Dracula has been adapted and reimagined and recycled through countless novels, movies, and comics for longer than any of us have been alive. It takes a bold creative team to look at all of that and go, "Yeah, I have a story to tell about that guy." That's precisely what writer Matteo Strukul and artist Andrea Mutti did with Scout Comics' Vlad Dracul #1. Does their tale stand out from the crowd?
An odd bit: the solicitation credited Andrea Mutti as both artist and writer, which we'd reported on earlier, but interestingly the comic itself lists Matteo Strukul as the sole writer. Mutti is listed as the artist, with no story credit. No matter how that happened and if Mutti contributed to the story or not, the two creators work in sync here to create something that feels like a single-minded, cohesive piece of work.
Vlad Dracul is a clever yarn in what it chooses to show and, even more than that when it chooses to give us information. This allows Strukul to play on the reader's expectation, especially because we're going in with a lifetime's worth of preconceived notions about who Dracula is. He is introduced in the dark of the woods on the tail of a pack of wolves, cutting the figure of a predator in the scene. Then, as the story progresses, we see Dracula play a role that approaches heroic: he saves a brother and sister, lost in the woods; he refuses to give a thousand children up after a Sultan, to whom Dracula is supposed to be subservient, demands he do so, and he even saves the life of a woman he claims to love. In this scene, in particular, he is even given a hero's entrance reminiscent of superhero comics.
It's only then, after that, that we begin to see the cracks in the veneer once a new character who has a close relationship with him is introduced. This calls into question his motivation in the previous scenes, making for a complicated portrait of Dracula indeed.
Andrea Mutti's art is classic in every sense of the word: it evokes a certain old-world mood without feeling dated. It's artful in the way it depicts violence, with creeping, dark shadows and blurs of action. The story is engaging from beginning to end, but this book, with its painterly art and beautifully rendered horror, is first and foremost a treat for art collectors. The lettering by Joel Rodriguez, while never distracting, could have matched the style of the book a bit closer. The way that it uses elements of the artwork to pop out over the dialogue bubbles is slightly overdone, giving an unnecessary 3D element that would work nicely in superhero comics, but not with this more understated, moody style. It certainly doesn't take away from the experience, but a lighter touch would have added to it.
Vlad Dracula #1 is out from Scout Comics on Wednesday, July 22nd.