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But all things must end.

Empires.

Reigns.

Marriages.

American horror noirsploitation graphic novel -- short enough to almost be a graphic novella -- written by Alex de Campi, illustrated by Erica Henderson, and published by Image Comics in 2020. 

We start out with a quick three-page introduction set in Vienna in 1889 as Dracula's brides, fed up with the master vampire's schemes and abuse, turn on him, stake him into a coffin, and bury him.

And then we jump forward to Los Angeles in 1974, as Bebe Beauland, an aging Hollywood starlet decides if she wants to stay young forever, she may as well unpin the Lord of Darkness from his coffin and let him roam free.

And Bebe Beauland's hip Hollywood party turns into a bloodbath

And that's when Quincy Harker enters our story. Harker is a Black man, a freelance photographer for the tabloids, dropping bribes for the cops so he can get tips on gruesome murder scenes he can take pictures of. He hears about the massacre at the Beauland house, snaps some pics, and gets some juicy photos of Bebe Beauland's corpse. Pictures like this are perfect for the tabloids -- he could get a payday worth months of work. 

But nope, Bebe's still alive. She's doing a press conference this afternoon. The big payday's gone bust. 

But Bebe Beauland wants to talk to Harker about those pictures he took. She and her new sugar daddy both want to talk. 

Does one hard-luck shutterbug stand a hope in hell when matched up against the most powerful vampires on Earth? Only if Harker can get some help from... Dracula's former brides? 

And that's all the plot description I'm giving you. It's not a long book -- only about 70 pages, including supplementary material from the creators -- and the plot is pretty straightforward. It don't need a complex, convoluted plot to deserve my enthusiastic thumbs-up.

This one actually started out not being a big favorite of mine -- Quincy mostly served as a helpless nobody who had stuff happen to him, or who got helplessly dragged along by others. But that was because I was assuming he was the protagonist. I thought I was reading a blaxploitation comic where the Black man was the protagonist. Thanks to the title, I was really expecting Harker to be Jim Kelly in "Black Belt Jones."

But while this may be a blaxploitation comic, Quincy Harker isn't the protagonist. The brides are. Quincy is there as a witness, and he has his part to play in the story as our viewpoint character. But Dracula and the brides are the ones who move the story.

Here's some more interesting things I liked. The brides -- who are unnamed in the story itself but identified in the character design section as Marishka, Ateera, and Verona -- are a multicultural group of bloodsuckers: a Caucasian redhead, a Black woman, and a woman with ambiguous ethnicity, possibly Middle Eastern or South Asian. Dracula's brides are rarely considered anything more than minor characters in fiction; to have them included here as major characters in a way that addresses male oppressors' abuse of both women and people of color seems particularly exciting and transgressive

We need to bring some love for the art in this book. Most of us comics readers are familiar with Erica Henderson through her work on Marvel's "The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl," which has a fun, friendly, and very humor-filled vibe. Well, for this book, it looks like Henderson stored up every dark, bloody thought she's had for the past decade just so she could unleash it on these pages.

The artwork is lush, absolutely glorious. The nighttime scenes of '70s L.A. are lusciously decadent, and the costume design is beautiful. The '70s-era fashion is there, and we also get this great mix of period fashion and more archaic clothing designs -- very much like you'd expect a vampire in the 1970s to wear. The colors are amazing, too -- sometimes entire pages will feature only a single color, sometimes green to denote fluorescent light, often red for photo dark rooms, Los Angeles sunsets, or a general vibe of 1970s decadence and debauchery

The character design for Dracula himself is like nothing you've ever seen before in any medium. There is almost nothing human about him -- and definitely none of the intense sexuality that's been shoehorned into almost every version of the character. This Dracula is little more than shadows, a vast collection of disembodied, inhuman eyes, far too many mouths and fangs, and a couple of skinny, elongated, pale-skinned arms. This is a creature that's all hunger, all greed, and absolutely no redeeming qualities.

The Brides have some similarities, particularly when they shift into their wolflike but many-eyed fighting forms, and this itself serves as a reminder that the three of them have learned too much from Dracula over the centuries. They may not go to the extremes that he does, but they are all too willing to abuse, gaslight, and sacrifice others for their own benefit. There are no heroes in this tale -- despite the bright spotlights of Hollywood, this is a story mired deep in the murk

My lone quibble about this is the title. Granted, the title alone was what made me want to buy the book -- but dammit, I just want to live in a society where we can put "Motherfucker" in the title of a book or comic and not have to resort to asterisks.

Anyway, this is a great book, and you should definitely go pick it up.

WE HAVE BEEN GOOD STUDENTS
AND WE MADE OUR OWN BRIDES
AND GROOMS
AND HARVESTED THEIR POWER
JUST LIKE YOU TAUGHT US

horrorquest

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