"The Chronicles of Legion: Vol. 1 - Rise of the Vampires" Graphic Novel Review
Written by Angry Scholar
Published by Titan Comics
Written by Fabien Nury
Illustrated by Mario Alberti, Mathieu Lauffray, Tirso, and Zhang Xiaoyu
2011, 56 pages
Graphic Novel (English language translation) released on November 5th, 2014
Vlad Tepes, the man who would become Dracula, is dead—only no he’s not, obviously, because he’s a vampire. The Ottomans have conquered Wallachia, and believe the dreaded Impaler to be dead at last. But in this version of the familiar story, Vlad possesses the uncanny ability to jump from body to body by sharing his blood with his intended host. He hops from his own favored concubine into the body of Selim Bey, the Ottoman who “killed” him, and so begins his journey through history.
Unfortunately Vlad’s brother, Radu, is also a vampire with the same body-hopping abilities. Captured by the Ottomans, Radu hops not into a new human host, but into a rat that wanders into his prison. Apparently years of living as a rodent drives poor Radu mad, and by the end of the first volume of Chronicles of Legion, he is pretty clearly established as the primary antagonist (though it’s not yet fully clear why this should be).
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The story has Dracula traveling (in various human hosts) to the New World, participating in the Napoleonic wars, and eventually becoming a wealthy nobleman in 19th-century England. The time-hopping conceit is an interesting one, but it's not fully developed. Each time period is limited to a short vignette, enough to give us a sense that Vlad is a history buff and has vague aspirations of glory but without revealing much else about his character.
The Chronicles of Legion: Rise of the Vampires is an interesting beginning to what could be a fresh spin on the Tepes tale. The translation (the book was originally published in French) is excellent, and what narration and dialogue there are are appropriately somber. The narrative unfortunately feels rather abrupt, which stands in stark contrast to the centuries-spanning timeline of the story; we’re only given a few pages with each new incarnation of Dracula and his brother, with little time to develop any sense of who the key players are. This may be resolved in the next story arc, though, particularly if the character Victor Thorpe, introduced at the end of the first volume as a candidate for Vlad’s next host, becomes the main character and actually gets some screen time (so to speak).
The artwork is generally quite good. Each of the four artists have distinct styles, but they complement each other very well and match the dark tone of the story. My personal favorites are Lauffray’s section (p.3-13), which is particularly rough and gritty and reminiscent of Spawn (in its grittier, less-goofy iterations); and Tirso’s (44-55), which perfectly captures the bleakness of late nineteenth-century London. That said, all of the artists have done very well in expressing the darkness that’s central to any Dracula story.