Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula Omnibus Volume 1 Review

Posted on Posted in Comic Books, Reviews/Commentary

 

Called by some the best comic series of the 1970s, “Tomb of Dracula” wasn’t a series that I paid much attention to over the years.  When I was able to score a great deal on the series’ first two Marvel Omnibus collection – collecting the complete 1970s series – I finally found myself intrigued.  I was even more intrigued when I discovered that the series hooked me with the first issue, unexpectedly telling a novel-like serial story that grew wilder and wilder as each issue went by.

A reader knows that a series is doing something right when – in the span of a few issues – the writers have assembled a crack team of vampire hunters and chased Dracula through another dimension and back in time.  Things only grew better from there.

The creative team on “Tomb of Dracula” largely stayed the same throughout its near-decade run, with Marv Wolfman writing all but the first five issues and ‘Mean’ Gene Colan penciling the entire series

Readers might recall Wolfman from later big name work at DC Comics in the 1980s.  He wrote “New Teen Titans” when it sold at levels rivaling the “X-Men” in that time period and later re-arranged the DC universe, effectively ending all of DC’s Silver Age story continuity in “Crisis on Infinite Earths.”

Colan was a drawing legend since the Marvel 1960s heydays and his work was very interesting, clean and polished

“Tomb of Dracula” became the grand-daddy of a Marvel horror comics tradition that was later revived in the 1990s with popular series such as “Nightstalkers.”  Again, I ignored all horror comics in my early collecting days, so it was fun to discover an entire aspect of the Marvel universe that I’d never realized existed.

“Tomb of Dracula,” in particular, experienced a revival in interest after first being collected in Marvel’s black-and-white Essentials line.  It later became part of the Marvel Omnibus line in 2008 during a time when Marvel was also making uncharacteristic releases such as the “Howard the Duck” omnibus.

The first “Tomb of Dracula” omnibus had a release date that capitalized on the Halloween holiday of 2008.  All three eventual omnibus volumes were released before Colan’s death in mid-2011.  Colan had a revival himself at that time, landing new work from Marvel that included a “Captain America” issue.  He was experiencing all kinds of crazy issues both health and wife-related at the time and there was a movement at the time to assist him financially.

From the perspective of the modern reader, “Tomb of Dracula” read better than most comics from the 1970s.  Keep in mind that this was often a silly, disco-infused period in Marvel history. Instead, “Tomb of Dracula” featured many ahead-of-its-time characteristics that kicked in right away.  Some reviewers would later suggest “Tomb of Dracula” as containing a mix between mainstream entertainment and the darker, mystical elements that DC Comics would later produce with the Vertigo line. One obvious example of that darker tone was the fact that Dracula seemed to kill at least one person per issue in a violent manner took me aback at first. Readers usually didn’t see horrific deaths on a regular basis in a 1970s – or even 1980s – mainstream comic.

The elements from the Dracula mythology that the series used weren’t limited to simply adapting Bram Stoker’s original novel.  Rather, well-known vampire tropes – such as an aversion to sunlight – came from the 1922 film “Nosferatu.”  Later film influences from the 1930s through 1950s were also present, as Dracula’s characteristics in the public consciousness had already become more of a mash-up of influences than most people realize.

On a final note, unlike most super hero fare of the era, “Tomb of Dracula” often featured a very serialized story.  Even its stand-alone tales usually featured glimpses of ongoing plot points.  This approach led to a more novelistic feel that enhanced the depth of the overall story.

 

Series Summary & Remarks

 

#1-6 ~ Forming a Team & Time Travel

 

There was a significant evolution in concept and experimentation in the first few issues of “Tomb of Dracula.” Most likely, this had to do with a revolving door of writers and, perhaps, a feeling by the editorial staff that the series wasn’t yet on track.

Gene Conway – a spry nineteen year old who apparently had help from Stan Lee and Roy Thomas – started things off in the first two issues.  He immediately introduced Frank Drake, the apparent last living descent of Dracula.  Drake would continue to be central to the series, although his earliest companions would not.  Drake, his girlfriend Jean and his friend Clifton Graves stumbled upon Dracula after Drake inherited Dracula’s castle.  The aptly-named Graves ended up inadvertently reviving the vampire lord in issue #1.

