With Halloween just around the corner, I find myself in the mood for spooky stories. I’m reading some Stephen King, some Edgar Allen Poe, Sarah Waters, and so on. But I’m still missing something: a spooky comic book. So I look over at my long boxes filled with comics and wonder what I have that is remotely scary. Then it dawns on me: a random X-MEN mini-series from over a decade ago, titled APOCALYPSE VS. DRACULA. I know I enjoyed the story, so I decide to take it out of my bags and boards and give it another read. It’s from 2006, when I was in high school, and I still remember thinking how cool of a concept it was inserting Dracula into the history of mutants.

Adjusting History

In APOCALYPSE VS. DRACULA, writer Frank Tieri and artists Clayton Henry and Rus Wooton tell a tale dating back to 1459 Romania, where Vlad Tepes is defeated by En Sabah Nur. Or, if modern names are to be applied, Dracula was defeated by Apocalypse. APOCALYPSE VS. DRACULA modifies history here to fit more congruently into the Marvel Universe. However, it’s an interesting concept that these two somewhat eternal beings find conflict with each other. It’s reminiscent of the classic paradox: what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

Apocalypse vs. Dracula
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

APOCALYPSE VS. DRACULA doesn’t exactly solve this paradox, but the quest to do so brings up intriguing notions. Humanity is forced to choose a side, and this is what tips the battle (and puts aside the paradox). As the title of the series shows, both main characters should make humans grind their teeth. But the concept of the lesser of two evils is quite prevalent in this story. If you have to make a choice, who do you choose in a situation like this?

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There’s another classic aspect to this story: the sciences versus the supernatural. Can they mend together? How do they gel together when they’re represented by such strong embodiments? APOCALYPSE VS. DRACULA explores these concepts.

A Perfect Monster Mayhem Cast

For the majority of this story, Tieri places the plot in 1897 London. Apocalypse’s mutant descendants (Clan Akkaba) are dying one by one from an unknown entity. Odd loyalties appear as Clan Akkaba struggles to address this issue. Apocalypse himself arrives to protect them, and even the monster hunter Van Helsing shows up. There are so many elements that make this a classic monster tale, and while some of the art and writing falls short at times, the tale is interesting enough. It’s a perfect Halloween story for this time of year, which, again, is what made me pull it out of my long box in the first place.

Who is More Human?

The story has its flaws: characterization is rather bleak. Clayton Henry’s drawings are absurd and goofy at times (at one point, a disciple of Apocalypse literally chomps down on a police officer), and the story suffers from pacing. But if I was able to spot these problems with the story, why did I enjoy it so much?

Well, the concept is quite thrilling. Who doesn’t like a good vampire tale? And the idea of mixing ancient mutants with ancient monsters is loads of fun. But I suppose it’s the concept Tieri presents to us in the first issue through Ozymandias, Apocalypse’s caretaker and our story’s narrator, that lays out the story’s conflict: “Apocalypse was a subscriber to evolution. One would expect him to believe that this threat could be explained away through science rather than the supernatural.”

Apocalypse vs. Dracula
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Apocalypse and company are not the supernatural here; Dracula is. This creature, this man that turns humans into the living dead, is the true Other in this story. Instead of humans facing the supernatural, Tieri inserts mutants into the fleeing role. By adding Dracula to the X-Men’s history, APOCALYPSE VS. DRACULA oddly adds a touch of realism. Tieri gives the mutants — including the classic villain himself, Apocalypse — more depth. They have more human qualities, which is what we as readers relate to.

A Touch of Realism vs. Complete Fantasy

In a world of mutants, we often think this is the epitome of fiction. This is where fantasy occurs, and the plot has no bearing on real life. But, when you remember properly, the concept of the X-Men stems from evolution. These are fantastic abilities, yes, but they aren’t without a sense of realism: they’re mutations in the human genome. And while mutant powers are overly thought out and quite exaggerated, they have more grounding in realism than, say, a group of witches hanging out in the woods practicing witchcraft. There’s a scientific backing with mutants, unlike supernatural beings. Tieri decides to play with this dichotomy, and it creates a new menacing threat for Apocalypse. A mutant who is so fixated with being the strongest there now faces a non-human (non-mutant) threat, and it brings up the question: what if mutants aren’t the next best step in evolution?

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The idea of vampirism has been in human folklore for centuries. It’s very intertwined with the notion of the Other, a concept that comes up in this very comic. Generally, a human’s conversion to a vampire has less explanation: once bitten, they are suddenly under Dracula’s hypnotic control. They retain their human form, but their humanity — their free will — is stripped. While mutants are the next step in evolution, vampirism is a side step, a subgroup of sorts. The supernatural appears much less natural, and Apocalypse is threatened by this.

Enemy of my Enemy

Apocalypse is our protagonist in this story. We don’t exactly cheer for him, but it’s clear that with the help of Van Helsing, we as the reader are expected to root for the destruction of Dracula. Dracula is a force of evil, a bringer of death. While Apocalypse causes destruction and mayhem wherever he strikes, he’s technically doing it with a purpose. We call him a monster, but he shares our DNA. He’s not the living dead like those bitten by Count Dracula. With this vague and somewhat forced concept in mind, it makes sense that Van Helsing would team-up with Apocalypse. They aren’t allies. However, both Van Helsing and Apocalypse understand the destruction of mutants and humans alike will happen if Dracula is left unattended.

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While I doubt a modern Van Helsing who has witnessed Apocalypse’s true destructive behavior would team-up so easily, the collaboration in 1897 London is good enough. Apocalypse’s murderous tendencies are on full display, yet the monster hunter, the human, still wishes to work with him. Why? Is it because he knows this Ancient Egyptian force will give him the upper hand against Dracula? Or is something else?

More Similarities Than Differences

As stated, the two share more in common than Dracula does with either of them. Biologically, at least. They both wish to see others survive, unlike Dracula. While Apocalypse’s choice of clansmen is more harshly selective than Van Helsing’s, his understanding of the necessity of a group for survival cannot be ignored. It’s very human. And there is even one character in this story, Frederick Slade, who falls under Apocalypse’s creed but has much more sympathy for his fellow humans than anyone else seen in the story besides Van Helsing.

Apocalypse vs. Dracula
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Dracula, on the other hand, wishes to have mindless followers. There is a will to grow and multiply, but these disciples lack sympathy and other human qualities. There is no chance of peace with Dracula. In fact, the notion that vampires are evil is driven so far home in this story that Apocalypse even (uncharacteristically) swallows his pride when he accepts the help of others. Anybody who is a fan of the ancient mutant knows this is a big step in depth for this character. But while this is all fine and dandy, the goal of this comic is to really showcase that humans and mutants alike must work together to defeat the real evil afoot.

Conflicts Lead to Solutions in APOCALYPSE VS. DRACULA

In a world where the political climate is hot, and differences between groups of people are pronounced so heavily, the idea of uniting can seem like a fantasy. But there are common threats that affect us all, situations and environments that threaten more than one group of people. Not to sound like the other Ozymandias from WATCHMEN, but it cannot be ignored how a common threat will bring two entities together in unison. While APOCALYPSE VS. DRACULA is a fast moving story that doesn’t go as in-depth as it could, the concept is thrilling. Modern times are scary, so it’s no wonder we escape to stories that represent those problems in the form of monsters. It’s somehow more comforting and articulative.

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One Comment

  1. Hans J. Femrite

    October 28, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    My favorite part of this was Chambers ancestor making an appearance, Jack Starsmore

    Reply

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