The Crossover Phenomenon
Long before filmmakers were trying to cash-in by churning out franchise melding movies like Aliens vs. Predator and Freddy vs. Jason, comic book publishers had mastered the marketing bonanza that is the crossover. In a sense, every comic book series in a shared universe, like those of Marvel and DC, is a crossover to a certain extent. Villains from one title appear to annoy the heroes of another; heroes from one title guest-star in someone else’s book to provide a little back-up.
Such trades and swaps are great for small sales boosts and spicing up a storyline when the formula gets a little stale. But the real bucks come from those special big-time crossover events. These are the coordinated, multi-title, two, three, and four month special series that combine sometimes dozens of characters in a massive story that is usually purported to “change everything”. Marvel’s original Secret Wars was an early and highly successful crossover event in the 80s. DC had their own, Crisis on Infinite Earths, one of the few truly significant crossover events that did, in fact, change a good bit about the DC universe. The two arch-rivals have also worked together on a few Marvel vs. DC books, usually big sellers because of fans desire to learn the answers to pointless “who’s stronger, Hulk or Superman?” questions, but rarely do these deliver anything of substance. Marvel has done a number of X-men specific crossovers, like the Dark Phoenix Saga, Inferno, and Age of Apocalypse, while DC has offered a few Batman oriented events, such as Bruce Wayne: Murderer? and War Games. Both companies have had mixed luck with crossover events recently, including DC’s controversial Identity Crisis and Marvel’s much maligned Avengers Disassembled, but both also hope to earn back some fan praise with the former’s Infinite Crisis and the latter’s House of M.
Regardless of critical acclaim, these events are almost always big sellers, so why shouldn’t the little guys get in the action? There’s certainly a temptation to lump Silent Devil’s new Dracula vs. King Arthur series in with some of the shameful ploys the big companies have engaged in to boost profits. “A vampire vs. a knight, bloodsucking vs. Excalibur, who wins?” Even though it’s not a crossover in the traditional sense, the Beraneks and co-creator/artist Chris Moreno are certainly attempting to cash in on the cultural capital of two very long-running “franchises”.
Despite that impression, mostly given by the somewhat cheesy title, it seems that the creators do have a story to tell, although that story is still a bit unclear. Taking elements from different versions of the myths from both characters, this first issue sets up a back-story and focuses mainly on the villain of the piece, Dracula. Holed up in a castle as a Turkish army prepares to descend upon him, Vlad the Impaler is summoned by Lucifer. Through some clunky exposition, we get an insight into Vlad’s character. All the horrors he has been responsible for, all the murder and death, has been in service of God. If I may be permitted an analogy, he is not unlike those modern-day Crusaders, the fundamentalists who believe that religion must be spread at all costs and betray their principles as they seek to enforce them. In an Anakin Skywalker-like moment, Vlad decides to abandon God and serve the Devil in order to reunite with his dead wife, and he is turned, finally, into a vampire, and sent back to Camelot.
For his part, Arthur is the just servant of God, the one who truly enacts the principles of benevolent shepherd to his people. Exactly why Lucifer wants him destroyed is unclear, but Arthur, vaguely aware of a new evil in his land, assumes it has something to do with the Grail. While little happens in this issue, promising hints are dropped, as it seems the creators plan to tie in numerous elements from the Arthurian elements, including Guinevere and Lancelot’s affair, Mordred and Morgana, and a druidical Merlin, into their narrative.
For a start-up company, the production values of this book are high. The art is solid, if a bit uneven, and the whole book is printed on high-quality glossy paper. In terms of the story itself, it mainly suffers from an excess of not-entirely-believable exposition in place of action. In addition to the conversation between Vlad and Lucifer, take the following scene for example. Vlad, recently transported to the age of Camelot, staggers in pain until he is found by a monk. Attacking the man and feeding on him, Dracula pauses to say, “My pain is gone. It was… a hunger. And now the taste of man’s blood has satiated me.” I think the average reader is aware of what vampirism consists of, and the scene could be more effectively done without any speech at all, instead depicting visually Vlad’s discovery of his new diet.
Such errors are to be expected in a new comic book venture, however. Overall, Dracula vs. King Arthur has the potential to be an entertaining story. While the combination of two extremely distinctive and unique characters in one title may seem a bit ridiculous, it is that very outlandishness that makes this book interesting. With such different characters, such different stories, the writers have the opportunity to do some interesting and fresh work. Whether or not they take advantage of that opportunity remains to be seen.