Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Comics: I never drink . . . bootleg hooch.


Some concepts are just so goofy, such bluntly designed vehicles for instant fanboy kicks, that they become cool. One of these concepts is pitting Dracula, vampire king of the damned, against Al Capone, king of Prohibition Era Chicago. And this is exactly what the somewhat un-creatively titled comic Dracula vs. Capone does.

The title pretty much says it all. In Chicago, the "Roaring" part of the Roaring Twenties refers mainly the fire of Thompson machine guns as Capone locks down the city. Fortunately for the good citizens of the Windy City, Capone's reign is not unchallenged. A new threat, in form of an upstart Treasury agent named Elliot Ness and his so-called "Untouchables" are giving Scarface some trouble. As the forces of organized crime and justice prepare to face off, a new player arrives on the scene. Dracula, reawakened by blood-tainted rain, comes back to life with a small army of thirsty vamps. The head blood-sucker plans to use the chaos and random bloodshed of Chicago to hide his efforts to re-establish his rule over the night. And with that bit of backstory, it's on.

Goofy? Sure. But goofy with a pedigree. Horror cinema used to be filled these bizarre mash-ups. Sherlock Holmes versus Satanic cults, Jesse James versus Dracula, any number of monsters versus one another. None of these pictures were, perhaps, cinematic gems, or even highlights of the horror genre. Though they were not without their place. These pictures were treats for genre film fans. Why treat horror lovers to just another werewolf film when you could have the Wolfman face off against Dracula and Frankenstein's monster, all in one film? Sadly, the death of the B-film has mostly ended this sort of silly, but flat-out fun sub-genre. With the exception of Jason versus Freddy and the lame VanHelsing, mash-ups seem to be a thing of the past.

At least, they are on the big screen. In comics, the hybridizing spirit is alive and well. Want to see Mark Twain and Tesla (the inventor, not the band) go up against Lovecraft's Elder Ones? Check out The Five Fists of Science. Can't decide between vampires and pirates? You don't have to with Sea of Red. Want to see Dracula take on the Silver Surfer? I can't imagine you did, but you can find that in Essentials: Tomb of Dracula. What is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but a giant mash-up? In fact, the efforts of folks like Moore have ensured that the comic mash-up has not only thrived, but gained a level of artistic respectability within the medium that the film variety never achieved.

That's a long way to go to say that the idea is not without precedent. And, if Dracula vs. Capone were just a fun throwaway in this long line of mash-ups, it would still be worth a peek. The art is effective and artist Chris Moreno uses color to great effect. The dark reds and inky blacks of the book are a pleasure. But, what makes it worth the full read is the care writer Jim Krueger takes with the story. The first issue is narrated by three different characters: Dracula, Capone, and Malone, the right-hand man of Ness. Like the original novel Dracula, these narrative voices tend to blend, but unlike the original, the comic uses what might be a failing to its advantage. By weaving in repeated images and motifs – Capone talks about the compulsion to drink, Malone discusses crime sucking the lifeblood of the city, both Capone and Dracula talk about ruling the underworld – the thoughts of the characters mingle into a tangle of metaphors that reflects again and again the themes of the books. The whole thing is better written than you'd expect.

The book is not perfect. In the rush to get Drac to the City of Broad Shoulders, Krueger and company rely on the narrative device that so much blood is being spilled in Chicago that it literally rains blood on Transylvania. An odd idea. The pacing is a bit off too. Stage managing the three-way confrontation between Capone, Ness, and Dracula means that readers are often run through scenes with no time to take in the details. For example, Frank Nitti appears, but his role in Capone's organization is never fully explained. (Not that there aren't some nice touches – in the space of a single frame, a tongue-tied accountant tries to warn Capone about his finances, but Capone's throwing one of his famously violent fits and scares off his one chance to avoid prison.)

Overall, though, these little things are overlooked. Dracula vs. Capone is good stuff. It might not rise to Moore-ish levels of literary pretension, but it is an effective genre fusion and worth the cover price.

3 comments:

cattleworks said...

Who puts out this book? Dark horse?
It sounds interesting, although I'm actually trying to track down a copy of Recess Pieces, especially after I saw some of the art on your post on zombie comics. It looks really neat, reminds me a LITTLE bit of Dave Cooper's stuff. Cooper's awesome (I have RIPPLE; CRUMPLE; and SUCKLE) and very strange.
The one comic book store I go to, Atomic Don's (near Buffalo, NY), now refuses to stock anymore zombie comics because of the overkill of zombie titles, which coincidentally you yourself pointed out.
So they'll special order any zombie stuff you want rather than just stock the various titles.
There's even a locally published comic called DEAD PLANET and they're about to print issue four this year. I'm not rteally impressed by the comic but I'm impresed with their output.
The guy who writes the book is a strip club DJ, which really means nothing, I just thought that was interesting local color (grin).