Frank’s world fell apart when in issue #2 he had to deal with both Jean and Graves having been transformed into vampires by Dracula.  He managed to kill Graves but had to be saved from Dracula by a convenient rising sun.  That same sunrise killed the vampire Jean, leaving Frank’s world shattered.

The series’ location briefly shifted from Transylvania back to England in the Archie Goodwin written issue #3.  Drake was so distraught from recent events that he was about to commit suicide from a bridge  Luckily, he was stopped by a mysterious woman and her companion.  The woman was Rachel Van Helsing, descendent of Abraham Van Helsing, the professor with knowledge of vampires from Stoker’s novel.  She was joined by India-native Taj Nitall, a mute whose family had been devastated by Dracula.  Thus, a vampire-hunting team took shape with the duo’s recruitment of Drake to their cause.

Goodwin brought that team up against Dracula and his new ally Ilsa Strangeway in issue #4.  Ilsa had purchased Castle Dracula from Frank Drake, hoping to find a secret there that would restore her youth.  She ended up working out a deal with Dracula to make her vampire and also offered him access to an occult mirror that would allow him to travel through time.

Of course, Dracula was a fish out of water in the twentieth century and took the opportunity to go back in time to the late-1800s in issue #5.  This continuation of the story arc featured new writer Gardner F. Fox.  Dracula didn’t end up where he’d expected though, having said an incorrect incantation that sent him to a dimension filled with monsters.  Taj had chased Dracula through the mirror and the pair ended up stuck in this dimension until Dracula found another mirror that took him back to the expected time period.

During that dimension-hopping activity, Frank and Rachel had managed to use Ilsa’s original mirror to also travel to the same time 1800s time period as Dracula.  Rachel ended up saving Abraham Van Helsing from Dracula and the comic’s core case ended up traveling back to modern times.

Issue #6 was comparatively low-key with the vampire hunters investigating the monster-ing antics of the disfigured son of Lord and Lady Dering.  That misunderstood monstrous son ended up saving the vampire hunter team from Dracula’s latest plot against them.

Despite some of its era-centric shortcomings, the series’ first few issues were a fun roller coaster ride.  The haphazard creative team changes meant that characters were introduced and then quickly killed off, making the book anything but predictable.

Note that an amusing gimmick for readers was the incorporation of Dracula into the ‘real world’ of the Marvel Universe.  Since many citizens within that world assumed Dracula to be a work of fiction there too, characters often didn’t take his presence seriously until it was too late.

 

#7-13 ~ Blade, Gangs, & Killing Dracula

 

The long-term creative team of Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan were finally in place by issue #7.

Wolfman’s first major character introduction was Quincy Harker, the descendent of Jonathan Harker from Stoker’s novel.  Harker  would become the group’s mastermind, a sort of Professor X for vampire hunters.  He was the man behind Rachel and Taj’s vampire hunting and they introduced him to Frank Drake.  Besides having a bad family history, Harker had a vendetta with Dracula due to his having killed Harker’s wife.

This issue concluded with the vampire hunter team having been lured into a trap by Dracula that featured an army of possessed children ready to attack them.  It was an understandably creepy situation.  By issue #8, that situation was defused and Dracula was back on the run, having been injured by the vampire hunters.  Dracula turned to one of his vampire minions for help in getting blood from a blood bank.  He then used a ‘projector’ device to begin calling out for an army of the undead.  This was one of a couple of longer-range plot devices that were set in motion.  Another was Harker’s calling upon contacts in the British government for assistance.

Issue #9 was an interlude of sorts with the still-weak Dracula finding himself taken in by the small town of Littlepool.  He wasn’t so welcome after the residents discovered who he really was.  In a curious twist, a small boy helped Dracula escape the wrath of the townspeople.

Issue #10 introduced Blade as an uneasy ally – if not outright rival – of Quincy Harker.  They were both vampire hunters, but seemed to disagree on approach to a degree that caused friction between the two.

