A VAMPIRE STALKS THE NIGHT !
SPOTLIGHT ON THE TOMB OF DRACULA #26
|As Marvel's most popular and successful ongoing horror title of the 1970s, Tomb of Dracula weaved an ongoing saga plotting the lord of vampires against a group of vampire hunters which was vividly brought to life by Marv Wolfman's gripping storytelling, Gene Colan's dramatic pencils, and Tom Palmer's intense inks. The overall result was a gothic atmosphere which harked back at the classic vampire stories while at the same time adding new momentum to the theme, making Tomb of Dracula Marvel's outstanding contribution to the genre and a classic in its own right. Amongst the 70 issues published from April 1972 through to August 1979, some stand out as exceptionally well produced examples of the comic book medium - such as Tomb of Dracula #26.|
of Dracula #26 features the first part of a three
issue story arc centering around a mythical artefact
called the Chimera.
"A gift works like a talisman for him who gives it: he prospers whichever way he turns." (Proverbs 17:8)
Night has descended on London as pawnshop owner Joshua Escol shows his son David the three individual components of a mysterious statue called the Chimera which he now finally holds in his possession and is about to reunite.
|At the same time, but in far off India, Taj Nitall - a former companion of vampire huntress Rachel van Helsing - is visited in his hotel room by an old friend who implores Taj to finally make the last few miles of his long journey home and join his wife in their family tragedy of having lost their son after an attack on their local village by vampires years ago - an incident which left Taj's wife bound to a wheelchair and himself mute after his vocal cords were damaged in the struggle with none other than the lord of vampires, Count Dracula.|
in London, that very same Dracula is attacked in a dark
alley by a group of men who seek revenge for the killing
of a woman, but their plan backfires dramatically as the
lord of vampires uses his hypnotic powers to make them
turn against each other until none of them is left alive.
Dracula then proceeds on his way to the Eshcol pawn shop because he has learned from one of his informants that the old pawnbroker may have acquired the complete chimera. However, he arrives too late and only to find the place in ruins and the police already at the scene, but he is at least able to glimpse the tail piece of the chimera in the hand of David Eshcol. The pawnbroker's son then leaves the scene and wanders about aimlessly before he bumps into a young woman, Sheila Whittier. Unaware of the fact that she has ties to Dracula and that right now the lord of vampires is manipulating her in order to keep a close watch on David and the part of the chimera he holds, David has no reason to doubt her statement that his father supposedly met with her to discuss the chimera.
tells her what he knows about the powers of the artefact,
the events which led to the stealing of two of its three
parts, and most importantly, that he himself holds the
remaining third piece.
Elsewhere, another former member of the group of Rachel van Helsing and Quincey Harker's vampire hunters, Frank Drake, gets reacquainted with an old friend, Chastity Jones. Searching for a new life, Drake jumps at the occasion and joins her on her trip to South America, unaware that this will turn out to be the first step of an adventure that will lead him to unknown horrors along the way.
to learn more about the background and origin of the
chimera, David Eshcol takes Sheila to consult with Lydia,
an old and somewhat eerie woman who, as his father told
him, supposedly knows all about the chimera.
She tells her two visitors that the statue was crafted more than thiry thousand years ago in the ancient city of Atlantis and quickly resulted in madness, destruction and death. The old woman relates the many twisted ways and events in which the chimera then appeared throughout history, again spreading death wherever it was found, before the artefact finally disappeared in the Middle Ages - although it seems to have reappeared recently. Again, the message is that the chimera can guide or destroy the world, and that only a stable individual can actually use it.
|At the same time, Dracula succeeds in tracking down the two stolen pieces of the chimera to a large mansion, again based on news from one of his informants. He enters the building but soon finds himself trapped behind steel doors, whilst a mysterious voice talks to Dracula over a loudspeaker system, giving him instructions where to go. Thus directed into a room, the voice tells Dracula that he must die for seeking the power of the chimera, and only seconds later more sliding steel doors trap Dracula.|
the enraged lord of vampires considers his next steps, a
panel in the ceiling suddenly slides open to release a
stream of water onto the floor, and Dracula quickly
realizes in terror that the liquid is actually holy
The issue ends with this cliffhanger situation, as Dracula is seemingly trapped with no way of escaping this deadly threat.
|TOMB OF DRACULA #26 IN CONTEXT|
had gone the way writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane
had wanted them to go for Marvel's October 1971 print
run, Spider-Man would have fought Count Dracula in the
pages of Amazing Spider-Man #101 (Cooke, 2001)
in order to make the most of the newly gained freedom of
a recent Comics Code revision.
