Universal Monsters - DraculaUniversal Monsters – Dracula

Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Martin Simmonds
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics – Skybound

To say this is a great comic is to state the obvious. It has Martin Simmonds on art and James Tynion IV in his element. Of course it’s great and you should read it. As an adaptation, it also does the work well. From the decision to have Dracula himself be more of a negative space within the narrative rather than the gentle seducer of Bela Lugosi and Claes Bang (underrated series, though the last episode fumbles a bit in the middle in drab ways, but makes up for it with an inspired ending scene), instead opting for the uncanny monstrosity of Max Schreck and late stage Christopher Lee is inspired. The way Simmonds uses color to evoke an old film stock is truly remarkable, to say nothing of how he draws those within Dracula’s power.

But it’s one of those people that has the central focus within the narrative of this adaptation of Dracula. Renfield, as a character, is often discarded or misused within the context of Dracula. Frequently a comic punchline or a grotesque horror, there is a tragedy to the character that Tynion and Simmonds pull out that truly makes this a brilliant take on the material. No where is this more poignant than in the final scene of the comic. Where most interpretations of the text would shift away from the dead fool who followed Dracula and towards the immortal murderer (Coppola’s delightful take essentially makes his death an afterthought), we stay with Renfield and Dr. Seward.

We do not see Renfield as a heroic figure who tried to save Mina from the villainous vampire, but we see him nonetheless. He is a self-admitted small man who dreamed to be bigger. Not more than he was, but a bigger version of himself. The promise of monsters like Dracula is that you can remain as you were when you were young, at the price of everyone around you. The price of immortality and power is, as it has always been, cruelty. We can understand the monstrosity of Renfield as it is a monstrosity within all of us. Consider, for example, the subject of Simmonds and Tynion’s other notable collaboration, The Department of Truth. A story about the nature of America, the promises made to people for power. How our dreams of how the world works control us and bring us to ruin.

It is easy and perhaps correct to damn men like Renfield. But we must never forget that they nevertheless remain men and not bugs. Not things that are separate from us. Even the noblest, most loving, most caring amongst us can fall into becoming kin to Renfield. To be more, we must provide grace for all of us. When you can’t do anything but there’s nothing you can do, you do what you can. Even if it’s small and pointless. Even if it’s just accepting that you can be a monster too. Even if it’s helping a lost soul in the dark.

But then, aren’t we all?