‘Anno Dracula: 1895 Seven Days of Mayhem Issue #1’ reviewed

❉ A worthy addition to Kim Newman’s canon of fantastic, beguiling, and terrifying alternate history.

A moment of personal reminiscence to begin. While I’ve never been a major comics reader or collector – I followed a handful of titles during the early-to-mid 1980s to 1990s, and kept up with the occasional prestige miniseries such as Watchmen or Elektra: Assassin – the genre has always interested me, and back in the day I kept a weather eye on its trends. One that emerged in the mid-1990s was what I’d call the Celebrity Comic. Other people would probably call it a rip-off.

What happened was that some genre notable such as – to name but a few – Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, or Gene Roddenberry would find a nice idea they’d scribbled on a rare fag packet, and sell said idea and the right to use their name in the publicity and on the covers, using any proceeds to finance the work that they really cared about. The more unwary fanboy or girl would be rooked by the big name on the front, snap it up, swiftly realise that the said name had little to anything to do with what was inside, and wise up fast. These comics had short lifespans built in more surely than any Nexus 6 replicant, and the whole vogue for them died as swiftly. Without the guiding talents advertised behind them, they became hackwork fast, and landfill faster.

All of which preamble is to give the context to my delighted declaration that at last, the Celebrity Comic is being done correctly. Seven Days In Mayhem has the name of Anno Dracula’s creator and author Kim Newman on the front cover in pleasingly low-key and dignified manner, and he is indeed writing it with all of his usual flair, erudition, and keen eye for both the humorous and horrific.

To those unfamiliar with the Anno Dracula saga – where have you been? If you have any love for the well-told tale of alternative history, the whole thing is a must. All that you need to know for now is that Newman starts with the simple but inspired conceit, ‘What if Dracula had won at the end of Stoker’s novel?’ – and everything flows from that like lifeblood from the jugular. Up until now, it’s been told purely as novels spanning the late 19th to the late 20th Century. Now, we have pictures to match the words, Paul McCaffrey’s marvellously detailed artwork building a clear vision of Newman’s world from the vampire-patrolled skies down to the sellers of suspiciously human-looking meat on the cobbled pavements.

This world also contains many characters from the realm of fiction – both Newman’s own creations (it’s marvellous to see Kate Reed, long one of my favourite characters of his, taking a prominent role) and those of many other fantastic yarns – including a genuinely inspired appearance from one of G K Chesterton’s most enigmatic creations, looking both awe-inspiring yet faintly ridiculous in McCaffrey’s rendition as he should. Along with such logical but delightful throwaway ideas as Henry Irving playing Matthew Lewis’s The Monk on the London stage rather than Dracula, these echoes from the pens of other authors lend an extra layer of richness and fascination to the whole.

As for the tale…it begins with a spectacular pre-credits sequence, showing us how most of the world is set against Dracula’s Britain – and just how powerful that Britain really is under his command. The tale proper is set against the backdrop of his impeding Tin Jubilee, and various intrigues within his realm from the many factions – some noble, some rather less so – with good reason to see his iron rule overthrown. But even the best-intentioned of conspirators, we gather swiftly, have traitors within their midst. It’s an intriguing set-up for what looks set, under Newman and McCaffrey’s skilled and careful guidance, to become a worthy addition to the whole canon of this fantastic, beguiling, and terrifying alternate history.

Newman sketches in characters from the idealistic but sceptical Kate to the dandified but experience-hardened Prime Minister Ruthven with his usual skill and eye for detail, while McCaffrey has great fun with artwork ranging from the wide-screen action of the prologue to an endearingly childish potted summary of the ending of the rewritten Dracula, with Van Helsing looking very like Peter Cushing and Quincey very like Desperate Dan, the whole epic thus transformed into a Comic Cuts yarn that pales next to the sophisticated adulthood of Dracula’s kingdom…or so he’d doubtless have us believe. The whole effect reminds me of nothing less than Ian Edginton and D’Israeli’s Scarlet Traces saga, which takes Wells’s The War Of The Worlds and similarly builds a fascinating, coherent world for the aftermath. As Scarlet Traces is widely and rightly recognised as a great work of comics storytelling, this is no mean feat, and I look forward to seeing the remainder of this latest tale of Vlad’s Empire being told.

What remains to be said? This is a fine start to what promises to be a strong yarn in a marvellous saga. So sink your fangs in, and enjoy.

❉ ‘Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days In Mayhem’ issue 1, written by Kim Newman and illustrated by Paul McCaffrey and published by Titan Comics, is out 22 March, 2017, in print from Titan Comics, RRP £2.65, and digitally via Comixology, £2.49.

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