It’s 1450 and Adil, a Janissary for the Ottoman empire is on a mission to meet with Vlad Dracula. Not much later things don’t go well. Several scenes later in Hungary Sister Marjorie who takes watch over a nun who has mysteriously died protects herself with prayer as the dead nun returns in the form of a monster. Soon these two, alongside a third will have to confront the origin of these aberrations. Writer Saladin Ahmed, artist Dave Acosta and their team have crafted a historical fiction narrative that reads like an embellished journal-style manuscript.
As the massacre Adil witnesses, letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou shines. From the passive-aggressive banter of the racist, bigoted ambassador to the authoritative yell of Adil announcing their presence to this elite warrior seeing the insides of his soldiers turned outward shows how all parts of a comic book are necessary for weaving a well-crafted storyline. When Adil attempts to give a written account of what was encountered as a screeching “No! No! AAAAGHN” crescendos in a downward jagged bubble, alongside a yellow, squared background Adil says how “it has been claimed by Satan.” These two pages in particular foreshadow the history of this warrior and the journey he must take. Of course, after Adil relays his account, he is next seen sometime later drunk and resentful of anyone who interrupts his drinking himself into the abyss. Called by the Sultan, Adil again goes to Vlad with several men and again everyone is brutally dispatched of. This time though he is saved by the prayers of Marjorie. Yes, we meet sister Marjorie who has had to flee fearing she may be accused of killing several sisters instead of protecting them from the monstrous undead sister attempting to feast on everyone. Her belief in her prayer guides her purpose and is a shield for the evil that eventually can only be faced by a small group. This time Prince Radu joins Adil and sister Marjorie. The dichotomy between these three shows perhaps how much these three have in common rather than the drastic differences.
In Ahmed’s historical narrative, Prince Radu and Sultan Mehmed have an intimate, physical relationship. He tells his story and as it’s shown in flashbacks, we see Radu’s ability to accept and adapt to what destiny throws his way. Marjorie is also a character who though strong in her faith also sees how fate has a hand in the direction of her life. However, it is Adil who the reader may most connect with. As a Janissary he relays the process of his becoming an elite warrior. Much like the Jedi rip younglings from everything they’ve ever known to follow a path that they’re forced to be on we see, in part, how Adil is molded into becoming a warrior. It’s unspoken, where the reader has to fill in the blanks reflect how much Ahmed makes us a part of the story.
This horror comic weaves historic fiction and reminiscent of gothic style pulls you in from page one. Everything is done in collaboration of artwork and dialogue. Clothes are detailed from Adil to Sister Marjorie’s habit and even Radu’s sword reflects the late 15th century. Complexions are accurate, so much care is seen being taken in the accuracy of the time that you will spend endless times rereading this long-form comic.