By the way, thanks a lot for the comment on my head in the toilet post on livejournal!

What titles do you normally read. i'm assuming you don't read just horror themed comics. Although, while we're on the subject, have you checked out any issues of IDW's DOOMED? Obviously inspired by old CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA line of B&W comics put out by Warren Publications.
I have mixed feelings for this new title.
I have all three issues so far, but alot of my zeal for the book is pure nostalgia for the Warren titles.
Ashley Wood's art I like, but he has an annoying habit (I feel) when he illustrates an actual comic story, to sometimes be vague on depicting details that sort of are supposed to tell the story. he's sort of a "messy" artist in his style, for lack of a much better term, which is fine for cover illustrations, but is a potential pitfall for the story art. They also come out with two variant covers an issue, one cover by Wood, another by... uh... a guy whose name i forget. Jason something, I believe. but his paintings are interesting realism type paintngs of the macabre.

Just nosy about what you like, man...

CRwM said...

Hey the Works,

Dracula vs. Capone is put out by Silent Devil Inc. I've never really heard of them before, but a look at their Web site (www.silentdevil.com) shows they've got a handful of interesting looking titles. There's even a teaser that appears to be a wanted poster for Billy the Kid and a T Rex (the big lizard, not the glam rock legend). I have no idea what that's all about, but I like it.

You're welcome for the live journal post – I'm a regular reader now and the pleasure was all mine. Any time you need to share ideas about somebody's head being found in a toilet, you just let me know!

I haven't checked out Doomed. I must admit I'm a bit reluctant to get into IDW comics. I dropped their Zombies from my regular purchases because it was so generic and expensive. But I'm a big fan of the old Warren titles you mentioned, so perhaps I need to get over my anti-IDW prejudice check it out.

As if being a horror geek weren't enough, I'm a comic geek too. Thinking on the non-horror titles I regularly read, I'm currently into Wood's DMZ and Local. I dig Ex Machina and The Exterminators. I'm a long time Jonah Hex fan, though the current series (while fine) doesn't fully measure up to the classic stuff reprinted in the Showcase Edition. I find I read less and less superhero stuff these days, but I still pick up Runaways.

Thanks for reading.

cattleworks said...

Well, DOOMED is a mixed bag, and it is pretty pricey. But they totally suckered me in on the Warren nostalgia.
They hedge their bets by adapting stories by other established horror writers (like David Schow), so i give them credit for that.
But, no one so far has really captured my imagination art-wise like some of the Warren stable.

Have you read any of Chester Brown's Ed the Happy Clown?
It appeared originally in his now defunct Yummy Fur comics, back in the, when?, late 80s? Naw... God, I'm old. Anyways, years ago.
One of my favorite comics.
They just republished it as a nine part series (Drawn and Quarterly) and i look forward to them releasing the TPB.
I HAVE a TPB of Ed the Happy Clown, but due to a printing error, one of the chapters is missing (replaced with a reprint of a previous chapter. D'oh!)and I had bought it years after it was printed so i couldn't replace it with a new one.
So I was very excited by the recent reappearance of it.

I never read Jonah Hex, but i've heard interesting things about it. Actually, i heard more about the writer of the comic during a controversy/libel suit with Fantagraphics/The Comics Journal years ago.
CJ referred to Michael Fleischer (that is the writer of the series long ago, isn't it? I'm totally doing this by memory) as a crazy fuck or something like that, but he (editor Gary Groth) meant it as a sincere compliment because the Hex series was so twisted.
I guess Fleischer took exception and sued Groth for libel.
Anyways, that intrigued me about the series, but I never looked into it in depth.
Perhaps i'll check out this Showcase Edition thingy.

And i can't even remember if I replied to your "head in the toilet" comments! I don't think I did!
But thank you! Not only for commenting but for the suggestion, which is actually very interesting.
Hell, in general I'm open to ANY suggestions, but this was something worth chewing on!

Since we're on the subject: here's something ELSE you might want to consider. I have a GREAT (well, i think so) ridiculous title for a horror movie: BLOOD MENUDO!
It came to me a couple years ago, and I just thought that rocked.
But, no story came along with the title, unfortunately.
The use of MENUDO was more a non-sequitor than any actual reference to the boy band, but when I tried to actually come up with anything serviceable or appropriately outlandish plotwise for this thing, I think I went too literally: some twisted priest with an unholy gang of altar boys doing his sacreligious bidding, or some jumping off point like that.
Or else, the title is just going to be a great non-sequitor title to some horror movie idea I have...