Thursday, June 30, 2011

Blogging Marvel’s The Tomb of Dracula, Part Eight

The Tomb of Dracula #38, “Blood-Rush” continues the more light-hearted vein for the series with the change of setting from London to Boston as the comic relief characters of the Woody Allen-inspired Harold H. Harold and the ditzy bombshell Aurora Rabinowitz set out to score some blood so that Harold’s house guest, Dracula doesn’t die. The scene shifts to Dr. Sun’s Boston headquarters where he is monitoring, via closed circuit television, a meeting between Quincy Harker, Rachel Van Helsing and Frank Drake. The issue ends with Dracula, Quincy, Rachel and Frank captives of Dr. Sun and his murderous henchman, Juno with the unlikely duo of Harold and Aurora setting out to rescue the vampire who has promised Harold an interview so that he can meet his publisher’s deadline.

Issue #39, “The Death of Dracula” is highlighted by a gripping battle between Dracula and Juno. The hook-armed Chinese assassin seems to have stepped right out of Marvel’s Master of Kung-Fu series. The move to include offbeat comic relief supporting characters also seems influenced by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy’s acclaimed series. Both titles were unique for Marvel for eschewing the superhero formula and offering surprisingly modern updates of what were considered tired and perhaps exhausted literary properties (Dracula and Fu Manchu, respectively). Dracula is killed by Juno with a spike through the heart. The villainous henchman then uses a flame thrower to cremate Dracula on the spot. Quincy, Rachel, Frank and their new acquaintances, Harold and Aurora manage to escape Dr. Sun’s headquarters and alert the military to his scheme for world domination. The issue fades out on the maniacal Dr. Sun observing their meeting with the military, improbably via his ubiquitous closed circuit cameras, as the talking brain in a fish tank gloats over his seeming omnipotence.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blogging Marvel’s The Tomb of Dracula, Part Seven

The Tomb of Dracula #33, “Blood On My Hands” starts off with aged, blind wheelchair-bound Quincy Harker facing his greatest dilemma: if he lets Dracula die as the vampire deserves, then he forfeits the life of Rachel Van Helsing, held captive across town by Dracula’s brides. Quincy is tormented by the memory of his daughter Edith. He thinks back thirty years to the night Dracula abducted his wife and flung Quincy from his balcony seat at the opera leaving him crippled by the fall. Quincy’s wife survived another decade after Dracula’s attack, but never fully recovered. Faced with the tragedy of his life, Quincy spares Dracula to save Rachel. In gratitude, Dracula grasps the urn containing Edith’s remains and scatters them across the room, literally throwing her ashes in her father’s face. Leaving the reader feeling nothing but contempt for Dracula at his cruelest, writer Marv Wolfman shifts the setting to India where Taj Nital and his wife stand by their son’s grave. The pain of two grieving parents has reunited them. The issue rapidly picks up speed again as Dracula realizes Dr. Sun is the person who must have poisoned him and sets out to find him. Meantime, Inspector Chelm is on Dracula’s tail while the reader learns that the mysterious white-haired vampire sought by both Blade and Hannibal King is also seeking Dracula. Gene Colan’s artwork maintains the high level readers had come to expect as he and Marv Wolfman deliver another excellent issue that keeps the suspense raised as the storylines appear to be headed toward another major development.

Issue #34, “Showdown of Blood” sees the action shift to Brazil where Guest Star Brother Voodoo saves Frank Drake from the zombies. While in London, Inspector Chelm and his men bungle their attempt to slay Dracula. The reader learns that the mysterious white-haired vampire has been stalking Dracula for some time. A final interlude in India sees Taj make a bittersweet departure from the series as he writes a letter to Rachel Van Helsing explaining he will not return to London. Rachel rejoins Quincy, eager to hunt Dracula down. Wolfman then introduces us to embittered fashion designer, Daphne Von Wilkinson who encounters a weakened Dracula and begins providing him with the fresh blood he needs in the form of her enemies.

Issue #35, “Hell Hath No Fury” sees Daphne Von Wilkinson barter with Dracula. She will locate Dr. Sun using her fashion model contacts if he kills four of her enemies. The setting shifts to Brazil where Brother Voodoo and Frank Drake fight their way out of the army of zombies and determine to find Danny Summer. Dracula kills each of Daphne’s four remaining enemies in a series of vignettes. Von Wilkinson provides Dracula with the information he needs: Dr. Sun has set up base in Boston. Wolfman and Colan end the issue with a conclusion straight out of an EC horror anthology of the 1950s as Dracula unleashes his four undead victims to exact their vengeance on Daphne Von Wilkinson.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Blogging Marvel’s The Tomb of Dracula, Part Six

