Kim Newman is something of an expert on horror and along with his Anno Dracula series of novels, he has written academically on the subject for many, many years. His love for all things gory and gross knows no bounds, but the character and the novel, Dracula, seems to be something of a healthy obsession with him and after over 25 years of the novel series, Newman released his first comic book series earlier this year.
Building a world in which his own inventions cross paths with other more better known Victorian literary figures (and long before a certain Mr. Moore did so in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) such as the aforementioned Count Vlad, Lord Ruthven, and other such fanciful figures, has been over two decades in the making. He even now, in this collected edition, still has the time to introduce even more gothic-drenched vampires, villains and vagabonds. Like other shared worlds and alternative histories, the fun is not just the story and the outstanding, well informed art by Paul McCaffrey, but in picking out the recognisable characters from the literature of the era, or looking them up online for clarity and for a better understanding of their inclusion and/or their pedigree.
So, for example, Lord Ruthven, the Prime Minister of Great Britain now under the dominant rule of Dracula, may be better known to some as the main character in Doctor Polidori’s precursor to Dracula, The Vampyre, said to have been written at the same retreat at which Mary Shelley created Frankenstein. And its his inclusion, along with more recognisable blood suckers like Nosferatu himself (in Chapter 3) that haunt the book and make a world in which vampires exist more sustainable and entertaining. Well, for the reader anyway. I imagine being a mortal running around vampire-infested streets of London can’t be too much fun.
Here, in a Britain where vampirism has spread and become something of the norm, Ruthven has done well. This is a Victorian Britain both familiar and frighteningly unfamiliar too, in which not all vampires are bad and, indeed, many have moral values that would make some humans blush.
Enter then, Kate Reed, a reoccurring character from the books (which I highly recommend you do seek out, as I did after reading this book; suggesting how good I thought it was) and a wily, tenacious vampire journalist and proto-feminist at a time when women and the Suffragettes were still, well, suffering, and repressed. She quickly gets embroiled into the action, along with a cast of equally strong, and sometimes sinister, women that sees foreign forces attempting to attack the UK in order to reign in the threat an empire the size of Britain’s was at the time ruled by a vampire overlord. All the while, there are problems closer to home and a plot to bring down the Establishment to contend with, too. That’s some pretty heavy plotting to juggle, and Newman does it with flair and expertise.
Along the way Reed takes up with–or gets embroiled with–more feisty female characters such as The Daughter of the Dragon, sporting ‘Chinese boxing’ moves that will ensure a swift and definitive defeat of even the gnarliest of vampires as she kicks ass and takes no prisoners, as well as Christina Light and Penelope Churchward (another vampire from the Anno Dracula books) and all four slowly coming together somehow, someway, along with the mysterious, anagrammatically named Irma Vep (geddit?).
It’s a story of espionage, politics (both international and domestic), rebellion and a rip-roaring yarn to boot, with a large cast of colourful characters that do not seem to clutter the book either. And, with Newman more than comfortable as an author, this book may seem to some to be a long read, but I can’t complain. The reliance on prose, like details and multiple voices (just as Stoker adopts as his own narrative style to great effect), only enhances the story while offering asides and exposition to help bring newcomers up to date with all that’s gone before in the novel and in this this fascinating, midnight world of Anno Dracula.
It’s a great comic book debut by Newman, and he couldn’t have found a better partner than McCaffrey on art, along with some crafty and cunning lettering from Simon Bowland. They create a beautiful balance on the page of prose and pictures, alongside suitably gothic colours from Kevin Enhart. McCaffrey’s artwork never suffers from the wordage; it never feels too cluttered. It’s a solid, satisfying, bloody good read and recommended to all fans of fangs, vamps, steampunk and good comics.
Anno Dracula 1895: 7 Days In Mayhem is out now from Titan Comics.