In the story’s main plot, Dracula had taken over a cruise ship and it took Blade springing into action to save its passengers.

Reader might have forgotten about Clifton Graves from the first two issues of the series, but Wolfman did not.  Graves turned up on the cruise ship as one of Dracula’s minions.  Unfortunately, he appeared to die at the very end of the story when Dracula destroyed the ship.

Blade was a man of mystery, but a unique new character.  Readers would later learn that his mother had been attacked by a vampire while she was in labor, thus granting Blade several super-human characteristics of a vampire but also making him immune to their attacks.  He would go on to become a popular addition to the series and, curiously enough, be featured in a Hollywood film series that was credited by many as being a breakthrough in super-hero film adaptations.

Issue #11 brought full circle a number of smaller plot points from issues #8 and #9.  Dracula had been hounded by a motorcycle gang that was actually under the employ of the disabled Jason Faust.  Faust sent the gang after Quincy Harker, whom he blamed for his disability.  Ironically, Dracula saved Harker from the gang while seeking instead to get his revenge on them.  Despite the long rivalry with Harker, this was an early sign that Wolfman was trying to make Dracula more dimensional as a character.

Issue #12 provided an impressive first storyline climax when Quincy Harker’s daughter Edith was kidnapped and used as bait to lure the vampire hunter team to Dracula’s latest deathtrap.  This time, Dracula had an army of vampires waiting to attack the vampire hunters while they were trapped within a house.  Blade saved the day though, assisted by remnants of the aforementioned motorcycle gang.  The vampire army was pushed back and a severely injured Dracula was forced to retreat.

There was not a happy ending though, as Edith Harker was discovered to have been infected by Dracula.  Rather than allow his daughter to turn into a vampire, Quincy Harker killed her with a wooden stake through the heart at the beginning of issue #13.  It would be a gross understatement to refer to that story resolution as simply disturbing.  Blade’s origin was more explicitly laid out during the course of issue #13, with limits established, such as his oversensitive eyes.  By issue’s end, Blade ended up seemingly killing Dracula for the first time in the series.

Issue #13 was also notable for featuring the first of many brief upcoming interludes in which Asian scientists collected items for a mysterious villain named Dr. Sun.  In this case, it was the body of Brand, the motorcycle gang’s fallen leader.  Dr. Sun wouldn’t formally take center stage until issues #19 and #20.

 

#14-16 ~ Interludes

 

Readers learned quickly enough – in fact, right at the beginning of issue #14 – that Dracula had managed to survive his fight with Blade.  He’d summoned nearby villagers who were his mind slaves to move his body from the battle scene before it could be properly destroyed.  As Dracula’s body decayed though, his power over the villagers diminished and they eventually abandoned him.

Enter Father Josiah Dawn, the revival tent reverend of the Church of the Forever Resurrected.  Father Dawn featured Dracula in a revival service, pulling from Dracula’s skeleton the wooden stake that had killed him.  The revived Dracula then killed Father Dawn and disappeared.

Issue #15 featured the first of the ‘Dracula’s Diary’ flashback stories that Wolfman periodically used to present historical Dracula vignettes.  This was an interesting approach to switching things up while revisiting Dracula’s extensive past.  Although longtime readers might have initially found contradictions in the series continuity, Wolfman would later clarify some of the deviations that he created in these vignettes and the presumed longstanding slumber that Dracula had been in prior to issue #1.  A particular flashback of note told the tale of Dracula’s revenge on Turac, the man who killed Dracula’s beloved wife Maria and who had put into motion Dracula being turned into a vampire.  Another flashback told of Dracula’s battle with a Scottsman that ended with his being left for dead in the coffin where Clifton Graves revived him in issue #1.

Inspector Chelm from issue #2 was one of the main characters in issue #16, as he pursued a series of murders under the erroneous assumption that Dracula had committed them.  In fact, they’d been committed by a ‘living skeleton’ named Duncan Corley who had been buried in an astrologically significant location that a man named Paul Beare wanted for his own grave. Dracula did get involved in all of the supernatural hijinks though, helping to bring Corley to a proper rest after sorting out the situation with Chelm.

