Featured Post

NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT (1985-86)

“There are six things which Jehovah hateth; Yea, seven which are an abomination unto him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood; A heart that deviseth wicked purposes, Feet that are swift in running to mischief, A false witness that uttereth lies, And he that soweth discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:16-19).

Upon the 1985 release of BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT, publisher WarpGraphics touted the four-issue series as America's first weekly comic book. But in retrospect BLOOD is far more interesting as a crossover of two literary/cuiltural myths born out of the matrix of Victorian society.  Both myths had their origins in the acts of real historical persons. Jack the Ripper, the Victorian serial killer, has never been identified, and even in Victorian times assumed the character of an "urban legend." Bram Stoker's Count Dracula was fiction based on both the vampire folklore of Transylvania and the historical records of Romanian tyrant Vlad Tepes. To be sure, the narrative of BLOOD makes very few references to the story of Vlad, though like most Dracula-tales there are indirect references to the Count's aristocratic heritage, and in one issue co-author Rickey Shanklin contributes a history of the tyrant's historical reign.



BLOOD-- presumably named with the above Proverb in mind-- doesn't feature any sort of epic battle between the vampire and the serial killer, as the cover of #1 depicts. The Ripper, being limited to the sphere of realistic historical studies, has no power capable of opposing a supernatural creature. However, it's the Ripper's narrative that determines the scope of the story, since it must take place in the one year, 1888, during which the killer's "canonical" murders took place. Writers Rickey Shanklin and Mark Wheatley collaborated with penciller Marc Hempel (Wheatley also inked) in bringing the vampire-lord to London in the same year, ostensibly to investigate England as a future stomping-ground, in line with his future visit in the 1897 novel.

Naturally, the authors' version of both the vampire and the killer tend to follow specific cultural models. In this iteration, Jack the Ripper is the syphilitic Duke of Clarence, usually called "Eddy," the oldest grandson of still-reigning Queen Victoria, and he begins killing prostitutes because he picked up a social disease from a lady of the Whitechapel slums. And this Dracula is not at all like Stoker's ruthless predator: during his sojourn he only exsanguinates one victim, a female who may or may not be a lady of the evening. The Shanklin-Wheatley vampire also is made basically sympathetic because he falls in love with a potential victim, and thus seems closest in tone to the 1979 cinema-Dracula played by Frank Langella. 

The authors repeatedly stress the parallel of Dracula and the Ripper due to their role as sexually oriented predators, but arguably one sees more differences than similarities. Both men are aristocrats, but the Count has dignity and compassion, while Eddy Duke of Clarence seems to be little more than the incarnation of a Victorian contempt for women, particularly those who have been forced into "the life" by economic oppression.




Dracula, who accidentally encounters Eddy after the latter's first hooker-murder, is put in a position where he might kill the Ripper before his bloody rampage. The vampire chooses not to do so because he smells that the Duke's blood is "diseased," and thus he makes "allowances" for the maniac's bad manners. This lordly indifference becomes more pronounced later in the story; the vampire is seen watching from a distance as Eddy kills another prostitute. By that time, though, Dracula has met a London woman and fallen in love with her, so that he has sex with her but does not vampirize her. However, it never occurs to him that since she too is a prostitute, she might fall victim to the Ripper-- which indeed she does, as she happens to be Mary Jane Kelly, one of the canonical five Ripper-victims.

Shanklin and Wheatley interpolate a number of secondary plot-lines into the story, usually involving other persons suspected of being the Ripper, such as Dr. William Gull, physician to Queen Victoria, and Montague Druitt, who in this iteration is a teacher who has expertise in vampire mythology and actually witnesses one of Dracula's transformations, thus leading Druitt to the incorrect conclusion that Dracula is the Ripper. But none of the side-stories are of much consequence.



Perhaps the greatest difference between the two legends is that when the Ripper kills, he "murders to dissect," leaving nothing but dead meat. Dracula is obviously a killer as well, but he can bring some of his victims back to a semblance of life. Indeed, Mary Jane fantasizes about being Dracula's Transylvanian countess, even as Eddy sees her as nothing but "the queen of whores." The Ripper is an arch-realist; he sees nothing but evil in women, and thus reflects much of the Judeo-Christian ethic of his time. Dracula, however, is not just a shape-changer: in this version the vampire who can't see himself in a mirror automatically "mirrors" the fears or desires of whoever beholds him. When the vampire first comes to England, two sailors see him according to their own prejudices. One sailor thinks the Count looks like a dashingly royal figure, while the other fellow thinks Dracula looks old and corrupt. Oddly, the second sailor characterizes aristocrats as "royalty what comes o' a sister's love of her brother! " I've no idea what the authors meant by this reference, since sibling incest is not a big part of Dracula-mythology-- though it's arguable that since Dracula is centuries older than his victims, there might well be a "daughter-father" vibe about his alliance with Mary Jane Kelly.  

Dominantly BLOOD is all about the clash of sociological narratives: that of the aristocratic seducer versus the corrupt lordling. Shanklin and Wheatley don't provide a lot of vampire mythology here, but there's some metaphysical content in their idea of Dracula's image changing to reflect the beliefs of onlookers.

No comments: