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Monday, October 16, 2017

The Dracula File (Rebellion)

Fondly remembered, Scream!! is one of those comics that never lived up to its potential, even in the fifteen issues it was allowed. Looking back on it, you wonder how anyone could have been satisfied with the results. On one side you had editors who were in direct touch with their audience who should have been trusted to know where to draw the line; on the other side the controlling group who worried about complaints from parents and the tabloids which would spook newsagents and damage sales.

In the case of Scream!!, by the time the latter had gutted the paper put together by the former, you had a tepid, middle-of-the-road action comic with only a few chills left in it.

This is not to say that everything about it was forgettable. Some very good writers and artists put their talents to work and, within the restrictions placed on them, came up with some compelling and interesting takes on some horror staples. Rebellion have already reprinted Monster from its pages, and for their second bite of Scream!! they have chosen The Dracula File.

Author Gerry Finley-Day brought the classic vampire character right up to date (1984), beginning with a defection from East Germany, a curiously ageless patient, a fire in a military hospital ahead of the patient from behind the Iron Curtain being relocated to the UK by British Intelligence... and all this in the first episode! As with any British comic—where moving the plot along trumps coincidence at every turn—the pretending-to-be-unconscious defector is a vampire and MI5 are taking him to precisely where he wants to go, a creepy mansion in the English countryside.

The only people to realise that a vampire is loose in England are the Russians, led by KGB officer Colonel Stakis, a Roumanian. Stakis's obsession with monitoring the situation leads to him attacking a Commissar and his commanding general when they try to stop his unofficial investigation. The disgraced officer then makes his way to the UK in search of Dracula.

The second half of the story was written by Simon Furman, nowadays better known for his work on Transformers and as the creator of Death's Head but then a newcomer to comics. Furman treated the scripts with a little more humour as Stakis searches London for his prey and Dracula preys on Londoners. It's a shame that the story ended rather suddenly with Scream!!'s demise, although David McDonald has made an interesting case a few years ago that the story from Scream!! Holiday Special 1986 is one of three of the stories completed but unpublished.

The volume includes all four Holiday Special stories (drawn by Bradbury, Geoff Senior and Keith Page), a cover gallery and a feature by David McDonald about Fleetway Publications' troubled relationship with horror comics over the years. McDonald reprinted the same stories in The Dracula File from Hibernia in 2015, but in limited numbers. Hopefully the new volume, with its larger pages showing off Eric Bradbury's amazing artwork to even better effect, will reach Scream!!'s old fans and a new audience alike this Halloween.

The Dracula Files. Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08599-8, 19 October 2017, 101pp, £15.99 / $19.99. Available via Amazon.

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