However, Stan Lee had different plans for this iconic genre character and instructed Thomas to use a "super villain vampire" (Cooke, 2001). Thomas and Kane obliged, and Amazing Spider-Man #101 thus saw the first appearance of Morbius, the living vampire, instead of Dracula.
|Lee was heavily pushing for an own
title for the count from Transylvania (Cooke, 2001) and
plans for such a publication were first revealed in
mid-1971 editorial announcements where, amongst different
working labels, the title Tomb of Dracula was
Originally planned as a black & white magazine for "mature readers" rather than a standard colour comic book, this concept was changed as late as after completion of Gene Colan's artwork for the first issue (Cooke, 2001).
Officially, the launch of the Dracula title was delayed because of restrictions on printing capabilities, but with a cover date of April 1972 Marvel finally published the much heralded first issue of Tomb of Dracula. Unforseeable at the time, the title would turn out to be a huge success and break new grounds with its ongoing saga of a group of vampire hunters who sought to put an end to Dracula's existence.
Artist Gene Colan and writer Marv Wolfman achieved a quality of storytelling which was not only in the best vein of the classic gothic vampire stories but also added its very own stamp of originality and thematic momentum. Today, The Tomb of Dracula is a comic book classic beyond its genre, and the jewel in the crown of Marvel's bronze age horror world.
|The pencilling and inking on Tomb of Dracula #1 was entrusted to Gene Colan, who would stay on the book right throughout its entire run, after having literally fought for this assignment from Stan Lee.|
Tomb of Dracula quickly became the flagship of Marvel's line of horror titles - above all thanks to Colan's artwork (often superbly inked by Tom Palmer) which was, in a word, definitive. After a long period of work on Daredevil and Iron Man, Colan created an intensely atmospheric visual rendition of the horror saga that was to unfold and established a distinctive look for Marvel's vampire count which went far beyond the classic horror comic qualities.
issue, his style provided a truly captivating visual
journey into the dark shadows, based on a pronounced
assumption that comic books and movies share common
the story level, the link between Bram Stoker's original
novel Dracula and the first issue of Marvel's
new comic book title was forged by introducing the last
living descendant of Dracula, an American named Frank
Drake. At the same time, Stoker's book itself becomes a
link, as the existence of this literary work is portrayed
as a grand misconception: the book is not, as everybody
thinks, a work of fiction, but rather an account of
This approach was in fact hinged on the standard logic of the Marvel Universe: if a well known fictional character appears in a Marvel comic book, then this character is no longer considered to be fictional, but rather a real entity - in which case any fictional work on said character must be a form of factual eye witness report.
Whilst the kick-off script was cleverly penned and opened with the reanimation of the vampire in modern times, Marvel seemed unable to supply the title with a stable authorship as three different writers (Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin and Gardner Fox) came and went after two issues each. Whilst they did manage to set up the basic parameters of Tomb of Dracula, there was - not surprisingly - a pronounced lack in storytelling consistency paired with a sometimes hasty narrative.
|Eleven months, six issues and three writers after the launch of Tomb of Dracula Marv Wolfman took command of the script for the March 1973 publication schedule, and with him, Marvel's tale of Dracula would become a cleverly conceived and extremely balanced piece of fiction - indeed, one of the best ever seen in a comic book.|
|Fighting the newly risen lord of vampires in Tomb of Dracula was a team effort, just as it had been in Stoker's novel. Having a group of "vampire hunters" as antipodes to Dracula's actions and scheme of world domination was presented and worked on so well that it became an important element of the ongoing saga and contributed in a very essential way to the success of Tomb of Dracula. Also quintessential was another direct connection to the literary source which was established by Wolfman through the introduction of the persona of Quincy Harker in his first script for Tomb of Dracula. Harker - introduced on the final page of Stoker's original novel as a new born baby - is now an elderly man bound to a wheelchair who has used scientific means and sophisticated machinery to hunt down vampires for the past sixty years after having been trained by Abraham van Helsing himself. He is the driving force behind the group of vampire hunters, which includes the previosuly introduced Frank Drake, Rachel van Helsing, Taj, and Blade.|
Wolfman's source of inspiration came entirely from
Stoker's novel and completely bypassed the movies -
complementing Gene Colan's strong influence by the latter
and providing an exceptionally balanced overall picture.
Wolfman immediately set up a general plot framework which centered on characterization and realism as primary storytelling devices.
framework, the pairing of Marv Wolfman's conceptual ideas
for breaking out of established comic book routines
together with Gene Colan's enthusiasm for the genre and
his dynamic and atmospheric artwork proved to be simply
perfect, and very soon they found themselves outside of
the commonly defined and charted corners of the Marvel
Universe. This, however, was not just terra incognita
for Marvel, but for the entire comic publishing business
and the medium itself.
