BROTHERS DRACUL (Aftershock Comics, release date November 14, 2018) Trade Paperback, 120 pages. ISBN# 1935002473 / 9781935002475. Created and written by Cullen Bunn. Art by Mirko Colak. Colors by Maria Santaolalla. Letters by Simon Bowland. Collects Issues #1-5 of the 2018 mini-series.
Fans of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA already know that the old world Vlad Dracul III, also known as Vlad Tepes (Vlad The Impaler) served as historic inspiration for his famous novel. Writer Cullen Bunn takes that same history and in BROTHERS DRACUL speculates as to what made Vlad so vicious in real life.
Cullen uses as his launchpad a historic 1442 event during Vlad’s early youth, when he and his younger brother Radu were held hostage in the Ottoman Empire in order to secure their father’s loyalty to the Sultan Mehmed II. From there, his version of the events that follow explain how Vlad turned maniacal and the brothers became at odds. It’s historical fiction of a horrific nature and very well done, both in Cullen’s story-telling as well as the vivid illustrations of Mirko Colak.
In addition, Cullen makes a vampiric connection but stops short of indicating whether Vlad has joined the undead blood-suckers. BROTHERS DRACUL is a complete story but sets itself up for a sequel, something I would love to read. In recorded history, Vlad III invaded the Ottoman Empire – – so that seems like a great starting point for the next chapter.
If all you have read of Cullen Bunn’s work is his superhero stories for Marvel, then you haven’t yet experienced the grandeur that he brings to his original works, especially horror. He’s a master. Just check out BONE PARISH from Boom, HARROW COUNTY from Dark Horse, REGRESSION from Image, and THE DAMNED, SIXTH GUN, and SHADOW ROADS from Oni. There are plenty of writers excelling at horror comics these days, but Bunn belongs in the top five for sure. He’ll give Robert Kirkman and others (Joe Hill, Steve Niles, John Lees, etc.) some worthy competition.
This one gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating from me. I’m going to detail the highlights of the series below, so if you’re convinced stop reading to avoid the spoilers.
ISSUE #1 “Vampir”: The opening page artwork, with the castle seen in the wintry distance on a cold day in Targoviste,1462 depicts the setting perfectly. Colak’s artwork evokes this period of time on every page. The colors, and the use of pure white background in some of the panels, really bring the events vividly to life. Colak is masterful at capturing facial expressions. Look at the last panel of page one before you turn and view the double-page spread that follows: a scene of bloody massacre and impalement outside the castle fortifications. The two brothers meet again, after a long separation during which their father dies and Vlad becomes the Voivode (Prince) of Wallachia. Radu is shocked at the scene of carnage, and questions his brothers actions and intentions. Cue the flashback to 20 years earlier, when they were abducted.
As prisoners they are trained in battle skills in order to be companions and bodyguards to Mehmed, the sultan’s son. Radu takes to the training better than his rebellious brother Vlad, and excels at archery. Their first mission with Mehmed leads to a cave where a monstrous creature is discovered.
ISSUE #2 “First Blood”: The two brothers have been selected to act as human shields for Mehmed, who’s been tasked (as was his father before him, etc) with destroying the demonic vampires (“the forsaken”) that plague the community. They aren’t expected to survive but prove adept at killing, especially Vlad who revels in the carnage.
Brotherly loyalty is tested as trainer Esel offers Radu a way out. The young servant woman Ermine takes a special interest in Vlad. The vampiric creatures appear to have a more human-like leader.
The expressions and action in the battle scenes are perfectly executed.
ISSUE #3: “Hunters & Prey”: As the hunt for vampires continues throughout the village, a use for silver dust is discovered. The opening pages where the brothers interrupt a baby abduction by the demon creatures is especially lurid and shocking. Radu shows compassion. Vlad exhibits a cold heart. Is there a connection between the humanoid vampire and the servant Ermine?
ISSUE #4: “The Missing”: Ermine has apparently been taken away by the vampires, and this drives Vlad into a rage. Vlad’s strategy of decapitating vampires and placing their heads on poles outside the castle may have sent the wrong message to the vampires. There’s a surprise involving insects and blood-covered Ermine will never be the same. The human vampire leader has turned her.
ISSUE #5: “Truth In The Blood”: Like a bookend, The wrap-up issues returns to the opening scene in Issue #1, and then brings us back to the violent attempt rescue Ermine, a battle in which Vlad’s fury makes it hard for him to distinguish monsters from allies. The issue ends back in 1462, as Vlad sees vampires everywhere he looks, even beneath the hoods of the men who came along with Radu.
STORY: A great blend of history and fiction. Bunn peruses us to like certain characters, dislike others, and loathe some – just as I suspect he planned it. 3 POINTS
ART: The art team is a gem. The color choices are perfect. Colak is a brilliant artist. 3 POINTS
COVERS: Get the job done and give a proper indication of the contents while creating curiosity. Although, I thought Issue #5’s cover art, while a nice cross section of characters was a bit tame for a concluding issue. 1 POINT
READ AGAIN? I pick up more details in art and story to marvel at with each reading. Now on my fourth go-around. 1 POINT.
RECOMMEND? To everyone, for sure. 1 POINT.
TOTAL RATING: 9 POINTS out of a possible 10. Close to perfection.