Elsewhere, Dr. Sun made his credited first official on-panel appearance.  He learned that his minion Mr. Lo had successfully revived the now-vampire motorcycle gang leader Brand.

 

#17-18, Werewolf By Night #15 ~ Werewolf by Night

 

Marv Wolfman had established earlier in the series that in order to survive outside of Transylvania, Dracula stashed coffins around the world that were lined with dirt from Transylvania.  One such coffin was apparently hidden in Paris, which led Dracula to France at the beginning of issue #17.  Blade was waiting for him there and the duo ended up battling.

After defeating Blade, Dracula headed back to Transylvania aboard a train.  The train was packed with adversaries though, namely Frank, Rachel, and also agents of Dr. Sun.  Dracula escaped, but readers were left to wonder about Sun’s agents, who lost a mysterious briefcase that had been in their possession.

Issue #17 also featured a cameo by Jack Russell, the “Werewolf by Night” in Marvel’s horror series of that name.  He was on the same train to Transylvania as everyone else and became the main star of issue #18.  In that issue, Russell and his mysterious companion, Topaz, encountered Dracula while visiting Transylvania in hopes of finding a cure to the werewolf curse.  At the same time, he came into contact with the Book of Sins, a diary that contained the Montesi Formula.  This formula could be used to destroy all vampires around the world.

Conveniently for crossover sales, issue #18 continued into “Werewolf by Night” #15.  Much of that issue told the melodramatic origin of werewolves in Russell’s family and their rivalry with Dracula.  The issue’s primary action scenes took place in the final few pages, just  Frank and Rachel showed up to help save the day.  Their paths veered away from Russell though, as Dracula pursed the vampire hunters, who had gained possession of the diary with the Montesi Formula inside.

 

#19-21 ~ Dr. Sun

 

Readers might have been confused by issue #19 opening with Dracula and Rachel trapped together in a blizzard in the Transylvanian Alps.  Through flashbacks, it was revealed that the duo had crashed during the helicopter flight that ended issue #18.  Dracula and Rachel ended up in an uneasy alliance, both dependent on one another to survive the snowstorm.  Frank Drake eventually arrived to rescue Rachel, with Dracula escaping when Frank was forced to choose between capturing Dracula and saving Rachel.  Note that the diary with the Montesi Formula was lost in the alps, although Marvel would not entirely ignore it.

Not to be forgotten back in Paris, Blade was revived by Quincy Harker following the injuries sustained in issue #17.  Also, the training of the now-vampire Brand by Dr. Sun’s minion Mr. Lo continued.

Frank didn’t entirely let Dracula escape though, as he ended up chasing the vampire with his helicopter in issue #20.  Firing wooden bullets at Dracula didn’t do the trick, but he was ultimately felled by a conveniently timed gust of wind.  When Dracula regained consciousness, he found that he’d been captured by Dr. Sun, who had been helped by the assumed-dead Clifton Graves.  Graves had been betrayed by Dracula and left for dead in issue #10.

Dracula attempted to escape Sun’s capture and killed Graves in the process.  He didn’t get far though, as Frank and Rachel had discovered where Dracula had been taken and stopped his flight.  They wanted to stop him as well, but everyone was eventually immobilized by Dr. Sun when he arrived with the now-trained vampire Brand.

Dr. Sun’s origin and game-plan were revealed at the end of issue #20 and the beginning of issue #21.  He was essentially a living brain, having been punished by the Chinese government into being linked with a super-computer.  This punishment turned out to be a major mistake, as Sun took control of the computer rather than simply making it more powerful.  Since then, he’d set the goal of taking control of all vampires around the world.

Sun’s training of Brand had been with the intention of using him to ‘download’ Dracula’s experience and then become the leader of all vampires.  That plan misfired when Brand and Dracula teamed up to battle Sun.  Realizing that things were lost, Sun freed Frank and Rachel to battle Dracula while he stopped Brand by use of a mental bolt.  Sun’s lab ended up being destroyed in a fire, with Sun himself escaping via teleportation.  Frank and Rachel fled the scene in Frank’s helicopter after erroneously thinking that Dracula had been killed.