One key element which Wolfman brought to the series and which made Tomb of Dracula stand out amongst mainstream comic book titles was the depth and complexity of the plot. Right from the outset of his first script assignment on the title, Wolfman started to build up multiple underlying themes and sub-plots in the overall storyline which would only become fully meaningful at a later stage; this way, even stand-alone single issue stories were embedded in an arc of overall continuity and suspense. In addition, Wolfman also increased the complexity of the themes which the storytelling dealt with by introducing undertones of moral philosophy and portraying all characters involved - Dracula as well as the group of vampire hunters - as self-conflicting and sometimes even outright self-contradicting personalities.
According to Roy Thomas, Marvel's editor-in-chief at the time, Tomb of Dracula had a good start and eventually became a good, solid seller for most of its run (Cooke, 2001), and the title went from bi-monthly to monthly publication in June 1973 with Tomb of Dracula #9. Wolfman and Colan steadily progressed from being two enthusiastic individuals working together to becoming a team where mutual understanding and a shared perception creates results not otherwise possible. The series just kept getting better and better until it reached its prime for a period running from April 1974 to August 1975 over a sequence of 17 issues (Tomb of Dracula #19 - #35.
|REVIEW AND ANALYSIS|
Dracula #26 is situated virtually midway in that
period of five star excellence of the title, and by this
time the narrative flow and the plot interest had reached
such a high intensity that Marv Wolfman could come up
with storylines which did not feature the team of vampire
hunters as central cast characters for a few issues
without any worries of losing the overall dynamic.
In this issue, Wolfman kicks off a story arc running through Tomb of Dracula #26 - 28 which centers around the Chimera. Digging deep into Greek mythology, Wolfman greatly develops the setting and backdrop of the title by lining it up with ancient European mystic lore and culture, as the oldest reference to the "chimaira" is to be found in Homer's 8th century BC epic Illiad, where this monstrous creature is described as
Greek mythology, the Chimera ravaged the countryside of
Lykia (Anatolia) and was described as the offspring of
Typhon and Echidna. This made her a sibling of such
monsters as Cerberus, the Lernaean Hydra, and the Sphynx,
and thus established this composite beast within the core
genealogy of the ancient Greek myths (Smith, 1867). In
turning to Greek mythology, Marv Wolfman brought a
personal favourite subject to the pages of Tomb of
Dracula, and one of which he has a well-founded and
broad knowledge (Arrant, 2010).
Today, in the age of general public awareness of genetics and the equally publicly perceived actual reality of clones and hybrids, references in popular culture to the concept of the chimera appear frequently, but at the time when Tomb of Dracula #26 was published, Wolfman did not have many role models to go on and provided the readers of the series with yet another innovative plot element.
An Etruscan bronze cast of the Chimera (c. 400 BC) on display at the Archeological Museum in Florence, Italy
the possible pitfalls of having to stretch the limits of
credibility too far by introducing an actual living beast
modelled on the mythological monster, Wolfman's chimera
is in fact a powerful magical artefact in the form of a
statue, made up of three individual pieces and capable of
transforming into reality the thoughts of whoever
possesses all three pieces.
Thus taking his inspiration from Greek mythology and expanding his narrative on this basis, Wolfman adds another element to the plot by bringing Atlantis into play, which allows him to anchor the chimera in a better known and more familiar general context than would be the case for most readers if Wolfman would be referring to ancient Lykia.
The reference to mythic Atlantis, of course, also originates in Ancient Greece, as the legendary island described by Plato in two of his dialogues as a mighty naval power which sank into the ocean "in a single day and night of misfortune" (Jowett, 1871) after a failed attempt to invade Athens.
