[10 January 2011]
Dracula is one of the most famous, influential and intimidating characters in literary fiction. His presence extends beyond Bram Stoker’s seminal gothic novel into dozens of films of varying quality. The bloodsucker has also given birth to an entire phenomenon that extends from Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, to Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. Dracula is the OG of vampire fiction. Why wouldn’t he eventually find a way into graphic fiction given his popularity?
BOOM! Studios gave writer Kurt Busiek free reign to interpret the legendary vampire in the ongoing series Dracula—The Company of Monsters. No, despite the title Dracula does not team up with a host of classic Universal villains to form some evil monster league. Instead, the title focuses on the actions of a nefarious corporation (get it?) to bring back the notorious gothic villain for its own purposes, ostensibly motivated by profit. Issue #5 is bristling with promises of accessibility and new reader friendliness.
I’m not sure how those pledges hold up with this issue. The plot was simple enough to infer despite a lack of context. I’m still puzzled how bringing back Dracula could benefit anybody except Dracula himself. Haven’t these people ever read Dracula? Even easier, were they too busy cackling manically to ever watch a vampire film? Mortals typically get the short end of the stick in these stories. Regardless, the actions of this shadowy company kickoff a trail of bloodletting and death that caters to fans of the visceral. Oh, and vampire hunters show up too for genre convention sakes.
Large corporations always seem to get a bum rap in popular entertainment. Evil corporations proliferate in fictional works, especially in science fiction which this comic arguably is with its pseudo-scientific approach to Dracula’s resurrection. Omni Consumer Products, hailing from RoboCop, appears pretty amoral and domineering despite their intentions to “clean up” war torn Detroit. Aliens’ Weyland-Yutani Corporation is even worse. They’re prepared to smuggle xenomorphs back to Earth inside of Ripley and Newt just so they can somehow turn a profit off the irrefutability hostile extraterrestrials. Examples of evil or immoral mega-corporations abound in the works of William Gibson, Philip K. Dick and Robert Heinlein. Even Marvel Comics 2099 universe is rife with corrupt super companies that call the shots on a daily basis.
I have no love for large companies but the trope does seem to be overused. The examples I’ve given are only a fraction of the whole body of evil corporation literature. Factor in movies, television and video games and this theme bursts at the seams. Do large corporations provide easy targets for popular ire? It would certainly appear so in light of widespread resentment towards powerful business and financial bodies in the wake of recent economic difficulties. As much as it is overused there still seems to be a sense of satisfaction gained when vilifying holders of excessive wealth. Is that the communist inside me screaming to get out? Maybe.
Nevertheless, American culture has had a long history of simultaneously glorifying and vilifying wealth. The ambition to make a quick buck has propelled untold enterprises in this country. However, getting too much money often arouses jealousy and mistrust. Look at the tumult of the late 19th and early 20th century as populist movements reacted against the excesses of the moneyed class.
Perhaps evil corporations are easy to construct because they act as convenient straw men for populist demagogues and agitators. Still, real world examples of corporate plundering and greed abound. The BP oil spill is only the latest in a shameful series of incidents perpetrated by large multinational corporations. Halliburton, the ever maligned, is a present example of a grand corporation with shadowy practices. Stretching back into the annals of history, one can see the exploitation of the Indian sub-continent by the East India Company and the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy via machinations from the Dole Food Company as even more glaring examples of corporate crime.
Villainous mega-corporations will always abound in popular fiction because their vilification proves so satisfying. Comic books are just as susceptible to this trope as any other form of entertainment. Dracula—The Company of Monsters in one more example that wicked businesses are as ingrained in this medium as they are in all media. Although their motivations and intelligence might be suspect, they do create easy opponents. Why develop motivation and pathos when malfeasance purely for money is quicker and simpler to explain?