Unfortunately, the long lead-up to this arc only led to less than two issues of actual confrontation between Dracula and Sun. The Dr. Sun storyline was impressive though, presenting an extremely compelling threat against Dracula.  Sun’s own dependency on blood provided an interesting parallel to Dracula.

 

#22-24, Giant-Size Chillers #1 ~Dracula in Hiding

 

Issue #22 opened with the still-alive (or, rather, still undead) Dracula making his way from the Transylvanian alps to the village of Kamenka, Moldavia in the former U.S.S.R.  Unfortunately for him, he encountered the adversarial vampire Gorna, whom he had to defeat.  Despite Dracula’s weakened state, this battle came out in his favor, but it wasn’t an easy victory.

While Dracula was presumed dead, the vampire hunter team of Frank and Rachel returned to London to report back in with Quincy Harker.  In doing so, they learned that Taj had mysteriously left for his home in India.

Chronologically, the storyline continued in “Giant-Size Chillers” #1 where readers learned that Dracula had a daughter named Lilith.  Lilith was the product of Dracula’s first marriage, a union to a woman named Zofia that had been arranged against his will.  Zofia had turned Lilith over to the gypsy woman who eventually turned Dracula into a vampire.  The gypsy raised Lilith, turning her into a revenge-seeking vampire in order to pay back Dracula for killing her son.  Father and daughter initially appeared poised to bury their grudges, but Dracula escaped from her in bat form after rejecting her peace proposal.

This special issue’s other events gave some further context into Taj’s disappearance by showing him having received a mysterious letter from India that had prompted him to head home.  Also of important note was the introduction of Castle Dunwick, the home of Sheila Whittier.  The castle would become Dracula’s home base for the next few issues and Sheila would also be wrapped up in a series of unfortunate circumstances.

Issue #23 focused more on Sheila history by introducing Alestar Dunwick.  Dunwick had been haunting Sheila since his death.  She’d inherited the castle from him and assumed him to be her uncle.  In fact, he was her father, having later remarried to a woman whom Sheila had thought of as her aunt.  Dunwick tried to sacrifice Sheila to his ‘master’ as a way to break a curse on himself, but Dracula ended up saving Sheila by destroying Dunwick’s corpse.

A number of storylines were active throughout issue #24.  Three years were acknowledged to have passed in story time since the first few issues of the series and Dracula was still assumed dead by the vampire hunter team.  While observing that passage of time and a general lack of focus, Frank decided to leave Rachel.  At the same time, halfway around the world, Taj’s quest to India was revealed to have been in support of his ill son.

Much of the focus of this issue was on Blade though and the mystery behind a woman named Trudy being stalked by a vampire.  Trudy was a ‘dancer’ friend of Blade’s girlfriend Saffron and she had experienced run-ins with Dracula.  While investigating these run-ins, Blade ended up confronting Dracula in bat form, not realizing that the vampire was actually Dracula.  Their fight concluded with Dracula in retreat after being stabbed by wooden daggers while inside a sporting goods store.

 

#25, Giant-Size #2 ~ Re-Emerging

 

A change of pace for sure, issue #25 was a mostly-standalone detective tale.  Hannibal King was enlisted by Adrianne Brown Walters to solve the mystery of her husband Fred’s murder.  Based on Adrianne’s description of the killing, he knew that the murderer was a vampire.  After a lengthy investigation, King learned that Fred had been killed by Dracula to cover up the exportation of his various hidden coffins around the world.

This issue featured the first appearance of Hannibal King, who would reappear later in the series.  Like Blade, he was revealed to be a vampire, but one that could keep his situation under control.

Later “X-Men” legend Chris Claremont stepped in to write “Giant-Sized Dracula” #2.  The story featured Inspector Chelm hiring the investigator Kate Fraser to assist with finding the culprit behind a series of vampire-related murders.  Fraser had the unique talent of being able to tell who has previously possessed an object simply by touching it.

