Myths Meet Maniacs
Originally Published in Encore Magazine
Evil never dies. It’s only passed down from generation to generation and reshaped a little along the way. That is the core premise of Cult of Dracula by Rich Davis. It is explored to its fullest with a light touch trusting the reader to understand and imagine where they are, where they’ve been and where they are most terrified to go. Cult of Dracula drops the characters from the famed Bram Stoker novel into the meat grinder of a Jonestown-like compound. This cult is fronted by the maniacally mysterious R.M. Renfield, but something far more ancient and far more evil lurks in the darkness.
The plot shifts between two stories along two timelines. The book opens with the arrival of Special Agent Malcolm Bram as he investigates a tragedy dubbed “The Cult of Dracula Mass Suicides”. These opening panels are smooth, near silent, and serve as a wonderful overture. With sickening landmines of grotesque detail to fill each of the earlier moments, peppered in like bloody chum in the water by artist Henry Martinez. Readers soon join journalists Mina Murray and Abraham Van Helsing, three days earlier, as they work to expose the cult’s true nature. The bulk of the quippy dialogue is allowed to flow naturally in these flashback segments. This allows the weight of silence to be fleet in the pensive Agent Bram as he cases the scene of the crime. Davis’ words pair beautifully with Martinez’s art.The transitions are not always clear, nor are they easy to follow. This fosters a sense of disorientation and confusion for the readers who never quite know where or when they are. It makes for real edge of your seat storytelling. Each time period is well balanced, with both given the needed time to breathe and develop. The use of foreshadowing is strong as the readers will only be able to assume the wicked fates that await each character. A smart, well used trick that will keep the readers pining for the next issue.
The synergy on display between Martinez’s art and Trevor Richardson’s colors is incredible. The splash page that reveals cult leader Renfield is especially exquisite. It balances both the gravitas the character brings to the story yet also perfectly depicts the weightlessness Renfield carries himself with. All before mentioning the easily overlooked but must be noted work that Richardson has added to the skylines of the panels. Outside the compound, Richardson’s uses of rich bold reds resemble the color of fresh, flowing blood. It’s creates a foreboding atmosphere very well.
Each character is given a cool modern… re-Vamp (Pun fully intended.) that more than seamlessly moves them to the story’s present day setting. From a unique take on the Count, to a Final Girl-styled Mina Murray, all the way to the aforementioned Manson infused Renfield, every character from the novel is more than accounted for. Though this reframing to the time period does serves some characters better than others.
Jonathan Harker, a character who has usually suffered from some unremarkable outings on screen. I’m looking at you Keanu Reeves. Unfortunately even here it’s a trope the character can’t quite get away from. The role can’t shake this bland sense of just being there to move things along. Though that’s an issue I’m sure further issues will resolve.
A scene where Harker is introduced to the inhabitants of the cult starts out with real power and zest, as Renfield preaches and Lucy gazes on in an allured wonder. The class system on the cult is really put on display in a solid manner. A theme the comic book itself really pushes hard, the battles of classes.
It’s when the scene shift to be between Harker and a trust-fund-baby Arthur Holmwood that the plot’s pace has the breaks slammed on it. A mix of whiney unclear motives for Arthur and the place holder muttering of Harker muddies the waters for only the hottest of seconds. The issue smartly cuts back to the mystery which drives Agent Bram’s hunt, planting more seeds to germinate in future issues.
The issue’s final moment will certainly stay with readers long after the book itself has been filed away within their own collections. As it returns to the menacing blood, guts, and gore of the comic’s opening, presented in a near splash page is an image that can only be described as well… Blood Orgy would be the terminology I would use.
As an avid lover of all things Horror and comic books I can attest the 1st issue of “Cult of Dracula” is a brutal and blood graphic series. Fanatics of the Horror genre will devour this title chomping at the bit wondering just where it will go next. The true sign of any engaging work really. The story merges the unpolished over-the-top gore of grindhouse cinema anchored through the lens of atmospheric gothic literature. Davis understands the tug of war between modern and classic Horror, knowing when to show his hand or when to bait the hook.
Heading into the Halloween Horrors season readers looking for a fun and freaky fright need to keep their eyes peeled and their blood chilled for “Cult of Dracula”. Sink your teeth into it, before it sinks its teeth into you!