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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Tomb of Dracula

From the congressional hearings that led to censorship of comic books to the early 1970s, vampires were pretty much verboten in the form. That seems incredible now, where you can't turn around without finding vampires on TV or movies or bookshelves. But Marvel Comics started using vampires, when the Comics Code Authority began relaxing their stance, one of their successes was a series called The Tomb of Dracula, which began in 1972 and ran for 70 issues. The first twelve issues are contained in one volume, which I have read, to my delight and more than a little eye-rolling.

Bram Stoker's Dracula was in the public domain, so Marvel used him as their story. He was depicted as a square-jawed  villain of the first rank, although he did occasionally let people go. But mostly when attacked he would boast things, like "Fools! No mortal can destroy Dracula!"

The series begins when Frank Drake, a descendant of the Count, visits his ancestor's castle, which he owns. His friend, Cliff Graves, thinks it will make a great tourist attraction (he's right). Graves stumbles upon Dracula's coffin, opens it, and pulls out the stake put their by Abraham Van Helsing. Undead again, Dracula starts wreaking havoc.

As the series goes on, more familiar names are added. Van Helsing's granddaughter, Rachel, joins Frank in hunting down the vampire, and Quincy Harker, Jonathan Harker's son, wheelchair bound, has been trying to find him for years. We also are introduced to Blade, vampire hunter and, in an awkward attempt to be diverse, seemingly straight off the set of Soul Train.Wesley Snipes would play Blade in three movies.

The first year of the book was scatter shot, as it deviated in tone wildly, due to having four different writers. Marv Wolfman finally settled in as the writer, and the style coalesced, but there are still some strange things going on. Mostly each issue is the hunters getting close to Dracula, failing to kill him, and then the search goes on. I finally got a little sympathetic for Dracula, who was so wearied by the chase.

There are a few comic tropes that are explored, including time travel and voodoo (tip--voodoo dolls work on you even when you're a vampire). But my favorite stuff is the exposition-heavy dialogue. Van Helsing's assistant is a very large and mute Indian man, Taj. When he follows Dracula through a mysterious mirror, she doesn't such scream "Taj!" No, she says, "Frank! Count Dracula's dragging my servant Taj into the demon mirror! Stop him!" Glad she cleared up exactly who Taj was at that point. Later, Drake will shoot a wooden arrow at Dracula, but the vampire swings Rachel in front of him. Drake let's us know exactly what happens: "He's swinging the woman into my line of fire. And it's too late to stop my trigger finger!" But it wasn't too late for him to say all that.

While this is silly fun, I'm not keen on purchasing further volumes. I had somehow been led to believe this treated the Dracula legend seriously, but really, an issue where he takes on a entire yacht full of rich people is embarrassingly bad. The Tomb of Dracula is of interest to the comic book historian, but not much else.

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