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Renfield: A Tale of Madness    by Gary Reed & Galen Showman order for
by Gary Reed
Order:  USA  Can
Image Comics, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

The madman philosopher who so briefly haunts the pages of Bram Stoker's classic horror novel, Dracula, comes to full life in this dark and chilling parallel tale of Dracula's servant. Renfield, the mysterious and tragic bug-collecting character, gets his own backstory thanks to the machinations of the gifted Gary Reed, whose talent for the macabre rivals that of H. P. Lovercraft and whose adept comic book storytelling matches that of Steve Niles. Originally, the graphic novel started as a six part mini-series that only made it to issue three before it was fast-tracked to the paperbound edition and released by Caliber Comics in 1995 with supplemental materials at the end of each chapter (usually in the form of various characters' letters).

Building from the scenes witnessed in Dracula, this graphic novel creates an entire backdrop to Renfield's character from his arrest in a park and his admission into the Purfleet Asylum for the Insane to his final showdown with Dracula. Through the tale, readers will develop a soft spot in their hearts for the tortured soul as he battles with himself over his submission to Dracula. As the other characters - such as Dr. Seward, Lucy and Mina - appear, Renfield feels the impending appearance of his master and waits to receive the great gift from him, but can the thoughtful Renfield fully understand what Dracula is trying to teach him? Fans of Dracula will find this a great addition to their perspective of the novel in the tradition of Tad Williams' Caliban's Hour or Gregory Maguire's Wicked.

The artist, Galen Showman, reinforces the mood set by Reed with stark black and white drawings that provide a great battleground for the struggle between good and evil. Showman's at his best though with the darker material, particularly when he reduces the amount of action in the negative space, thereby slowing down the speed of the panels. His full page single panels strike hard like disharmonic melodic chords.

Horror can be hard to capture in comic books, since with each flip of the page we can glimpse the full momentum of the story. But Reed and Showman don't make that easy. In order to appreciate the subtlely of their horror and darkness, one must move from panel to panel and soak in the ambience. Renfield is more than another tale meant to scare like some bad B movie, but rather a horror story that transpires in the mind both for the character and the reader.

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