As the timeline in the back of the book explains, Seven Days in Mayhem, written by Kim Newman, with art by Paul McCaffrey, colors by Kevin Enhart and letters by Simon Bowland, is set smack dab amid the action as it takes place ten years after Newman’s 1992 alternative-history novel, Anno Dracula, but before the rest of the series. In a world where Van Helsing failed and Dracula now reigns over England, our comic opens on a dramatic naval battle (if Universal’s Monsters were enlisted). From there, we go to our series’ protagonist, Katharine Reed, a vampire deep in the resistance, as a member of the Council of Seven Days. Lastly, we examine what schemes the aristocrats have cooking and get a sense of how all of these stories intertwine.
Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days In Mayhem #1 (Titan Comics)
All of these things are great. Newman wastes no time, throwing out as many ideas and images and references as quickly as possible, and it makes for a great sandbox to work in. From the start, “what if Dracula was in charge of the Industrial Revolution” is an awesome premise. Throw in Thomas Edison, Manbats, a mysterious woman from the East, and political intrigue, and there’s a lot of fun to be had in this book.
Manbats make everything better. P.S.: That’s Thomas Edison being electrocuted by his own power gauntlets.
If it sounds like I’m just throwing everything I can think of at the wall to see what sticks, well, that’s Newman’s strategy too. Which is where this issue stumbles. This is the first comic adaptation from Newman’s universe, so while it had the chance to be an entry point for new readers like myself, I personally felt left behind. Page one throws us immediately into the action with very little explanation, and while it’s fun to see Edison charge his electro-gauntlets and watch as a kraken attacks the fleet, I had a constant feeling as if I ought to have Wikipedia open to make sure I didn’t miss any references. There is some exposition late in the book, which helps, but most of the issue is much more geared towards long time fans of the series. Which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it does make it hard to just jump in blindly.
The other problem with this kitchen sink approach is that this book is busy. The first five pages of the issue, about one whole quarter of its storytelling pages, is about the nautical battle, and while it’s fun and exciting and provides the book’s coolest visuals, if the series is about Reed and her rebels, it’s a bit off balance in its pacing.
Unfortunately, McCaffrey’s art does nothing to combat this density issue, as so much of his art feels cramped, while his layouts make it somewhat difficult to clearly understand people’s relationship with their surroundings. In fact, late in the issue, it took until a character’s explanation of what had just happened for me to fully understand where an attacker had come from in the previous scene. Much like Newman’s script, it’s fun to see a lot of the different renderings of these figures and the world they live in, but without letting the art breathe, it becomes too easy for the reader to get overwhelmed with everything given to them.
Seven Days in Mayhem makes me want to check out Newman’s books. I dig this premise and her integration of historical figures both fictional and non-fictional is a totally fun idea. Unfortunately, Newman struggles to make the transition from novel to comic, and the enjoyment of this colorful world is harmed by it. This will be fun for diehard fans of Newman, but for new readers, perhaps start with the books.