The clever idea at the center of Dracula: The Company of Monsters is an obvious one, suggested by the “Bloodsucker vs. Bloodsuckers” tagline on the back of the first volume collecting the ongoing series.
Dracula may have been a ruthless prince who impaled his foes, literally did a deal with the literal devil and became an undead blood-drinking fiend, but at least he’s not a modern CEO.
The “You know who the real monsters are…?” statement is a staple of horror and monster entertainment, and its one this comic has the cognizance to apply to the major problems of the day. Certainly the commentary may at times be a little too pointed, as when Dracula makes a “That is the difference between a prince and a chief executive” speech, disgusted that the corporate CEO that engineered his resurrection and is keeping him chained in the company HQ’s basement has laid off hundreds of workers in order to improve the balance sheet.
But then, perhaps there is some poetry in a the sub-text of a story about the undead refusing to stay buried.
Company of Monsters bears rather feature film-like credits, with Kurt Busiek getting a “Created and Story by” credit, while Daryl Gregory gets “written by.”
Their protagonists are two young people in two very different family businesses.
Directionless Evan is a cog in massive corporation BI, where his mother sits on the board and his uncle is the mysterious evil CEO; the latter has him researching the historical Dracula and translating spells. They’ve found the skeleton of Dracula, and his uncle plans to resurrect it and use the monster’s mesmerism powers to assist in a corporate takeover.
The other is Marta, the youngest surviving member of the Stefanescu Family in the Carpathians; their business is vampire-slaying. When they find the slain bodies of BI employees and mercenaries, they have to kill the killers and, ultimately, hunt down the reawakened Dracula.
The first volume merely introduces these two characters and their families; they don’t meet before the first volume is up. It nevertheless offers a satisfying chunk of story, bringing a few major conflicts and at least one character arc to conclusion, while enough plot threads and opened ended questions remain to entice a reader into wanting to find out what happens next.
As for the title character, he spends much of his time in the present on the other side of a glass wall from Evan, who he takes on as an apprentice, and they bond in a Silence of The Lambs sort of way. We see quite a bit of him in the past as well, though, mostly as a human prince rather than a vampire, though.
Gregory does a quite exceptional job of creating a laying out a believable, historical Dracula—I don’t know how much is real and how much was created for this particular book, but it all reads real, which is the important thing.
One may not need to crack the cover to get what Busiek and Gregory were going for, but, there are certainly many genre pleasures within its pages, from the battle of wills between the various characters, to some fairly original takes on staple elements of vampire fiction, to several gory action sequences.
The artwork is provided by Scott Godlewski, with one of the four chapters illustrated by Damian Couceiro. They work well together as a team, so much so that it’s not immediately obvious more than one artist was involved with the story, a great virtue in a book like this.
Neither has a terribly showy style, but its solid, lovely looking work, which gets the job done while paying special attention to the subtleties of character design and acting. It’s the sort of work a book like this demands, and would have withered and proved unreadable without, but Godlewski and Couceiro knock it out of the park.
I’m looking forward to seeing what they and Gregory—and Dracula and Evan and Marta—do next, which I suppose is the ultimate indicator if a serial comic is working or not.