Oh, it was all looking so promising, and now I’ve gone and ruined it by disappearing for weeks on end again. Sorry about that, I’m afraid I have to plead the usual “I was busy with the day job” excuse again. I know it’s lame, but the amount of work I had to get done before the end of term was quite frightening, involving as it did the need to launch eggs on rockets and shepherd 83 kids through the lunchtime rush at a well known fast food emporium in half an hour.
Now however, school’s out and I’m on the shores of a loch in Scotland with pretty much as much time as I could ever need, so without any more time wasted in the build up, on with the show!
I don’t know why, but I’ve always had a bit of a problem with sequels. With very few exceptions, they’re almost always disappointing. Even worse is the deplorable modern phenomenon of what I’ll call the “delayed sequel” – where people with no imagination go back to classic books and write stories about what happened next. My own beloved Jane Austen suffers particularly badly from this, with all manner of worthless hack writers* decide that Aunt Jane’s cannon would be improved if somebody told the readers what happened to Mr Darcy and Miss Bennet after they got married, or whatever.
I was, therefore less than enthusiastic when I learned that my friends at Markosia were going to be publishing a graphic sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’m sure you’ll agree that as a recovering** goth it’s not particularly surprising that Stoker’s original is amongst my very favourite books of all time and frankly so far as I’m concerned you mess with it at your peril – it’s not as though the character has been well served by “reinterpretation” in the past. Movie history in particular is littered with embarrassing examples of what can happen when people try to add to what they would almost certainly refer to as the “Dracula Mythos”.
Still, some reassurance was provided when I learned that this particular sequel was to be written by Tony Lee, old friend of this column and all ‘round writing genius. I haven’t read a single thing of Tony’s that I haven’t liked***, and it seemed reasonable that he’d make a decent fist of Stoker’s characters. So actually I was looking forward to it, and when I finally got my grubby mits on it I was pretty excited to see what Tony had done with Stoker’s story.
The honest answer would seem to be “quite a lot, and very well”.
Absolutely loved it.
I won’t go into any real plot details because I want you to read the book****, so suffice to say that despite his apparent demise at the end of Stoker’s novel the Count hasn’t finished with Mina and Jonathan, and their friends are back in the firing line too. If they are ever to be free of Dracula’s attentions then some drastic actions are going to be required, but there are many unsuspected traps along the way, and a new adversary rising in the east who is bent on vengeance and may prove to be even more of a threat than the undead Count himself.
Lee handles the story with the dark imagination and deftness of touch I’ve come to expect from him, taking hold of Stoker’s cast of characters and developing them while respecting their original characterization. These are not mere pastiches of the originals – nobody could come through the ordeal suffered by the Harkers and their friends in Stoker’s novel and remain unchanged after all. So Lee’s versions of the characters bear the emotional and temperamental scars, but still Stoker would certainly recognize his creations here – which is not something you can say about most sequels you read these days.
The art, from the brooding pen of Neil van Antwerpen – an artist I haven’t come across before, but will certainly seek out in future – is dark and atmospheric. The palette he provides is muted and earthy, redolent of the grave and the sense of decay that permeates Lee’s tense and claustrophobic script.
It’s brilliant! In sequel terms this is up there with The Empire Strikes Back or even Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa*****. I’m not saying that Lee has bettered the original, that would be to sink to mere hyperbole. It is true to say, however, that Lee and van Antwerpen have produced a satisfying compliment to the original story, and not the fulsome insult that so many sequels contrive to be. Harker: From the pages of Bram Stoker’s Dracula does what a sequel should do. It builds on the original narrative, using it as a springboard for subsequent events that are clearly linked to things that happened in the original.
Unlike so many of the “delayed sequels” that have been produced over the years, this is no mere vanity project, produced on the whim of a glorified fan-fiction writer******, this does actually add to the story. It’s a genuine joy. Besides, I learned just before setting off on my trip to the far north, there’s another reason why you need to read this book. One of Tony Lee’s big pieces of news from San Diego was that Harker has been optioned for a movie, and if there’s one thing I know in life, it’s that you really should read the book before going to see the film.
So, there you have it! For goodness sake, if you haven’t bought it already, go and do so now!
Me, I’m getting back to gazing at the view, drinking in the peace******** and, perhaps more importantly getting back a project that has, what with one crisis and another, been hideously delayed. With all this peace and time on my hands I’m getting stuck back in to the comics project I started with artist Paul Green over three years ago. By the time I get back to Yorkshire I’m intending that the script will be pretty much finished – but more about that next week (and yes, I’ll be here, unless my mobile internet dongle can’t get a signal, in which case I might be a little late – the bit of the Highlands we move on to next is even more remote than the bit I’m in now).
See you then!
*And the occasional talented genius…
**Because you never really stop being one…
***I once suggested it might be worth selling a kidney in order to get hold of his RKO serial style pastiche The Gloom. It really was that good.
****Which is available here or from all good comics retailers. And probably some rubbish ones too.
*****Oh go on, admit it – you’ve seen both Madagascar films and you know that however woeful the first one was, the second one was amazing. Proof if proof were needed that it’s Spielberg and not Lucas who has an interest in Dreamworks.
******Not that so-called professionals don’t also screw up the whole “delayed sequel” thing too. Sort of by definition anything George Lucas does with the Star Wars universe can’t be fan-fic*******
*******both because he’s the creator, and because I can’t help feeling that he doesn’t actually like Star Wars very much and so cannot be considered a fan in any case.
********And the whisky…