Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Victorian Undead II: Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula – review

Author: Ian Edginton

Art: Davide Fabbri & Horacio Domingues

First published: 2011

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: The game is afoot!

In turn-of-the-century England, a lone ship arrives from the Black Sea beached and crewless, save her captain, dead and tethered to the wheel. With nine men missing and a very curious cargo aboard, only one man is fit to unravel the mystery—London’s brilliant consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes!

With the assistance of the faithful Doctor Watson, Holmes uncovers a plot against Her Majesty Queen Victoria to overthrow her kingdom through a plague-like corruption of her bloodline. And the evidence suggests that at the epicentre of this gruesome conspiracy is none other than the ancient and abhorrent Count Dracula!

Borrowing from both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker, writer Ian Edginton faithfully weaves together an artful tale of intellect and horror in this epic face-off between two literary icons.

Also featuring a special adventure wherein Holmes and Watson tackle the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde!

The review: As you can see this is the second trade paperback in the Victorian Undead series, a series from DC. The first was Sherlock Holmes vs Zombies and I must admit I have not read that volume. The story in volume 2 offers enough narrative to explain that in that volume Moriarty released a zombie plague upon London and it was halted through the burning of much of the city. In this volume, one year on, the city is being rebuilt but that rebuilding allows the author and artist to redesign London and add in such ideas as Babbage Machines, revising the technology of the Victorian age.

The first part of the volume is the Jekyll and Hyde story (and twists it to include the idea that Jekyll has become a revenant but his science holds him together, just, and that the Hyde personality appears when the revenant side breaks through). You’ll see that the blurb mentions both Doyle and Stoker as sources for the main story and this is true, but one must also suggest some influence via the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in setting and merger of literary figures, and Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula, given the threat by Dracula to Victoria and the throne.

In this the comic is explicit that Dracula is Vlad Ţepeş, though less explicit when contemplating how he might have become a vampire. We have Lucy vampirised, Mina dead (she was turned and committed suicide by bathing in sunlight – a strange suicide given that it is later confirmed that “The vampire can exist in daylight but he is weakened, his power greatly diminished.”). Arthur is a traitor, siding with Dracula (and was one of Mycroft’s agents originally). The graphic also features Quincey Morris, Jack Seward, Jonathon Harker and Abraham Van Helsing. They are portrayed as God’s madmen, quite literally, the horror they have witnessed pushing them towards madness. I did think the portrayal of Van Helsing did the original character little service, making him out to be a cantankerous old fool.

Interestingly the boxes of earth shipped with Dracula held a strain of Bubonic Plague that was extremely virulent but short lived once active. Dracula planned to thin the heard with this and this fits in with the idea of the plague carrier explored in Nosferatu who slept in coffins filled with earth “from the fields of the Black Death”, and also resonated with the plague theme within The Satanic Rites of Dracula.

The art was technically good but felt a little too blocky to me and, whilst I understand London was being rebuilt, its portrayal of the Capital could have done with being darker and grimier. I enjoyed the story, however, and (despite the sunlight conundrum outlined above) felt it held together well.

Holmes and Dracula have met before, notably in Radio shows and in Fred Saberhagen’s writing. The fact that they are two enduring characters from Victorian literature suggests to me that they should continue to pit wits against each other. 7 out of 10.


Gabriel said...

Thanks for the review

I'll endeavour to pick this up next time I'm in the city and visit the local comic store

Now that you mention Saberhagen, I'm amazed no-one has adapted that story (Holmes Dracula File) into a movie or even a TV series similar to BBC Sherlock, since I agree that both Holmes and Sherlock are enduring and popular characters from the Victorian Age.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi DHG, definitely worth a look (and the first one might be worth getting too).

I can't see Saberhagen's story getting a TV series, personally, but it is mystifying that no movie has ever been made.