Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review #14: Vlad is Bad, Baby

Vlad the Impaler: The Man Who Was Dracula

Writer: Sid Jacobson

Artist: Ernie Colón

Published: Plume, 2009

Welcome to history class, children.

I have always loved learning about history, and any comics that facilitate that process have my eternal gratitude. I have also always been a fan of any comics that are used as learning tools, like literary adaptations for the short attention spans of today. I never would have read Pride & Prejudice if it hadn't been in comic book form. I have just read Charles Dickens' Great Expectations in preparation for a forthcoming review. I also read Don Quixote [IN FRENCH, I might add] when I was in junior high, many years ago, another thing that would never have been achieved without comic book adaptations of literary classics. Huzzah!

Anyway, this comic walks us through the life and times of one Vlad “The Impaler” Dracul, who, as most learned folk will know, was the inspiration for everyone's favourite vampire. No, not Edward, dammit [I'm leaning more toward team Jacob anyway]. I'm talking about good ol' Dracula.

Vlad was born in 1431 to Vlad II Dracul and Cneajna of Moldavia. [BTW, “Cneajna” was rated as the 2nd sexiest name in 15th-century Moldavia.] His father was known as “the Dragon” [“Dracul”] and “Dracula” actually means “son of the Dragon”. Being a member of a Wallachian noble line, Daddy Vlad's life was full of political maneuvering, shaky alliances and shady deals. A lot of the time, he was in the midst of outright warfare, as Wallachia and the surrounding regions were in a constant state of upheaval. With the Christian kingdoms to the West and the Muslim Ottoman Empire to the East, his land was often a battleground for the opposing religions, as well as for other local nobles that wanted the throne. Vlad II managed to nab reign of the country for two periods, 1436 to 1442 and 1443 to 1447, which is a long-ass time, considering the circumstances. The Ottomans backed Vlad II's claim to the throne, despite the fact that he had allies in the Catholic Church. Daddy Vlad was clearly playing both sides. Sooo, it's not terribly surprising that he was eventually killed by a rival Hungarian nobleman, John "the White Knight" Hunyadi [sweet nickname, but I keep reading his surname as Hyundai], who was a staunch opponent of the Ottomans.

So, the son: Vlad III was actually raised in Adrianople in what is now Turkey, as Big Poppa had given his two youngest sons to the Ottoman sultan in a gesture of goodwill. Vlad III was beaten often for disrespecting his caretakers and begins to show sociopathic behaviour from a young age, murdering animals for the pleasure it gives him. Upon reaching manhood, and hearing of his father's death, he takes a bunch of Ottoman soldiers and marches to reclaim Wallachia. His brother, Radu, is far more mellow, and actually converts to Islam and hangs around the palace with Prince Mustafa, the sultan's son.

Vlad manages to take Târgoviște, the capital city, but is quickly driven out. He flees to neighbouring Moldavia with his loyal soldier, Stefan, who has family there. Vlad starts whoring it up but eventually ends up marrying Stefan's sister, Ilona, though he cheats on her constantly.

Eventually, Bulgarian and Hungarian emissaries come to an agreement with Vlad: they are unhappy with the current ruler of Wallachia and will support Vlad in his efforts to reclaim the throne. Vlad takes back his country and begins instilling law and order in his infamous way: impaling thousands and thousands of people. Modern historians put the body count at between 40,000 and 100,000. Yikes.

Eventually, Vlad's craziness gets the better of him and he stops sending tribute to the Ottomans. In return, the Ottomans send a massive army, led by his brother, Radu, to take the land from him. Radu is successful, and almost kills Vlad in the process, but Stefan pleads for Vlad's life. Radu lets them both go, but Vlad, angry at having to be saved, kills Stefan. Also, Ilona throws herself from the castle window once she sees the Ottoman army approaching.

What follows is more mad scrambling for the throne and power changing hands a bunch of times over the years. Eventually, Vlad gets his shit together and rallies some more Hungarian allies to take the power back. He does, but is killed shortly after by the sultan's troops and his head is taken to Constantinople.
I was wondering how true to real events this book was, so I checked Wikipedia, and it seems to be fairly accurate. The authors handled a convoluted history fairly well, but they do simplify it. Of course, there is no mention in the article of Vlad killing any animals at a young age, but it does mention many of the things above that would have laid the foundation of the hateful person he was to become. The article tells of the hatred he had toward the Ottomans for the abuse he endured, toward the Hungarians for killing his father and even toward his father for giving him to the Ottomans in the first place. The guy was like a hate machine.

you might be a dick if you looked like this, too

The character of Stefan seems to have not existed and the Ilona from the book is likely a combination of Vlad's second and third wives, one of which did hurl herself out a window. Vlad also had a handful of children [and probably plenty of bastard children] and, as it turns out, is actually a distant ancestor of Prince Charles! Not featuring the multiple wives/children kind of makes sense, considering that they didn’t really have much effect on his life as a tyrant. Vlad only looks out for one guy: Vlad.

Anyway, to draw some parallels to the last review, we are again given the frame narrative treatment, but from an unseen [until the end!] narrator. And the gore... as you might expect from a story about “The Impaler”, this little bio is chalk full of blood and guts. Conan the Barbarian has nothing on this guy.

It reminds me of the pre-Comics Code Authority horror/fantasy/whatever books, with its macabre vibe, over-the-top violence, and penchant for topless women. Also, the use of exclamation points in the exposition! Somewhat of an old-school technique, as that sort of thing is not generally viewed as a modern, mature stylistic choice.

The artwork was a bit all over the place, some of the drawings looking like half-assed doodles and some being excellent. Despite the inconsistent quality, the fast and loose style fits with the over-exuberant writing.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and I learned a lot about our dear friend The Impaler [hey, that was my nickname in high school!][the previous statement is so far off the mark that Far Off the Mark should have been my nickname in high school].