|Plato's description places these events at around 10,000 BC, but Wolfman goes back even further into the shadows of time for the Tomb of Dracula timeline by putting an age of around 30,000 years on the chimera statue. But even to those readers who are unaware of these aspects of Atlantis, simply mentioning this fabled realm links the storyline to a commonly known classic element of fantasy narration - a clever means employed by Wolfman to both explain and justify the paranormal powers of the artefact.|
|The tale woven around the mysterious powers of the chimera statue is dotted with even further "authenticity" by using numerous quotes from the Old Testament in the introduction to the storyline. Essentially, they are a means of characterizing the old pawnbroker and portraying him as a pious jew intent on securing the chimera for the good of mankind and preventing it from ever falling into the hands of evil again.|
|This setting, just like the greek mythology background, was again familiar territory to Wolfman who comes from a Jewish family background (and won a National Jewish Book Award in 2008, together with Mario Ruiz and William Rubin, for the non-fiction graphic novel Homeland: The Illustrated History of the State of Israel), and its usage demonstrates Wolfman's approach to constructing and maintaining a plot complexity which is accessible to readers who can put the various sidelinks into an expanded context but which does not leave readers who can't in a void.|
case, the quotations (mostly from the proverbs of the Old
Testament) have underlying ramifications for the general
them of the plot. According to Yamauchi (1983), the
passages quoted by Wolfman from Proverbs 17:8 and 17:23
actually refer in a very substantial way to magic and,
specifically, a magic stone, and are thus very close to
the core characteristic of the chimera statue which,
although made of metal rather than being carved from
stone, has an affinity to amulets or talismans through
its appearance and a magical potency which can turn it
into both a blessing or a curse. And finally, the venal
man mentioned in Proverbs 17:23 who takes the gift "under
cover of the cloak" is an almost obvious visual
reference to Dracula who, of course, wears just that - a
These remarks really serve to illustrate und underscore two points. Firstly, they demonstrate Wolfman's meticulous plotting and writing which creates many different threads but at the same time makes certain that none of these are left unconnected or dangling without purpose - ultimately, everything is thought out and carried through to fit the overall picture. Wolfman has a complex concept, and he breaks it down into a storyline which moves everything along, i.e. both plot and characters. This also means that there is a high density in Wolfman's writing and no filling, which, secondly, provides a multi-level storyline which is far above what general expectation would consider a comic book plot from the 1970s to be. Tomb of Dracula #26, together with its preceding issue and the next few issues following it, is one of the best examples to illustrate just what precisely Wolfman had in mind when he was thinking of breaking out of the "comics for kids only" framework - and how well he succeeded in doing so.
The chimera is used by Wolfman as the recurring story device and focal point for a three issue arc, but in essence the true meaning of the statue for the plot Wolfman has designed is that it brings up the elementary human condition of doubt (most notably self-doubt) and the connected attempts to bring personal hopes and expectations in line with actual reality. Wolfman goes about this potentially difficult subject, where an all too top-heavy handling could all but kill a comic book within a few panels, by building on his successful approach to characterization: he exemplifies it through the persona of Sheila Whittier, whose desire for love is made futile by her inability to see the truth behind Dracula, and David Eshcol, whose longing for wisdom is hindered by his inability to accept and understand the existence of the supernatural. Dracula, on the other hand, uses these dilemmas and the self-doubts they entail to manipulate both individuals to fit his own purposes. The count himself is thus portrayed throughout the three issues of the chimera arc as a character who has always prided himself of his control and mastery of others but who is now gradually faced with being both defied and humiliated - most notably when Sheila Whittier simply smashes the chimera statue by throwing it against a wall in Tomb of Dracula #28 (actually one of the few questionable points in the plot, as it really is quite unclear how a metal object could behave in such a manner). This is not exactly what one would expect from the lord of vampires, but his (at this point) inexplicable loss of power would actually become a focal point of Wolfman's next major plot developments for the series.
a short personal note to further illustrate this, I
immensely enjoyed Tomb of Dracula #26 when I
picked it up from the news agent as a 12-year old. It was
only my second issue of the series, but it thrilled me so
much that even after 35 years I can still recall the
exact circumstances of reading it, and just how much I
liked the way the chimera, black magic and Atlantis
intertwined with the Dracula theme. It was only decades
later, upon re-reading the issue for the first time, that
I was struck by just how many interesting facets of the
plot I had missed, yet without any detriment to its
entertainment value at the time.
Tomb of Dracula #26 is one of those examples of a Bronze Age comic book - admittedly not available by the thousands - which provides readers of any age (probably upwards of 10, though) with a very high level of storyline satisfaction: the plot builds up instantly on various levels and is taken forward very swiftly as it builds up a growing amount of suspense until it finally reaches a cliffhanger climax which really makes you wonder how things will go on from here.
nutshell, this is comic book writing at its best from
Marv Wolfman as the hunt for the mysterious artefact
is both juxtaposed and intertwined with the triangle of
emotions and relationships between the main characters - supported and
complemented on an equally high level of excellence in
terms of the artwork from Gene Colan and the inking by
At this point in time of the series, Gene Colan was really in top gear and provided just the right visuals for Wolfman's stories for the end product to reach its full potential. The distinctive look he had established for Marvel's vampire count at the outset of the series now flowed from his pencils with ease as he embedded his characters in atmospheric settings which embodied everything the genre had to offer. Issue after issue Colan's style and his enthusiasm for this work left their quality mark on each and every page.