The trail led Chelm and Kate to both Dracula and a demon named Y’Garon, who was an ‘elder’ on Earth that might have slain Dracula’s wife in the past.  Confusing matters, Kate looked like Dracula’s deceased wife and he ended up protecting her from Y’Garon.  After Dracula defeated Y’Garon, he manipulated Kate to forget everything that recently occurred, but not before thinking her for reminding him of human love.

Claremont had used the related N’Garai demons that Y’Garon hailed from back in “X-Men” #96 as a precursor to this story, both likely influenced by H.P. Lovecraft’s Old Ones mythology.  The Kate Fraser character would end up getting a bit of additional use by Claremont in his “Captain Britain” work.  Note that the Dracula brand was so strong by this point that Marvel re-named “Giant-Sized Chillers” to “Giant-Sized Dracula” with this second issue.

Unfortunately, Colan didn’t handle the art in the “Giant-Sized Dracula” series.  Readers used to Gene Colan’s atmospheric art on the main Dracula series would have likely been disappointed by this issue’s Don Heck art.  While not awful, Heck’s style simply wasn’t as compelling as Colan’s on the title.

 

#26-28 ~ Chimera

 

Getting back to the main “Tomb of Dracula” storyline, issue #26 was a wild one.  The focus was on Kull the Conqueror’s Chimera.  Kull was a creation of Robert E. Howard, who had also created Conan the Barbarian.  Marvel’s “Conan the Barbarian” series was a huge hit in the 1970s, so it was unsurprising that a reference to Howard’s world would be made in “Tomb of Dracula.”  In Wolfman’s mythology, the Chimera referred to a three-pieced statue that could transform reality into the thoughts of those who possessed it.

A shop owner in London, Joshua Eshcol, had recently found the pieces composing the Chimera and explained their purpose to his son David.  Soon thereafter, Joshua was murdered and two of the three Chimera pieces were stolen.  David ended up hanging onto the third piece.  Dracula, curious about the Chimera, orchestrated a meeting between David and Sheila Whittier, with Sheila lying about having been previously told by Joshua about the Chimera.

While Sheila learned about the Chimera’s past with David, Dracula tracked down the thieves who had stolen its other two pieces.  That task resulted in Dracula being caught in a witty bind, as he ended up trapped by the crooks in a tank that was filling with holy water.  It was an inspired cliffhanger.

The narration in the issue was downright odd at times, with quotes from the Bible’s Book of Solomon mixed into the text.  A lesser plot point, unrelated to the Chimera, focused on Frank being offered a job in Brazil by his wealthy old friend Danny Summers.  That opportunity also seemed to include nearly-instant romantic time with the beautiful Chastity Jones.

In issue #27’s opening pages, Dracula managed to escape the last issue’s cliffhanger by changing his form into first a bat and then mist.  This proved a handy way to get out of a jam.  Dracula later met up with David and Sheila, whereby he ordered David to turn over his Chimera piece.  David objected and fought off Dracula, interestingly enough, with a Jewish Star of David.  At the conclusion of their fight, both men lost out as two mysterious men ended up gaining possession of David’s piece.

Down in Brazil, Frank didn’t waste much time in moving on from Rachel to Chastity  Between his new job in Brazil and Chastity, he became a new man.  At the same time, Rachel was in an entirely different emotional place, still upset over the fact that she had been dumped by Frank.

Issue #28 opened with the shocking revelation that Taj’s ill son was actually a vampire.  It would be a couple more issues before that situation was explored more thoroughly though.

The bulk of this issue was spent wrapping up the Chimera storyline.  Dracula, David, and Shiela had all been captured by Dr. Sun’s organization, this time led by a dangerous Asian woman named Mae Li.  The fully-assembled Chimera was used to create situations that tricked the prisoners, but Dracula was able to see through the deception and steal the Chimera back.  While he briefly had control of the Chimera, it ended up being destroyed when Shiela broke free of Dracula’s influence.  She ended up leaving Dracula to pursue a romance with David.

