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Sword of Dracula #1 By Matt Martin
Image Comics – Jason Henderson (w); Greg Scott (a)
This book is not what I expected it to be.
The title, at least to me, immediately conjures thoughts of Tomb of Dracula, Marvel’s cult favorite from the ‘70s (I believe). As a result, when I picked this book up, I was looking for something along those lines: melodramatic, traditional, Gothic horror stories. Instead, what Henderson and Scott have pulled together is a book about a secret (well, I assume) paramilitary organization, called the Polidorium, devoted to the pursuit and destruction of that most time-honored breed of the walking dead: the vampire.
Veronica Van Helsing (Ronnie for short), presumably a descendent of the legendary vampire hunter, leads her team of soldiers and tech specialists to a secluded portion of the Loire Valley in France. Following her intelligence briefings, her team pinpoints the location of a massive structure masked by a sort of biological cloaking device: Dracula’s castle. Firing static electrical charges into the air to disrupt the field of illusion, Van Helsing sends a daring commando forward to spray the front gates with an anticoagulant. And here Henderson pounds home the theme of the book: the centuries-old Count can do a wondrous variety of things with nothing more than blood, erecting an entire fortress through sheer force of will comprised of the sanguine liquid made solid. As the gates melt, Van Helsing and her team face wave after wave of Dracula’s thralls: demonic hounds, vampire infantry, ninjas (that’s right, I said ninjas) and finally, the enemy himself.
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The story of Sword of Dracula itself is rather entertaining. It’s not whiny and self-indulgent, as stories involving nosferatu have a tendency to be. Dracula doesn’t spend time bemoaning the cruel fate that has led him to stalk the earth for centuries, compelled to kill by an unnatural hunger. Neither does one naïve woman fall prey to his animal charm, softening his hardened heart at the last minute nor one naïve man boldly brave his castle of horrors alone.
No, the end result is something more akin to Rainbow Six (or even B.P.R.D.) than the wisecracking, self-deprecating style of vampire stories that Buffy: The Vampire Slayer popularized. Sword of Dracula’s cast is a team of veteran soldiers, hardened by the violence they’ve seen and wrought, but determined to see their mission accomplished no matter what the cost. Granted, the majority of their dialogue is consumed in talking smack to each other and their foes, but it flows; it never seems contrived or clichéd.
The only complaint that can reasonably be made against Sword of Dracula is in regards to the art. Greg Scott’s work is nice and in some panels, it really shines. The problem lies in inconsistency, in that some panels effectively illustrate the action, whereas others are muddy and indistinct. Frankly, I feel that Sword of Dracula is a book that could have benefited from being published in color (though I don’t blame the creators for doing it in black-and-white, given the cost of publishing four-color through Image), as the panels often seem simply overwhelmed by their own inks, the storytelling drowning in a sea of black.
In the end though, it’s a damned solid effort from the creators (which I assume is their first major work, at least). As first issues go, it’s a surprisingly entertaining one, managing to dive headlong into the action and yet still establish the combat in the context of the overarching storyline. I’m looking forward to the next issue already.