This is the first Susan Downs story I ever came up with.
I just re-read Dracula, with the benefit of nearly 70 years of fanboy pathology.
I read it in high school, but I found the epistolary format kind of boring. Re-reading it for my Back to Basics project, it worked a lot better. Each “letter” ends on a cliffhanger, which keeps those pages turning.
The format shits the bed at the end, though. The Count’s final demise is narrated in Mina Harker’s journal, and she sees it through binoculars. It’s pretty anticlimactic.
A few random thoughts:
1. Dracula is essentially beaten by 19th century information technology. There’s a terrific scene at the midpoint where Mina Harker types up all the relevant diaries, giving them access to all the data on the Count. Telegrams send information faster than the Count can move, as do multiple mail deliveries. At one point, Mina’s knowledge of local rail tables is pivotal. Dracula isn’t beaten by a stake, but by Mina’s typewriter and Dr. Seward’s phonograph (wax cylinders, natch).
2. The setpieces are phenomenal. A ship of the damned ramming the harbor under a thundercloud, the Count walking down the wall, hypnosis by dust motes … Stoker came up with some amazing imagery.
3. The piece relies a literal belief in God. Turning into a vampire isn’t just death, and it isn’t just turning into a monster. It’s depicted as a stain on the character, almost like an irresistible temptation to sin. It’s made clear that the vampire’s immortal soul is in torment until the curse is released. It raises the stakes in a way Buffy the Vampire Slayer never could do.
4. Fan service has deep, deep roots. The book’s most shocking scene comes around the end of Act 2. Dracula invades their castle, puts Jonathan Harker in a trance, and attacks Mina. As the hunters burst in, the Count is holding Mina’s hands with one hand, while his other holds her head to his chest. He’s forcing her to drink his blood!
Immediately after that scene, the “God talk” increases, and everyone spends more time discussing and praising God. That allow readers to pretend they didn’t enjoy the scene they came here to see.
5. It would have gone a lot better for the Anti-Drac Squad if they trusted women a little more. Surely some of the silly women servants could have donated blood to Lucy Westenra, not just the strong men. And there’s some mid-book complications after the Squad decides to keep Mina out of the plans.
6. It would’ve gone better for Dracula if he picked a different woman to bite. Of all the women living in London at the time, he chose to victimize the two who were loved by a pack of vampire hunters.
7. Count Dracula’s powers are ill-defined, and that’s good. At one point, the Count is perfectly able to walk around in daylight. At another point, Jonathan Harker finds the Count in his coffin during the day, and he’s so dead asleep that he takes a shovel to the head without waking up. The Count clearly has limits, but it’s difficult to tell what they are. Sometimes, he walks and talks among people like a man. Other times, he’s a literal demon.
These inconsistencies might be the result of Bram Stoker needing to hit a word count on a deadline, but to me it adds to the mystery. A monster that can be defined is one that can be understood, and can be easily fought if you know the right formula.
To me, it’s more horrifying if you don’t know the rules. It’s the difference between a ghost story and an action movie.
8. There’s one American, a Texan, and he carries a gun.
9. Bram Stoker loved a good accent, boy howdy you betcha guv’nor.
If you’re anything like me, you thrilled this week to see Paul McGann return as the Eighth Doctor in “Night of the Doctor.”
Count me as one who didn’t hate the 1996 Fox TV movie, and one who’s really enjoyed McGann in the Big Finish audios. That man has a hell of a voice, and he’s what I “hear” now when I think of the Doctor. And when he calls out his audio-only companions? Great callback.
But I have one note of foreboding: I think they’re going to detail the events of the Last Great Time War. Here’s Ten referring to it obliquely near the end of his run:
The Skaro Degradations? The Could’ve Been King? The Nightmare Child? Those sound pretty awesome, right? But I fear they’ll be much less awesome when explained. Some things work better as vague references, adding texture of a work.
There’s a powerful geek urge to fill in all the corners of things we love. At best, it adds depth to the world. At worst, it turns a work into a Wikipedia page. Think Midichlorians. Han Solo’s pants have an origin.
And more than that, it makes the world smaller. I was disappointed when River Song turned out to be the Ponds’ child. The great promise of Doctor Who is that you have all of time and space to play in, a great big wibbly-wobbly ball of possibilities. Why tie everything into a neat package?
I was looking at four, count ‘em, four Shadow comics in my pull, but all I could think of was “stomach share.”
I just read a book called “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” and stomach share is an important concept for food companies. Given that A) Wall Street demands increasing profits every 90 days and B) the American population can only eat so much food, stomach share refers to the competition to get market share at the expense of your competitors.
Which brings me back to my four Shadow comics. They were: The Shadow, Shadow Now, Dark Nights (The Shadow meets the Green Hornet!) And The Shadow: Year One.
At first, I was astonished that I now live in a world with four Shadow comics. It’s like they created a comic company just for me! But that quickly gave way to the realization that I spent my whole comix budget on The Shadow. I won’t be taking a chance on anything indie or cool this month.
This is where the comix biz is at these days. Chasing a bigger part of an ever-shrinking pie. Stomach share.
… and it’s dealing with it the exact same way.
There have been a lot of articles about the “death of the blockbuster” lately. Here’s a sample here: Hollywood’s Tanking Business Model from the New York Times. The writers of these pieces always fret that audiences just aren’t showing up for blockbusters anymore, for reasons no one can fathom. Some writers have hinted darkly that “Ryan Reynolds can’t open a movie” or something like that.
But to a comics fan, this is pretty obvious.
1. Movies used to be cheap entertainment for the masses, but their popularity peaked in the 1940s. Sounds very familiar. A movie today starts around $7, plus $6 for a bucket of popcorn, and double that for babysitting. A comic used to be a nickel, and now it’s closer to $4.
2. Audiences today have tons more (cheaper) alternatives. If I want to see things blow up, I can fire up my PlayStation and blow up things myself. If I want adult drama with a touch of humor, I can fire up Netflix and binge on “Orange is the New Black.”
3. Movies are chasing hits. There’s a reason every movie is a franchise these days, and it’s the same reason every comic has Batman or Wolverine on the cover. With the pie shrinking, movie studios want to make sure they get their piece.
4. Go bigger. One of my personal peeves is that movies are too damned long today. I have a wife and a kid, so I basically never have time to go see a movie that runs 2:45. By the same token, I don’t have the cash or patience to chase a crossover that stretches between 10 ongoings, a miniseries and 6 one-shots.
Consequently, I am no longer the target market. Movie companies aren’t going to make money off the casual fan, not when you factor in items 1-3. So you may as well swing for your base of committed fans. And those guys are happy to see 2:45 of Batman.
Honestly, putting Batman in it is about the only way to get me to spend 2:45 in a theater.
5. Gimmicks help, but they can only take you so far. Remember the 3D movie fad of the last few years? Remember the gatefold chromium cover on ShadowHawk Vol 2, No. 3,? The one that punched out and unfolded so you could see ShadowHawk’s true face? There you go.
Here’s the thing: A movie is a premium experience. You’re going to a specific place at a specified time. You’re giving up 3-4 hours of your life, which is time you could spend with loved ones, with video games, or just fooling around with your iPhone. You’re used to convenience, watching things when you want, and not having to worry about some dumb-ass kids throwing jujubees at you. You’re used to having your phone and your tablet with you while you watch. So the movie folks need to push the geek button pretty hard to get you to come out.
People have been proclaiming the death of movies since the advent of radio, and it hasn’t come true yet. But the business model has some severe flaws, and it has little to do with how much people like Ryan Reynolds.
… for something that isn’t really real.