Simple as this process was if and when it worked, a small piece of trivia suggests a slight hickup in the working process of Tomb of Dracula #26 caused by letterer John Costanza, as a comparison between the printed splash page as published and the original artwork splash page (on offer from a professional comic art dealer in 2010 for $800) reveals a slip in the title where "chimera" is misspelled as "chimeira". This typo - which must have also been overlooked by inker Tom Palmer who worked on the page once the letterer had finished his job - required a reworking which, given that the splash page for sale is described as an original piece of artwork, was seemingly carried out on a 1:1 stat of the page. In addition to correcting the typo, the credits were also moved from the bottom of the page into the large lower panel.
conclusion, Tomb of Dracula #26 is an
exceptionally entertaining and surprisingly multifaceted
comic book, and as such it is also an important part of
the overall fabric which made the series what it is by
today's perception: a comic book title which shaped and
influenced comic book history in many ways. First off, Tomb
of Dracula was the first continuing comic book title
which featured a horror genre character both as its
leading role and, consequently, as part of its title.
Secondly, the title was the prototype mould for Marvel's
1970s run of horror comics which infused the genre with
the underlying principles of the traditional superhero
comic book, making the "superhero from the
crypt" (see THOUGHT
BALLON #7) one of Marvel's milestone
contributions not just to the Bronze Age period of the
1970s but to comic book history as a whole. Thirdly, Tomb
of Dracula was the longest running Bronze Age horror
comic book title. And last but all but least, the revival
of Marvel Comics which was triggered by the series of big
budget movie adaptations based on the House of Ideas'
characters was not started by one of the now newly
popular superheroes, but rather by a character from Tomb
of Dracula as Blade broke the Hollywood ice
for Marvel in 1998.
And finally, Tomb of Dracula owes its uniqueness and success to an important shift in focus which Marv Wolfman brought to the title:
|WHERE TO READ IT|
Dracula #26 is an excellent jumping on point for
(re-)discovering the series as a whole. It is available,
of course, as the original 1974 comic book from various
sources and at prices which have remained reasonably
sensible - according to the 2013/14 Overstreet Price
Guide these should start around $9 for a medium grade
(fine, 5.0) copy before reaching $30 for a near-mint
(9.2) copy, which is the same estimate as five years
Alternatively, Tomb of Dracula #26 is available in various reprint formats, either in a black & white only version in volume 2 of the highly affordable Essentials collection of Tomb of Dracula, or in colour on high quality paper in volume 1 of the Omnibus edition of Tomb of Dracula. Marvel's latest reprint in June 2010 brings the series into the current format of trade paperback, with the first volume collecting Tomb of Dracula #1-12; issue #26 will be featured in the third volume, scheduled for publication in late 2010. And finally, Tomb of Dracula #26 is available as digital comic from marvel.com.
ARRANT Chris (2010) Wolfman Becomes the GOD OF WAR For WildStorm, Newsarama website, available online and accessed 2 July 2010 at www.newsarama.com/comics/Wolfman-God-Of-War-Comic-100402.html
COMIC GEEK SPEAK (2005) Podcast: Book of the month club - episode 5 - Tomb of Dracula, Interview with Marv Wolfman (31 October 2005) (quoted from personal transcript)
COOKE Jon B. (2001) "Son of Stan: Roy's Years of Horror", originally published in Comic Book Artist #13, available online and accessed 10 September 2007 at www.twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/13thomas.html
DLUGOS Jenn (2002) Gene Colan Interview, available online and accessed 18 October 2007 at www.classic-horror.com/newsreel/gene_colan_interview
JOWETT Benjamin (1871) The dialogues of Plato, Oxford University Press
LATTIMORE Richmond (1951) The Illiad, Chicago University Press
MATA Shiai (2007) Gene Colan Interview, available online at www.slayerlit.us/interviews/interview8.htm
SIUNTRES John (2005) Gene Colan Interview, transcribed from the podcast Word Balloon: The Comic Creator's Interview Show , available online at wordballoon.libsyn.com
SIUNTRES John (2006) Marv Wolfman by Night, transcribed from the podcast Word Balloon: The Comic Creator's Interview Show , available online at wordballoon.libsyn.com
SMITH William (1867) Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, Little, Brown and Company
THOMAS Roy (2000) "So you want a Job eh? The Gene Colan Interview", originally published in Alter Ego (vol. 3 issue 6), available online and accessed 17 October 2007 at www.twomorrows.com/alterego/articles/06colan.html
YAMAUCHI Edwin M. (1983) "Magic in the Biblical World", in Tyndale Bulletins (34), 169-200