Comic Review: Dracula: Vlad the Impaler (2021)

This past weekend I went to Athens, Georgia, with my girlfriend to see the sights.  We spent a good bit of time in downtown Athens, near the University of Georgia campus, which was overrun with graduates and their families in town for a weekend of graduation ceremonies.  Amid our sightseeing, we stumbled upon Bizarro-Wuxtrey, a comic book and record store that truly lives up to its name.

The first floor of the shop is Wuxtrey Records, a record shop that, due to Virus-related capacity restrictions, we were not able to browse.  The second floor is—like Bizarro Superman—the comic book section.  It was the classic comic book store, complete with an overweight, older gentleman with long hair and a beard manning the shabby little counter.  The store features several rooms of comics and old magazines, including back issues of old niche magazines dedicated to sci-fi flicks and movie monsters.

Amid the stacks of new arrivals I found the subject of this post:  the black-and-white reissue of the 1990s graphic novel Dracula: Vlad the Impaler.

In talking with the aforementioned obese clerk at checkout, I learned that the book was not a new publication, but rather a black-and-white reissue of the full-color comic from the 1990s.  He said that the black-and-white version has earned accolades for better highlighting the artwork, and for the subject matter and matter, I found the black-and-white quite appealing.  I don’t have the full-color version against which to compare it, but I did not miss the color.

The story follows the title character before he becomes a vampire, and is largely based on the actual historical Vlad III of Wallachia, variably known as Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler, and Vlad Dracula.  The second son of the bloodthirsty and hard Vlad Dracul, young Vlad soon finds himself in captivity in the court of Sultan Mehmed I, along with his younger brother Radu the Handsome.

Upon learning that his father and older brother have been slain by disloyal boyars (Wallachian nobles), young Vlad vows revenge, and achieves it in brutal fashion at a murderous Easter Sunday banquet.  Meanwhile, Ahmed II, Vlad’s playmate in captivity, ascends the throne of the Ottoman Empire, and successfully captures Constantinople in 1453 (a major historical event).

Vlad vows to halt the Ottomans from expanding into Europe, and wins several key battles by using a combination of heroic fighting and horrifying terror tactics, most notably his tendency to impale his enemies on spikes (one particularly gruesome scene depicts Vlad enjoying a meal amid the dead and dying impaled).  While his brutal tactics anger his people and his enemies alike, he receives the praise of European monarchs—but not their material support.

Vlad finds himself twice deposed from his throne, and sitting up it three times before Mehmed II and the Ottomans finally defeat him.  But even death cannot stop the vengeance of Vlad Dracula.

I enjoyed this story immensely.  The story and its images have stuck with me for day.  The character of Vlad is brutal and cruel, but he justifies his cruelty as necessary to defend Christianity against overwhelming odds.  He sees his actions as justified, but the reader witnesses his growing bloodlust and inhumanity.

Besides the rich characterization, the story is fascinating historically.  The Balkans in the mid-fifteenth-century is a fascinating world of constantly shifting loyalties and uneasy alliances.  The graphic novel gives just enough attention to these power politics and their dynamics, without getting bogged down in the massively confusing details.  As an historian, I very much enjoyed learning a bit more about the history of this tortured reason, and came away with a deeper appreciation for its complexity and importance (and why it’s so tortured).

I highly recommend this collection for both fans of the Dracula mythos and students of history.  Other than the final pages, in which Vlad becomes the dreaded Prince of Vampires, most of the work is based on history or is directly historical.  It presents the complicated history of the region and era in a dramatic, engaging way, which aids in the digestion of the byzantine (no pun intended) royal politics of the time.

I devoured this graphic novel like Dracula would one of his victims.  I poured over the entire volume, which is divided into three long acts, in a single sitting, staying up until around 12:30 AM to finish the story.

If that’s not enough of an endorsement for you, well, to the spike with you!

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