What do Dracula, Mr. Darcy, and Romeo have in common? They’re primary characters in literature who suffer inordinately from being“rebooted.” Yet, we the readers, and the various authors and creators of the reboots, keep coming back to them, always ready for a new take, a slight twist. In Dracula Motherf**cker by Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson, we are treated to yet another rendition of the father of the undead—this one set primarily in 1970s Los Angeles.
The story opens in Vienna with the three brides—who vary in ethnicity, a welcome change—nailing a creature we assume to be Dracula into his coffin. Without the titillating title of the comic, we might not have recognized the antagonist in these first few pages, as he appears in a disembodied form, a swirl of eyes, teeth, and chaos. The women agree to bury him, and next the scene opens on a party in Los Angeles, 1974, with a woman named Bebe taking leave of her companions to visit a back room where Dracula’s coffin lies in repose. (Wait, how did she even get this coffin?!). Our focus is then turned away to Quincy, a crime scene photographer checking in for nightly leads. He’s called to a particularly gruesome crime scene, with upwards of seven bodies littering the floor, and the beautiful Bebe unconscious among them. As he continues to follow his nightly rounds taking pictures of corpses, he runs into Bebe, who shifts into a familiar amorphous tangle of eyes and teeth. Just before his life is taken, he’s saved by a woman who confirms that he just escaped a death akin to the murders he’s been following. Flash forward a bit, and Quincy meets the three brides from Vienna, recognizing the woman who saved him earlier. They follow him to a party, where the story climaxes as the old brides and new face off.
Despite depicting characters who only come out at night, Henderson reveals a masterful palette of colors, ranging from the deep reds and oranges of sunsets, dark rooms, and police lights to the sickly greens and yellows of scummy offices and fluorescent streetlights. Colors are accented by moving lines, showing the tracers of headlights, the swirling vortex of eyes, and the transformation of women into beasts. Henderson’s depiction of the father of the undead clearly hails to Helsing’s Alucard and Full Metal Alchemist’s Pride. His brides imitate his features, but ultimately are their own beasts, shifting into Cerberuses, their heads covered in cascading eyes. The women’s bodies reverberate with neon movement, the distortion of the lines making me check to see if my glasses were still working. In few works have I seen such an interesting and powerful mastery of color and movement.
The fresh take that this graphic novel offers is a focus on the brides of Dracula. Many renditions of Dracula barely give lines to the three women, but de Campi gives them agency and characterization they’ve previously lacked. Both de Campi and Henderson write about their choices while creating this comic, and their motivations almost make up for some of the shortcomings of the work itself. It wasn’t until I read their included essays that I could then flip back through the panels and better understand who was who and what the purpose of some of the visual effects were. Further interviews de Campi and Henderson offered with SyFy and Comicon.com brought even more clarity, and I can now see this central theme: “Why did they choose to marry Dracula?…They are victims, yes, but they are not the blameless and perfect sort of victim that popular narratives like. But that’s why they’re exciting. They thought they knew what they were doing, but it turned out to be ever so much worse than they expected.”
Although I could not find a clear rating from Image, I would rate it as Teen+. The art could be described as disturbing for younger readers (psychedelic eyeball monsters might be the stuff of nightmares) and the title, along with a few swear words in the text, might be off-putting for some. As mentioned earlier, Helsing would be a comparable read. All in all, this graphic novel would be a great Halloween-time purchase and is likely to circulate among readers who love Dracula spin-offs. Maybe someday we’ll get an even bigger and better reboot, and a poor, spunky girl will come to love a vampire with a superiority complex whose creator was his star-crossed 13-year-old girlfriend.
Art by Erica Henderson
Image Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)