As I have often times in the past; railed against the hypocrisy of Marvel and its current leadership, I too much give them and the company it’s just deserts for the good they have done for the comic book world. Of course, this positive attitude toward Marvel is for the work they did back in the 1970s. Before this current, sell-out regime ever walked the halls of Marveldom.
For this I go back to April of 1972, for a book that ran 70 issues until August of 1979. With the relaxing of the Comics Code Authority in 1971, Marvel delved into a release of horror themed titles. They had already introduced Morbius the Living Vampire in the pages of Spider-Man, but now were ready to launch a regular line of vampire horror books. The book they settled on was unique for Marvel, in that the main character was not a Marvel creation, but instead a vampire that was already well known in the world at large.
The comic they released was The Tomb of Dracula.
The book lacked continuity and direction in its first few issues, having four different writers involved by its third issue. Roy Thomas and Stan Lee writing the first issue even though they credited Gerry Conway with the work. Conway would plot issue #2 but due to an already taxing workload would leave the book and Archie Goodwin would take over in issue #3. But Conway’s work in issue #2 was far from a stand in writer. His plot lines and new characters would shape the book for the next eight years. By issue #5, Goodwin would be relieved of his writing duties and replaced by Gardner Fox. Fox had a different vision for the horror book and created a romance between two of the main characters, Frank Drake and Rachel Van Helsing. But new editor Roy Thomas did not share that vision for the horror comic and by the seventh issue, the book was handed to Marv Wolfman to write. According to Wolfman, it would another five issues before the book found its footing, over a year since the book began, it had finally found its voice.
Gene Colan would pencil the complete run of Tomb of Dracula. He would say that he did not base the appearance of Marvel’s Dracula on Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, the two main movie counterparts of the character but instead on character actor, Jack Palance. Ironically, Palance would actually star in a made for TV movie of Dracula a year after the comic book went into production.
In the partnership of Wolfman and Colan, Tomb of Dracula became a cult favorite of Marvel Comics. Though from time to time, Marvel superheros would find themselves in these books; appearances by Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer and the X-Men, it was the characters that were created for the book that drove it. That and some storytelling that was straight out of the creepy horror films we grew up with.
Characters like Dr. Quincy Harker, the son of Mina Harker, a wheelchair bound, disabled leader of the vampire hunters. Harker’s wheelchair would fire darts and wooden stakes at the vampires. Dr. Rachel Van Helsing, granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing and the person who took over the hunt for Dracula upon Harker’s death. Frank Drake, an actual descendant of Dracula, his bloodline traced to one of Dracula’s marriages before becoming a vampire. There was Hannibal King, Deacon Frost (yes the character from the first Blade movie) and Blade himself. There was also Domini, who would become Dracula’s bride.
One of my favorite tales from this series involves Domini. I don’t remember the exact issue but I remember the story quite well. It is the story of a young vampire woman, narrating how she came to be. She tells the story of how, as a young girl, she was sailing with her father and a crew on a merchant ship. How in the night a creature rose from the depths of the ship and murdered the crew, saving her father for last. He drank their blood and left her alive. She would later tell the story of how this same creature would kill the rest of her family and then when years past and she thought she was free of the horror, she would fall in love and build a new life. Until the night, walking home, her husband and she are accosted in the dark and this same creature would kill her husband, drinking him dry. A few days later, her husband would return to her, and take her in the same manner that the creature had taken him. They would hunt the night together for years, taking only animals and never harming humans, until the night that her husband was killed by the vampire hunter Blade. So now she finds herself before the very creature who killed everyone she loved, the Vampire Lord Dracula, holding out a wooden stake, asking him to kill her so she can go to be in peace with her husband and the rest of her family. Dracula looks upon her and says, that before he would never had understood such a request and would have punished her for it. But now, with Domini at his side, he understands.
The book ends there, leaving us to believe that Dracula grants the young vampire woman, her release.
This is the kind of writing that you simply don’t find in comic books much anymore. They dared to make a monster, very, very human.
The Tomb of Dracula are not hard to find and the artwork itself may not look like something that one would rave about, but the team of Wolfman and Colan made it memorable and very worth the following.
Marvel would re-visit Dracula through the years and is their way, he would develop abs and powerful biceps, but the truth is; nothing will match the books of the seventies. They were fearless, well written and unflinching in their brutality and compassion. Dracula was always the monster, but you found yourself more on his side than that of those who would hunt him.