Lucy who has a greater feel for the Dracula’s victims – while her father sees Renfield as a useful specimen to better understand human psychology, it is Lucy who exhibits the best of humanity in her treatment of Renfield, offering to clean the filth from him (rather, as her father does, than exploit the man).
By the end of Universal Monsters: Dracula #3 your heart will be pumping (with lots of lovely blood) and your senses blasted by Van Helsin’s warnings to Seward, married with some startling artwork that conveys the sensuousness and bestial nature of Dracula. Come for the artwork, and stay for the dread terror of the world that Tynion has created.
Fear the power of Dracula? Indeed!