Cullen Bunn’s bloody blend of historical fiction and supernatural horror has been fun so far, but with Brothers Dracul #4, the stakes – oh, I’m sorry – have been raised.
Still under the care and protection of the Ottoman Empire, Vlad and his brother Radu have, over the last three issues, become pretty comfortable with slaughtering hordes of blue-skinned vampires alongside the Sultan’s cowardly son, Mehmed. But after getting laid last issue, the increasingly mopey Impaler-to-be has lost it. With the “bucket girl” Ermine captured, presumably by the Vampir, Vlad is collecting the heads of his prey and storing them on his mantelpiece, in the hopes of pissing the Vampir off enough to attack him on his own turf.
He gets his wish – and some more besides.
In Brothers Dracul #4, for perhaps the first time, Bunn isn’t willing to cede the issue to artist Mirko Colak (although he still does a fine job.) Vlad’s opinion of the Ottomans hasn’t exactly been a secret throughout the series, but here his contempt begins to bubble to the surface. His position as a royal hostage doesn’t afford him many privileges beyond the “honour” of being Mehmed’s bodyguard, and feeling powerless to do anything about Ermine’s disappearance, he lashes out in his characteristically emo way.
But Bunn’s writing in Brothers Dracul #4 displays an intelligence to Vlad’s character that we haven’t seen thus far. His skills in battle and his bloodlust have increasingly come to define him, but when he’s approached by the Sultan’s guard, Esel, he reveals a worldliness that I quite admired. The spiel he’s given is that children are sent to hunt the Vampir because their purity and innocence is a weapon against the creatures; obvious bullshit, I’m sure you’ll agree. And Vlad’s having none of it. “You send children because they can crawl into the holes in which the Vampir hide,” he says. “You send children because they learn quickly and, should one of them die, it is a simple matter to train another. You send children because grown men know better than to face these beasts.”
This is good stuff. It’s characterisation that also skewers the nakedly fatuous justifications of mythology; the tall tales the guilty will tell to make the innocent do their work for them. Not that Vlad is innocent, of course, at least not at this point, but he’s still, as he’s reminded when he insinuates that Esel is a homosexual, a prisoner. It’s an interesting edge to a story that has thus far been planed down, and a welcome peek into what lies behind Vlad’s floppy fringe. With the usual helping of blood and guts, and a tantalising cliffhanger in the final panel, Brothers Dracul #4 stands out as the best issue yet of AfterShock’s sharp-toothed series.