Giant-Size Dracula #3, “Slow Death on the Killing Ground” offers another strong script from Chris Claremont. It is a pity that Marvel’s Curse of Dracula series (as the Giant-Size quarterly companion title was listed on the splash page of each issue) did not continue longer for Claremont and artist Don Heck actually made a good B-team to stand alongside Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan with the monthly title. The story concerns Lady Elianne Turac, a 15th Century Wallachian noblewoman whose father fell victim to Dracula. Elianne swore eternal vengeance on the vampire and thanks to her becoming an Adept of the Black Arts, she was granted that immortality (bizarrely at the cost of her vision). Flash forward to 1974 and Elianne is now a blind Romanian militant who leads her band of terrorists in an unexpected raid on a society party in London. Their purpose is to abduct Quincy Harker to gain access to the Montesi Formula and wipe all vampires from the face of the earth. Being terrorists, Quincy should not be surprised when they gun down all of the dinner guests to insure no witnesses survive. As events transpire, Dracula ends up saving Quincy from the terrorists and only the timely arrival of the quarterly series’ protagonist, psychic investigator Kate Fraser saves Harker from ending up a vampire himself. Quincy ends up hospitalized yet again while Dracula sets out to end the threat posed by Elianne by destroying each of her associates and then draining her blood. The post-script sees Inspector Chelm and Kate Fraser arrive on the scene in time to put a stake through Elianne’s heart.

The Tomb of Dracula #29, “Vengeance is Mine, Sayeth the Vampire” is exactly the story readers should anticipate next. Having had time to brood over Sheila Whittier’s decision to leave him for David Eshcol, Dracula is at his most sadistic in this issue starting with a truly terrifying attack on an innocent woman and the crowd that tries to save her as the story opens. Sheila knows Dracula well enough to fear retaliation and for his part, David resolves to seek the vampire out in daylight and put a stake through his heart. From there the story transitions to India where Taj Nital and his wife relive the painful memories of Dracula’s visit to their village several years before with a legion of the undead. Before all was said and done, Taj had been left mute, his vocal chords slashed by the vampire’s bite. But for the timely arrival of Rachel Van Helsing, Taj would have fallen to become a vampire like his son. Through the tragedy of their lives, Taj and his wife reconcile and declare their love for one another as best they can. Meantime, poor David Eshcol finds Dracula not so easy to kill as he imagined. Wolfman and Colan depict the vampire at his most malevolent as David flees for his life only to find the vampire waiting at the door for him, laughing maniacally. From that horrifying scene, we cut back to Sheila as she answers the doorbell to find David’s bloodied corpse in the doorway and Dracula behind it, taunting her to welcome him home. It is a jarringly effective scene that drives home the point that a woman who ignores a predatory male’s nature believing she is the exception is doomed to find she is just another victim in the end. That is precisely how the story concludes with Sheila hurling herself through her bedroom window after Dracula has backhanded her. Colan’s artwork is simply stunning showing Sheila and the broken glass falling ever closer toward the “camera” in three succeeding panels as an anguished Dracula tries and fails to reach her in time. This is simply the comic medium at its most effective and rises above the standard set by nearly every Dracula film ever produced. Stunning work that is as effective then as it is now.


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.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Blogging Marvel’s The Tomb of Dracula, Part Four

The Tomb of Dracula # 19, “Snowbound in Hell” is a sentimental favorite for me. This was the unlikely choice for Power Records to package with a 45 RPM record dramatizing the story, but it gave me my first taste of the series as a kid. This issue is a great character study with a snowbound Dracula and Rachel Van Helsing battling the elements to survive after their helicopter crashes in the frozen Alps. The ongoing subplots continue to build toward future storylines with Dr. Sun (still unseen) putting the vampire Brand through his paces while Quincy Harker learns Blade’s secret immunity to vampire bites. The story’s finish has Frank Drake successfully rescuing Rachel just seconds before she is about to fall victim to a starving Dracula who has been keeping her alive as a blood reserve. A nice change of pace issue that works well in developing the characters while advancing toward the inevitable showdown with Dr. Sun.

Issue 20, “The Coming of Dr. Sun” has Frank and Rachel hunting Dracula across the Alps by helicopter. Rachel reveals her traumatic childhood encounter with Dracula when he murdered her parents as part of his vengeance against the Van Helsing family. She reveals how Dracula was about to kill her until Quincy Harker’s timely arrival saved her. Dracula is captured by Dr. Sun’s minions who bring him to a secret hideout where Dr. Sun is revealed as a disembodied talking brain floating in a fish tank straight out of a 1950s B-movie. Clifton Graves survived the explosion aboard the ship and has been stitched back together and physically augmented by Dr. Sun. Graves attacks Dracula. Frank and Rachel stumble into the hideout and Graves is inadvertently killed by Rachel when she fires her crossbow at Dracula. The issue ends on a cliffhanger with Dracula, Frank and Rachel held captive by Dr. Sun.

Issue 21, “Death-knell” is the long-awaited finale to the Dr. Sun storyline. Sun’s origin as a Chinese scientist who fell victim to a twisted Communist plot to create a super-brain is revealed via flashback. Dr. Sun finally pits Brand against Dracula for a vampire battle royale. The ongoing subplot sees Blade break from Quincy Harker’s vampire hunters to resume his vampire hunting on his own. Dr. Sun successfully drains off some of Dracula’s powers and gives them to Brand, but it makes the vampire biker unstable and he turns on Dr. Sun. The evil doctor uses a matter transporter to teleport to safety while setting his base for self-destruct. Dracula, Frank and Rachel escape before the base explodes, leaving Brand to finally perishes for good.