Given the earlier build-up to Dr. Sun’s first confrontation with Dracula, this minor sequel was a bit of a letdown. The adult emotions involved in the plot made for mature storytelling, but the machinations of Dr. Sun were very cartoony this time.  Sun left available far too much of an opening to be stopped by insisting on a ‘show of power’ with the assembled Chimera.

 

#29-31, Giant-Size #3-4 ~ Dracula Returns

 

“Giant-Sized Dracula” #3 featured another Chris Claremont story, this time focusing on the blind sorceress Elainne, daughter of Turac, the man who killed Dracula’s wife five hundred years prior.  She was seeking revenge for Dracula’s responsibility in the murder of her father.  She didn’t stop at just Dracula though, as she also went after Quincy Harker with hopes of using his knowledge of the Montesi Formula to kill all vampires around the world.  Dracula would eventually get wise to the plan and killed Elainne after a lengthy confrontation.

Readers would note that Inspector Chelm again got in on the action, along with Kate Fraser.  In particular, Kate’s abilities were used to learn about Elainne’s past.

Note that Dracula’s invasion of the facility that Elainne used in the story to work on the formula wasn’t unfamiliar ground for Claremont.  He also used the ‘one guy invades a building’ concept with an Iron Fist story during roughly the exact same late-1974 timeframe.

The first half of issue #29 focused on Taj’s origin, with scenes depicting how Dracula had harmed his wife and turned his son into a vampire.  He’d partnered up with Rachel after she came to India to pursue Dracula.

The latter half of issue #29 actually tied in well with the prior Chimera story arc, with Biblical quotes continuing to be a part of the narration.  The seeming ‘happy’ ending from issue #28 ended up being complicated by this issue’s end.  David decided that he needed to kill Dracula in order for he and Sheila to be happy.  That turned out to be a bad idea, as Dracula killed David during their confrontation.  Dracula then took David’s body to Sheila and, after failing to control her, Sheila fell out a window to her death.

Talk about a downer ending to a lengthy story arc.

Issue #30 provided another peek into Dracula’s Diary, similar to how it had been used in issue #15.  The first flashback focused on the German noblewoman Lyza Strang, who had asked Dracula to kill her husband Archibald.  Dracula had motivation to do so, since her husband’s ambitions threatened Dracula’s castle.  Archibald Strang had apparently wanted to rule Germany and take over Romania.  Lyza ended up betraying Dracula after he killed Archibald, with readers learning that she was having an affair with her husband’s rival Otto Von Bismark. An enraged Dracula turned Lyza into a vampire while Bismark was a real-life character who contributed directly to the beginning of World War I.  Coming full circle, that war resulted in significant damage to Dracula’s castle.

One odd revelation in the story for readers to note: Dracula apparently stunk in person.

The second flashback story focused on Melanie Knight, a blind little girl.  Melanie’s mother was killed during an act of domestic violence by her father.  Dracula witnessed the killing and decided to dish out his own brand of justice by killing Melanie’s father.  When Dracula explained the events that had occurred, Melanie was horrified by the loss of both parents.  This sadness confused Dracula, but perhaps not readers.

The final flashback took place China, circa 1968.  The situation involved Blade’s first meeting with Dracula, an encounter in which Blade initially pretended to help Dracula.  Blade’s ruse led to Dracula being ambushed by several other vampire hunters.  They thought that they’d killed Dracula, but some of his servants aided him by removing a deadly wooden stake from his body.

Over in the spin-off title, “Giant-Sized Dracula” #3 was written by David Craft and again featured art by Don Heck.  This story told the tale of North Dakota woman Beverly Carpenter, whose father was possessed by a Native American spirit.  That spirit, known as the ‘Devil’s Heart,’ had an unusual residence on their property.  Yes, an actual giant heart was buried underneath a mound of dirt.  The story’s conclusion, with Dracula playing hero, was abruptly dark in that the innocent Beverly was tragically killed by her father after Dracula defeated the Heart.

