I’m betting that the covers for this Kurt Busiek-created series aren’t really doing it any favors: with its Gothic Dracula looking fierce and killing dudes, the covers are selling something completely different from what’s actually between the covers. It’s less Gene Colan and more…I’m not really sure. But it’s pretty smart with its premise and writer Daryl Gregory has a real handle on the world he’s shaping based on Busiek’s concepts.
The basic premise is that corporate heavyweights Barrington Industries are victims of the financial downturn just like everyone else. Evan Barrington is the directionless heir of the family business, drafted by his uncle Conrad into a secret project involving lots of moldy Romanian texts about Vlad Tepes. Conrad’s brilliant idea is evil genius idiot plot 101: to resurrect the vampire prince and use his knowledge of sorcery to save the company from economic ruin. Evan, a milquetoast at best and a moral coward at worst assists his uncle in what at first seems like an insane experiment; when it works Evan’s sure that’s it’s probably also evil. The first 3 issues in the series bounce between historical anecdotes about the real Vlad Tepes, his present day incarceration in a locked chamber under Barrington Industries called “the wine cellar,” and to present-day Romania, where a family of vampire hunters is slowly coming around to the fact that someone in Pittsburgh is messing around with forces you don’t mess around with.
The big surprise for me was how smart Company of Monsters turned out to be. Evan’s a fascinating protagonist. His narration guides most of the book, and it’s clear that he’s aware of his shortcomings. He’s not much of a man, but it’s not exactly certain that he wants to be better. He just wants to be above his more successful and conniving uncle and cousins, who seem to have calculating maneuvering in their blood. Then there’s the captive in the wine cellar, who it’s clear Evan comes to admire and respect. What the book does here is create a contrast between the historic Tepes who could arguably be seen as a “good” leader to his people, doing monstrous things to protect them, and the modern corporate raiders who just want to increase their balance sheets. Evan’s a man, but in a lot of ways he’s still just a boy in mindset, and he’s stuck between two kind of horrible mentor figures.
The 4th issue promises a lot of problems for Evan, who’s left at the end on a bloody, rain-slick rooftop with a lot of questions to answer about all of the dead bodies. Worse, those Romanian vampire killers? They have an address for the people in the “bringing Dracula back” business and they’re not shy about flying to Pittsburgh. So the next issue promises some real stress for Evan, a character who’s finally figuring out that he should have stepped up to the plate a while ago.
Art’s handled by Scott Godlewski, whose style has touches of Sean Murphy (Joe the Barbarian). It’s no surprise: Godlewski is an avowed fan of Murphy’s work, and it shows, but not to the extent of slavishness imitation. Instead, both artists use the same kind of slim figures and clear facial expressions with vibrant actors for their scripts. However, Murphy tends to employ a higher level of detail to his work, making a lot of his renderings incredibly ornate. Godlewski goes for a cleaner, but no less interesting, look here.
Check out a preview of Dracula: The Company of Monsters #4