Friday, June 10, 2011

Blogging Marvel’s The Tomb of Dracula, Part Five

The Tomb of Dracula # 24, “A Night for the Living, a Morning for the Dead” sees the series make a quantum leap forward in terms of the sophistication of Marv Wolfman’s script. The story begins with Frank Drake and Rachel Van Helsing on the same bridge Frank nearly jumped off when he was rescued by Taj Nital two years before. Believing Dracula dead, Frank has come to both a physical and symbolic bridge in his life and feels lost. The promise of a blossoming romance with the equally damaged, but far more capable Rachel Van Helsing is the only thing that pulls him from the depths of despair. Of course, Dracula is alive and preying on innocent women on the streets of London at night while his mortal lover, Sheila Whittier sits at home alone awaiting his return and doing her best to deny the reality that the man she loves is a ruthless killer.

The complexities of Wolfman’s script only grow as the story shifts to Blade who returns to his and Safron’s apartment to find her being menaced by a vampire. While Blade quickly dispatches the vampire in particularly bloody fashion for a 1974 mainstream comic, the bigger shock is the more adult turn the book takes in content. After fading out on Blade and Safron kissing, the scene picks up later that night and we see Blade dressed only in pajama bottoms with Safron dressed only in his matching pajama tops. If this wasn’t going far enough, they are interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Trudy, a fellow exotic dancer who works at the same club as Safron. She tells of her near-miss encounter with Dracula which Gene Colan illustrates via flashback. The sequence alternates between sexy and terrifying as Dracula is portrayed at his most predatory yet by having him attack a character who readers find both desirable and sympathetic. The fact that Trudy is saved from her attack by wielding a cross is nothing for Wolfman has Dracula continue to pursue her as she runs through the streets of London clad only in bra and panties and an open overcoat while Dracula savagely taunts her until she wields the cross a second time and finally drives him off. Wolfman and Colan clearly enjoyed making the series more adult in terms of story structure and certainly content.

Blade subsequently sets out to hunt for the vampire lord he believed dead and his rematch with Dracula on the streets of London is quickly underway. Their skirmish is intercut with Taj Nital’s anguished reunion with his estranged wife in India. This time we learn the conflict between them involves their son who Taj learns is dying. The battle between Dracula and Blade concludes uneventfully, but Blade is injured both physically and psychologically by how easily Dracula defeated him. This remarkable issue concludes with Dracula returning home exhausted and paying scant attention to Sheila while Frank makes a tearful break with Rachel determined that he must find himself before he can commit to a relationship with her. The entire issue is a marvelous example of strong characterization and demonstrates how to best achieve dramatic scope in a story. Nearly four decades later, comic standards have loosened considerably, but the quality of writing does not compare with the level achieved by this title in its prime.


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