Saturday, August 01, 2009

Out of the Vault - Super Drac vs. Filthy Jack

Blood of the Innocent #1I finally saw the Watchmen movie last night. There are quite a few things I want to say about it, but I think I'll put that off until I've got the new feature running to replace Big Audio Wednesday. Maybe in another week.

After Watchmen, Alan Moore turned his attention to Jack the Ripper. In the early 90's, Moore and Eddie Campbell produced From Hell, an awesome retelling of the Jack the Ripper story. However, a few years earlier, in 1985, there was another series about Jack the Ripper that is very interesting both on its own, and in comparison to Moore's work.

That series was Blood of the Innocent, published by WaRP Graphics. It was a four-issue mini-series published in late 1985 (with a cover date of January 1986) featuring a running conflict between Jack the Ripper and Dracula, written by Rickey Shanklin and Mark Wheatley (who also inked and colored) and penciled by Marc Hempel.

SuperDracDracula arrives in England in 1888 (two years before the events in Bram Stoker's novel), ostensibly to promote English tourism to Transylvania. As he steps off the boat, we learn that he has some sort of mind-altering power of illusion. Different people perceive him differently. One of the dockworkers perceives him as a grizzled old man while another sees him as Superman (check out the cape at left). Dracula stays in Whitechapel, where he meets and falls in love with a prostitute with a heart of gold named Mary Kelly.

Meanwhile, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence (Eddy to his friends), is informed by Sir William Gull, Royal Physician, that he has terminal syphilis. He is doomed to go mad and die. Eddy stumbles out to Whitechapel, furious at "those whores" for dooming him to this fate. An encounter with a prostitute on the street turns bloody when Eddy pulls out a knife and kills the woman.

Fleeing the scene, Eddy runs into Dracula, who has no time for such a rude fellow. But as he is about to kill Eddy, Dracula smells the disease within him and casts him away, stating he will "make allowances for your disease." Then he turns to fog and blows away, hastening Eddy's descent into madness.

Over the course of the four issue series, Eddy grows more insane with every passing day and turns his one-time incident of violence into a bloody murder spree, while Sir William Gull, at the Queen's urging, throws the Scotland Yard investigators off the scent by sending them false clues. Meanwhile, a reporter named Montague John Druitt becomes convinced there's a vampire in Whitechapel. Knowing that Transylvania is the home of vampire myths, and that there is a visiting nobleman from that very country in London, Druitt goes to Dracula for help and advice concerning how to find the vampire. Events take a tragic turn for everyone when their paths all collide at the apartment of Mary Kelly.

This was an impressive little series. We often hear about the explosion of crap that the flood of new publishers to the direct market created (I've written about several examples here), but there was a flip side to that. The direct market also allowed independent publishers to put out quality titles that would never have been printed by superhero-obsessed Big Two. And Blood of the Innocent is a prime example of the latter.

WaRP Graphics, founded solely to self-publish Wendy and Richard Pini's lovely Elfquest, found itself growing into a real publishing house. After Elfquest, they added Colleen Doran's A Distant Soil and Phil Foglio's adaptation of Robert Asprin's MythAdventures. By late 1985, they were publishing (according to an in-house ad in the first issue of Blood...) six titles and an annual and had moved from their original oversized format to standard comic book size when they came out with Blood of the Innocent.

Everything about Blood of the Innocent was new. It was WaRP's first color book (and gorgeous color it was, too--Wheatley did an outstanding job on this book). It was also published weekly, so that in the course of one month, you got a complete 100-page story. Awesome. And if you look at the scans above, you'll notice that even the gutters were in color, rather than simple white (what the scans don't reproduce well are the very subtle airbrushed textures within the gutters and the way the colors changed according to the mood of the scene--subtle details that add immensely to the atmosphere of the story). This book really impressed me when it first came out.

But what struck me when I reread it were the similarities with From Hell. Alan Moore's intricate and deeply philosophical dissection of the Ripper story has since become the standard against which I measure any Ripper tale. In Moore's version, Sir William Gull commits the murders as part of a conspiracy to cover up the inconvenient fact that Eddy, Duke of Clarence, has fathered an illegitimate child on a prostitute in Whitechapel. He writes the letters to police to throw them off the scent of any royal connection.

In Blood of the Innocent, Gull is also working on behalf of a conspiracy to protect Eddy's reputation, only this time it's Eddy committing the murders, and Gull hindering the investigation while trying (unsuccessfully) to keep Eddy under control. Both stories revolve around the inherent problems in a society based on wealth and privilege.

It's a shame that the series was never collected into one volume. This was a series that deserved it.

1 comment:

Bat-Cheva said...

I say, do you still have those? I'd love to read them if you are willing to loan them out. Sounds very interesting.