“This is the cup of my blood; the new and everlasting covenant.”
– Matthew, 26:28
Whether you are a Christian or not, you know the phrase. Considering that the blood was poured into the Holy Grail, central to Arthurian myth, it’s amazing that it took until 2005 for someone to pit King Arthur against another who had a covenant of blood: Dracula.
In Silent Devil Press’ graphic novel Dracula vs. King Arthur, Vlad Tepes isn’t yet the fearsome monster of Bram Stoker’s novel. Desperate to pull some kind of victory out of a Carpathian insurrection, Tepes stumbles into a cave where dwells Lucifer. The struggling ruler is offered the power he seeks, but in exchange he must destroy the Holy Grail of Arthurian legend, in the time of Arthurian legend. As one clever marketing line put it: it’s evil versus medieval.
But it wasn’t the blood connection that proved the genesis of the book. Co-creator Adam Beranek says, “the story came about when I found out both their names mean Son of the Dragon – one guided by good and the other by evil.” Beranek wrote the first draft out during breaks at work, and his sibling Christian, an epic literature buff, asked to come onboard as co-writer.
Though they came at the story focusing a little more on Dracula, King Arthur and Camelot end up with equal time. “A lot of Excalibur and Le Morte de Artur are its inspiration,” said Adam, “(with) Dracula kind of stepping in for Mordred as the main driver of evil in the land.”
As the fledgling Lord of Vampires explores his new abilities, he creates an army of vampires to stand against Camelot. First he forges an alliance with Morgan Le Fay, and does supersede Mordred in her heart. But vampires are of course hungry and the Beraneks along with artist Chris Moreno are unsparing in their storytelling. This isn’t a simplistic good vs. evil story, and there are moments where no one is safe.
Merlyn lurks at the edges, too, with character traits from Malory and T.H. White. He seems to know much of the future, and has a scientific mind that occasionally seems more fascinated by vampire biology than saving England.
“There was always this theory floating around that Merlin was somehow living backwards through time. And of course, that he might be part-demon,” said Christian. “We took those thoughts, threw in a bit of Jack Sparrow, and what you have is more playful mad scientist with a dark sense of humor.”
It would be fair to say that artist Moreno also took inspiration from the movie musical Camelot, as in many panels Arthur resembles actor Richard Harris. But this is not a story that lends itself to a mostly light-hearted musical. The Beraneks tell a dark story, and Moreno’s art matches that darkness.
In the true spirit of the Arthurian legend, however, Adam commented that the idea of the Once and Future King “…spawns from Arthur’s ideals…his good lives on.” Which at the time of its publication meant that there were seeds planted for more. As Christian pointed out, “…the economics in the comic book world are tough to work out.”
There will always be more stories with Dracula, and more with King Arthur, whether or not it’s the Beraneks who write them.
“King Arthur lives on in so many projects because people love sword and sorcery and want to relate to Arthur and his goodness but never live up to it,” Adam said, “so they root for someone like Lancelot who is more flawed like them.”
Christian agreed to a point, adding, “…much in a way superhero fans aspire to be Superman but gravitate to Batman’s human vulnerabilities. Sadly, there have been too many recent attempts to cash in on King Arthur and other public domain characters that fall short in capturing the spirits of these legends. It is possible they could fade in importance in time. Let’s hope another revival happens, however! It will just take talented people with resources to make it a reality.”
Long live the King, indeed.
But which King?
This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Journey Planet #57.