By issue #31 of the main series, Dracula overplayed his hidden position while manipulating members of the British Parliament.   Inspector Chelm called in Quincy Harker under suspicion that the lord of Vampires was still alive.  Harker finally caught up to readers’ knowledge that Dracula had been manipulating British Parliament members since “Giant-Sized Chillers” #1 and issue #23.

The ‘normal’ vampire hunter team was still split up though, with Taj trying to save his vampire son from local villagers in India.  Elsewhere, in a bit of a retro-fitting around recent behavior, Frank Drake was portrayed as still yearning for Rachel’s approval.   This, despite moving on from her to Chastity very quickly in issue #27, soon after Frank had dumped Rachel.  Frank’s friend Danny Summers allowed him to leave the job that he’d been working in South America in order to return to Rachel.

The dispersed nature of the ‘normal’ team left Inspector Chelm and Harker to take on Dracula themselves.  Chelm had a nice gambit unfold in which he lured Dracula out of hiding at a Parliament member’s office.  With Harker on a telephone urging him on, Chelm was unfortunately still too slow in finishing off Dracula, who escaped.

 

Conclusions

 

“Tomb of Dracula” was an unexpected surprise to discover and has been a series that I try to mention to friends, since it really isn’t familiar to many who started reading comics after the 1970s. I have only become more familiar with 1970s Marvel in the past few years and “Tomb of Dracula” seems like it was one of the leaders for Marvel at the time. The Colan art was perfect for the title and Marv Wolfman’s major work until he started “New Teen Titans.”

The influence of “Tomb of Dracula” in the comic book medium has been undeniable.  In one small example, artist Todd McFarlane has made remarks about “Tomb of Dracula” being the only run of comics that he regretted selling from his private collection.  The influence of the series on McFarlane’s later creation “Spawn” was very evident.

Comic book fans not overly familiar with 1970s comics might be surprised to learn about the richness of the horror comics revival of that era.  “Tomb of Dracula” was clearly a flagship title in that revival, well worth the time to track down and read in some format.  As mentioned above, the series was often ahead of its time and had a unique flavor that modern readers would appreciate.

The writing throughout this first portion of the series was very mature in feel, with people regularly being killed.  Sex was implied with regularity.  A progressive air pervaded the book.  It was both classic and hip for its time.  While some elements might now feel very dated, they’re often rather charming in hindsight.

Wolfman’s writing might remind some of Len Wein or, more closely, Chris Claremont.  Both shared a verbose writing style.  Both also liked to keep many long-running plot threads going at any given time.  As one might notice in looking over issue summaries, it was hard to find concrete beginnings and endings to plot arcs.

Colan’s impressive art was unique and extremely atmospheric.  He was a master of shadows and the use of dark tones.

Above all, the characters helped to make the series interesting.  Although the focus was inevitably on Dracula, the vampire hunters that formed either tight bonds or loose working partnerships were often just as compelling.  My quibbles about Frank Drake’s behavior leading up to issue #31 aside, his relationship with Rachel was of particular note.  Blade’s presence always gave a nice contrast to the main team members.  Also, the ‘old guard’ of Quincy Harker and Inspector Chelm provided some generational variety.

Dracula himself was, of course, the most complicated character of all.  At times, readers weren’t sure if they should love him or hate him.  He was often very human, his past steeped in unfortunate circumstances.  Just as often he was a monster, killing innocents for his own gain.

As a whole, this particular run of stories ended with the series still gaining momentum.  Unfortunately, as consistently interesting as this first half of “Tomb of Dracula”’s run might be regarded, it’s second half has critics much more divided.

 

Bibliography


Claremont, Chris. Marvel Masterworks: Iron Fist – Volume 2. Marvel, 2012. Print.
Claremont, Chris, and Len Wein. Uncanny X-Men Omnibus – Volume 1. Marvel, 2006. Print.
Thomas, Roy et al. Marvel Masterworks: Iron Fist – Volume 1. Marvel, 2011. Print.
Wolfman, Marv, and Gene Colan. The Tomb of Dracula Omnibus – Volume 1. New York; London: Marvel, 2008. Print.

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