Written & Created By David Crowson
Art by Courtland Ellis
Ever since the success of books such as Seth Grahame-Smith’s brilliant Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, there has been a trend in fiction that has since forged a new genre: the horror mash-up.
The unique blending of historical figures and classic characters of literature with horror has captured the imagination of readers as they watch their favorite fiction folks and heroes of history do battle with vampires, zombies, sea creatures and demons galore.
Created by David Crownson, Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer is Kickstarter-funded comic that was sold to investors as “Django Unchained + Buffy The Vampire Slayer + Mad Max : Fury Road.” And indeed, the book takes the historical figure and turns her into a modern-age badass, killing racist vampires left and right as she becomes the savior of slaves in South Carolina.
On their own, the slave owners, plantation dwellers and the Southern populace as a whole are already a massive menace to our protagonists. But add the scary supplement of being vampires, and you have a whole different type of horror in the Deep South.
And from this terror arises a young Harriet Tubman, complete with nerves of steel, lightning-fast reflexes and armed to the teeth with wooden stakes and katana.
In the first two issues, a family plots their escape from their plantation, only to be met by the undead owner and his vamped-out kin. It is only with the help of Tubman (and ginger mystery man) that the trio are able to make a their escape.
While completely entertaining and well written, the book is missing a key element that made the work of Grahame-Smith and others like him as massive success.
The genius behind Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was the inclusion of horror elements that added to the tale while not altering the central characters or historical relevance of the figures themselves. Elizabeth Bennett was still dealing with the snobbery of Mr. Darcy and the pressures of society to find a husband despite the zombie outbreak. Abraham Lincoln was still practicing law as he battled vampires at night. Grahame-Smith stayed true to the nature of the characters despite placing them in horrific (and entertaining) situations.
Harriet Tubman, while both a badass in the comic and in real life, displays little resemblance to her historical counterpart. The modern-day Moses is lost in this revamp. There is no sense of the original American abolitionist who rescued slaves from their captivity by use of the Underground Railroad. Rather, this version of Tubman is very modern, almost too modern for her surroundings.
Due to her steely nature and choice in weaponry, comparisons to The Walking Dead’s Michonne are inevitable. Harriet’s motives, moves and a general demeanor are so shaded by the zombie-killing survivor from the AMC megahit that it is difficult to find any originality in the comic character. At least in the first two issues that were given for review.
However, writing and the look of the comic make the book a truly entertaining read despite the lack of historical grounding.
The art of the book is top notch. The detail of the sketchings and the general look of the book is lives and breathes modern horror comic. From the color tone of the art to the classic comic styling of the sketch themselves, the book offers both a nod to classic horror comics of yore and modern day scare strips with its color and inking.
It is often difficult to judge an entire comic series off of two piddly issues. There can easily be character development and story arcs to come that can alter the course of the tale. In the case of Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer, perhaps further issues can help bridge the fictional version of the abolitionist with the historical version. With that, the comic can find its proper roots and grow, both as a book and as a welcomed addition to the mash-up genre.