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'Universal Monsters: Dracula' #1 will tear out your heart AND throat

Comic Books

‘Universal Monsters: Dracula’ #1 will tear out your heart AND throat

A bigger, bolder, bloodier Dracula for our modern age.

With The Department of Truth, James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds made dark magic. But it wasn’t just that they explored twisted conspiracies and the nature of reality — they were unflinching in their efforts. They operated with a clarity and strength to compel and disarm readers at every turn. Now, that very same kind of magic continues in their latest collaboration, Universal Monsters: Dracula.

It is, on its face, a direct enough retelling of Bram Stoker’s seminal 1897 novel. For one, the serialized approach really works well. Tynion is able to explore each moment with the utmost care and attention; issue #1, then, introduces Renfield to the asylum before setting up the involvement of all the major characters (Jonathan Harker, his fiancée Mina, and her friend Lucy). It’s a pacing that allows us to get to know these characters in a way that some adaptations just can’t foster — organically and earnestly, with Harker’s arrogance and Mina’s longing on full display. But Renfield, especially, gets a chance to really shine in this version’s pacing — he’s regarded far less as semi-joke and instead serves as a proper avatar for his ghastly master.

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Universal Monsters: Dracula #1

Courtesy of Image Comics.

Dracula’s own minimalist presence is essential as we regard him still as some abstract terror that affects and informs the way these characters are fully established. Tynion clearly grasps the material and celebrates its singular tone and larger contextual and aesthetic openness and value. Yet he shows some of the aforementioned clarity and strength to balance that book with tweaks and emphasis that introduce and ground this story for a newer audience who may have heard other Dracula stories instead. The writing is clear and sharp — his dialogue feels distinct for each character — and while it’s not quite a robust and compelling (or as stylized) as his other works, it remains in glorious service to this essential story.

But there’s no denying that as profound as Tynion’s efforts are, the real star of the show is Simmonds. I’ve long praised his work, especially in the realm of horror — his frenetic line work and expert use of shadows and shading scratch at the most primal parts of the brain. But this book is clearly a step above; whether he’s focusing on the eternally bloody eyes of Dracula, sharing a quiet moment with Nina and Lucy that drips with context, or even drawing his version of a Universal title card, Simmonds terrifies the mind as much as he pleases the eye. And that dichotomous approach mostly speaks to the appeal of the original novel: it’s about confronting people with something dark and making them consider what their arousal says about the human condition.

Universal Monsters: Dracula #1

Courtesy of Image Comics.

But all of that’s mostly child’s play compared to the stuff with Renfield. As if his depiction alone wasn’t marvelous — it’s once more the first time I see him as a ghoulish terror over the role of simply lackey — Renfield manages to push or facilitate some big visual moments. His depiction of Dracula’s “mission,” as it were, pushed the look and feel into the realm of abstract horror; all that blood and madness feels like a proper existential threat. Even the moments where Renfield seems to “”transform” feel shocking and filthy — a moment where not only the reality of this book bends but we’re reminded of the endless horror awaiting the rest of this tale. Its moments both big and bold and consuming and so quiet they only just happened — and each instance feels like a nail in our collective coffin.

Simmonds uses every tool in his bag to scare in a way that never feels cheap, and he relies on the Tynion’s unwavering support and guidance to shock us to our very cores with lethal efficiency. I’d say get lost in some of these pages, but you may find them a touch too terrifying for extended viewing.

At various points this week, you may have seen me make comments about the “over-Dracula-ication” of Halloween stories/properties. And while that’s not any less true, this book already feels like the reason why we’re so rightly obsessed with the king of vampires. It’s scary and threatening and endlessly violent but never any less disarming and beguiling. (Seems to me that these ideas may be more inherently tied together than we’d expect.) It engages with the larger canon of horror from which it was birthed while modifying that rich canon for this specific audience. And it grabs you by the eyeballs and never lets go for 24 terror-inducing pages.

It’s only the first issue, and I’m already willing to pledge my undying allegiance to these dark masters.

'Universal Monsters: Dracula' #1 will tear out your heart AND throat
‘Universal Monsters: Dracula’ #1 will tear out your heart AND throat
Universal Monsters: Dracula #1
Both faithful to the Bram Stoker original, and capable of mining new psychic terrors, this adaptation will consume you from page one.
Reader Rating1 Votes
James Tynion IV's storytelling reworks the origin with care and grace.
Martin Simmonds presents a master class in maddening horror excellence.
This story helps illustrate (with ample blood and intention) Dracula's perpetual powers.
This book may only be for the truly brave and devoted of horror aficionados.
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