Title: Crimson Cross
Author: Sakae Maeda, with art by Kyoko Negishi
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Volume: One-shot, $12.95
Vintage: 2006 by Shinshokan in Japan, August 2010 by DMP
Genre: Horror, vampires, drama
The Helsing family has long fought the forces of darkness, abandoning everything to hunt down the greatest night stalker of them all – the vampire. The current and final heir of the Helsing name is Karl, whose father abandoned the family on his own mission when Karl was just a small boy. The scandal caused his mother and him to be shunned by their village, and the young Helsing wasn’t even allowed to go into the church where the Scriptures he so longed to hear were read. He met a kind girl named Flora, who was gentle and friendly toward him, but whose aristocratic position did not allow her to consort with the boy. To comfort him, she gave him her rosary, and Karl was able to say his first prayers holding a cross in his hands. Unfortunately, Flora had caught the eye of a certain vampire named Elliot, and he took Flora away and turned her into one of his own. Karl, who sensed the danger, rushed out to stop him, but was too late. Realizing that her son had the same powers as his father, Karl’s mother explained the lineage of the Helsing family, and the boy vowed to follow in his father’s footsteps. Several years later, his powers and skills trained and honed, Karl returns home to face Elliot, but finds that he is little match for the thousands of years old vampire. Struck by Karl’s vow to hunt him down even if it takes an eternity, Elliot decides to turn this passion into a twisted game and turns Karl into the thing the young man hates most. Now a vampire himself, Karl has an eternity to chase down Elliot, providing Elliot with the most fun he’s had in centuries. Wielding the Scripture that his Helsing blood gives vengeful power to, Karl spends his new life on an eternal hunt for Elliot, which leads him through many tragedies. First there was Flora, who twice meets tragedy before Karl’s eyes. After a later battle with Elliot, Karl finds himself rescued by a young maiden in a forest. When Elliot returns, Karl fights in his weakened state to protect the girl, Rosine, from Elliot, but finds himself at the mercy of the forest’s denizens under Elliot’s command. On the verge of death, his left eye torn out and given to Elliot, and his throat scorched from using the Scripture to fight the vampire (as it is now a weapon to himself), only Rosine’s patient sacrifice saves him. Her act leaves Karl healed, but cursed by and indebted to the forest to which she was bound. Though seemingly forsaken by God, Karl continues his destiny and Heaven-charged duty to hunt down vampires, and continues his journey to find a way to take down Elliot for good. His search leads him to a small village, where a nun named Maria is digging up a grave. Inside the buried coffin lies the ashes of an ancient vampire named Henry, killed by the townsfolk. Maria wishes to resurrect him, because he raised her as a small child, but she can’t remember her name and wonders if the vampire would know and tell her. Facing the prospect of being sold off by the convent to be a rich man’s mistress, she has grown desperate, but Karl warns her of the dangers of doing such a thing, even though his goal is the same. However, sensing that Karl is interfering with their plans, one of Henry’s servants, a werewolf, attacks them and escapes with Maria. With Maria’s blood, Henry can be resurrected, but given her own desires, she doesn’t need much convincing. Unfortunately, the newly revived Henry claims adopting her was little more than a game to pass the time. As she lies dying, Karl says a prayer to guide her to Heaven’s Gate. Henry offers to tell Karl Elliot’s weakness, but the price for this information is too much for Karl, so he turns his attention to destroying Henry. As Henry prepares to devour him, Elliot arrives to take back what is his.
Tragedy, despair, duty, death, sacrifice. Crimson Cross is a dark story indeed. It’s also quite lovely, and way too short. The point gets across, but we’re really only shown four major instances in the battle between Karl and Elliot, which likely goes on for hundreds of years. It’s disappointing that we get to see so little of it, and only two other ancient vampires, besides. I think Negishi and Maeda tell this story well, so I would really love even just a little bit more of it. What’s nice about the formatting of the one-shot, however, is the way it’s split into three main parts, centered on the women in Karl’s life – Rosine, Flora, and finally Maria. Each girl represents not only a moment in the story, but a significant chapter of Karl’s life. Flora his turning, Rosine the loss of his eye, and Maria the loss of part of his remaining humanity. The girls are all different, and yet share some similarities. They are all three drawn to Karl in ways that speak of a larger destiny. With Flora, he is set on a path of hellish darkness as he attempts to avenge the girl who once showed him so much kindness. This religiously devout young man, who uses the Word of God as his weapon, is turned into the thing he is sworn and bound by Heaven to fight against. All because an old vampire desires a new play thing to ease his boredom. Rosine also shows him incredible kindness, rescuing him from the danger’s of the sun when she could have left him to die in the forest. Knowing what he is, she brings him into her home and does what she can to nurse him back to health. When Elliot leaves him battered and weak once again, she sacrifices herself so that he can continue on, and leaves something behind for him to remember her by so he is not wholly consumed by his hatred for Elliot. Maria’s pure soul reminds him of his own past, but ironically he gives her advice that he himself does not follow. Then again, having experienced his own darkness, he may be the perfect person to persuade her to avoid his fate. Karl, however, doesn’t see his fate as a series of choices, but rather he believes himself bound by the destiny God has laid out for him. Even if his prayers go unanswered, and darkness continues to grow inside him, he still believes in his destiny. Elliot wants to break Karl, watch him suffer, and make him so consumed with hatred that he can think of nothing else but destroying him. He continually mocks Karl’s faith, and takes everything decent away from him to drive home his point and fuel Karl’s hatred of him. It’s a very sick game, but Elliot relishes it and is obsessed by it. Poor Karl, who is nothing more than Elliot’s play thing, can do little about it. He cannot die, not only because of his own will, but because Elliot commands him to continue living and he must obey. In the end, I think it’s Elliot that desires true death. He’s lived for so long and is bored with everything the world has to offer. Then he meets a young man who wants nothing more than to destroy him, so he gives him an eternity to fulfill that vow. He knows that if he continues to destroy the light inside of Karl, the last Helsing will ultimately be consumed by him and abandon everything to defeat him, leading to a wondrous battle. Unfortunately…we don’t get to see that battle. All we see are three instances in Karl’s life, that subtly alter his path into darkness. The last few pages, however, do give us a glimpse of his future, suggesting that Elliot may get what he wants in the end.
Review copy provided by DMP.