I usually don’t pay attention to how comics are marketed, or at least I don’t tend to consider that sort of thing when I write my reviews. But in the case of “Death of Dracula” #1, the only reason I even paid attention to it at all was that Marvel went out of their way to announce that retailers might want to pay special attention to this issue. They basically said, “hey, this is important. More important than you realize, but, trust us, it’s important.” Marvel says stuff like that every once in a while, but usually it’s around something that ends up being the death of a major character or something that might get mainstream press.
But this is the “Death of Dracula.” It says so right on the cover. And who cares about the death of Dracula? The guy’s an undead monster anyway. How dead could he be, even in superhero comics terms? And it’s not like Dracula has been some major player in the Marvel Universe, well, ever. He has appeared, sure. And Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan have told good stories about him. But why should anyone care about this comic, even if it is leading into some X-Men mini-event this summer?
I’m happy to say that it’s worth a look because it’s actually a good single issue.
I’m not happy for Marvel or for any other reason than this: I bought this comic, and it was not only pretty dense — it took me longer to read than any other comic this week, definitely — but it was one of the best-told stories out of my pretty considerable stack o’ weekly comics. Regardless of how the whole “X-Men vs. Vampires” thing plays out, Victor Gischler and Giuseppe Camuncoli have done nice work on this kick-off issue.
And they owe it all to Shakespeare.
Okay, maybe not all of it, but there’s a “Tragedy of Julius Caesar” feel to this “Death of Dracula” issue. Like Shakespeare, Gischler kills off his title character relatively early in the story, through betrayal. And like Shakespeare, Gischler spends the rest of the story with conspiracies and counter-betrayals and shifting allegiances. The vampire factions are not unlike Roman senators in their behavior. Except, you know, some of them are super-sexy or super-lethal or super-mummy-ninja-vampire types. The conflict between the factions is powerful and I didn’t even know these factions existed before I picked up this comic. Gischler does a great job defining the relationships and then providing twists and turns before the final pages. There’s no signal saying “hey, next up: X-Men!” Instead, it’s just a new vampiric status quo by the concluding scene. And it’s impressive that he makes us care.
Camuncoli draws the heck out of this issue, and since so much of it relies on the body language of characters who may be waiting to stab each other in the heart with a wooden stake, that’s no easy feat. Frank D’Armata does his usual far-too-heavy rendering job, giving everything an unnecessary metallic sheen, but Camuncoli’s work shines through beneath the sometimes-oppressive colors. His strong style prevails.
I didn’t care one bit about the announcement of “The Death of Dracula,” but now I want to see what happens next. And even if it turns out to be a waste of time, watching Scott Summers get grumpy at a bunch of bloodsuckers, then at least we’ll have this single issue to remember. When the vampiric Brutus and Cassius debated the fate of the world, and it seemed to matter so much.