In 2004, VAN HELSING absolutely broke my heart. (You can hear a podcast review of that one from the Castle Dracula Podcast here.) Here was a big-budget Universal release of a monster mash the likes of which hadn't been seen since the 40s: Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, all combatted by Van Helsing, the great vampire hunter of Dracula. The cast was the kind of thing that seemed to guarantee big box office, with Hugh Jackman-- freaking Wolverine-- and Kate Beckinsale in the leads. And... no. Word got out fast that the movie managed to be both over-complicated and simplistic, over-long and dull.
And worst of all, from my perspective: the movie had no heart. It had no idea why it was there. A story's got to have a reason to exist for people to want to see it. Star Trek is about wonder. Mission Impossible is about overcoming long odds with ridiculously detailed planning and teamwork. What was Van Helsing about? Not being scared, surely. So... wonder? What? To be able to answer the querstion, you'd have to have some awareness of the source material and be able to tell someone what made you fall in love with it and want to write about it. Another way to ask a creator "What is it about?" is: "Why did you want to write this?"
FLESH AND BLOOD is a new graphic novel (actually part 1 in a series) from writer Robert Tinnel and artist Neil Vokes that does what Van Helsing should have done: it shares its creator's love for an alternate world where Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man all co-exist. It's a world they're in love with so much that every page is crammed with details that fans will recognize. Of course, where VAN HELSING was a missed opportunity for its creators to share the wonder of Universal Horror, FLESH AND BLOOD shares the wonder of a different universe, just through the veil from Universal: Hammer Horror.
The time is the mid-nineteenth century, when the seductive, deadly vampire named Carmilla has been put to death by a team of vampire hunters led by General Spiesldorf, who lost his daughter to Carmilla. The death of Carmilla sets off a chain reaction among humans and vampires alike. Carmilla's sister Ezebet goes to none other than Dracula, Lord of all Vampires, to solicit his aid in destroying the hunters. The hunters enlist the machiavellian Baron Frankenstein, here the spitting image of Peter Cushing, in developing an anti-vampire biological weapon. We meet a young Van Helsing, who like the young Lord Godalming in Dracula is the lover of a vampire, wounded to the quick and bound to learn the "rough work ahead" needed to rid the world of vampirism.
Bob Tinnell, the author, clearly knows his stuff-- he writes a sweeping story that's not only aware of his source material (Hammer movies) but even the source material of the source material. Vokes has a fantastic style for this work, too-- his art is expressive rather than realistic, so that vampires and men leap and swoop in perfect fantasy. His art perfectly with the world of Hammer, which was always a little dreamy and symbolic. I've been a huge Vokes fan ever since Blood of Dracula, a series I picked up in 1988, making him an even bigger Dracula geek than I am.
But even if you're not a Hammer Horror geek, any vampire and monster fan should read this. The Hammer world is just the palette Tinnell and Vokes use to paint a vivid dream of a world of monsters and men.
For those counting at home, by the way, Peter Cushing played General Spielsdorf, Van Helsing, and Baron Frankenstein in the movies. If this had been a movie made in the 70s, the trailer would have looked like a Blake Edwards comedy: "Starring... Peter Cushing! And Peter Cushing! And Peter Cushing!" In the comic, they do not look alike, which is just as well. Cushing's face is reserved for the Baron, and that seems fitting; it was Cushing's greatest role.
The book is brought to you by Kerry Gammill's Monsterverse line, which has been doing simply fantastic horror-geek work. Outstanding.