Marvel's Tomb of Dracula was more than just your average vampire tale. The comics weaved an ongoing saga plotting its title's vampire count against a group of vampire hunters. Gene Colan's pencils, inked by Tom Palmer, added a vivid dimension to Marv Wolfman's dramatic storytelling. The result was a gothic atmosphere which harked back at the classic vampire stories while at the same time adding new momentum to the theme, and sustained innovation to its medium, the comic book. Tomb of Dracula is Marvel's outstanding contribution to the genre and a classic in its own right.
For your convenience, the following text is colour-coded in order to distinguish synopsis (in white) from review and analysis (in yellow). If you want to avoid outright spoilers and preserve your own reading experience, you may skip the text segments in white.
(click on covers for larger images)
Tomb of Dracula #1
Story - Gerry Conway
announcements first made in 1971, Marvel
finally launched the much heralded first issue of Tomb of Dracula for
its April 1972 cover date production run.
According to the official Marvel statement (as published in the October 1971 Bullpen Bulletin), Stan Lee plotted the first issue, whereas Roy Thomas seems to remember plotting that issue himself, working on just a few verbal sentences made to him by Stan Lee (Cooke, 2001). Whilst this may well be a case of differing definitions of plotting and scripting, both sources agree on the fact that Gerry Conway (who was only nineteen at the time) - credited with writing the first issue on its splashpage - was brought in almost last minute to, basically, supply the dialogue.
In any case, the kick-off script was cleverly penned, and The Tomb of Dracula opened with a bang in the form of a clap of thunder and lightning spelling out the main protagonist's name...
|Using Bram Stoker's plot from the novel as part of the background storyline, Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway kicked off the new title with the reanimation of the vampire in modern times, thus bringing the story and its cast up to date (which, at the time, was 1972) and into a timeframe which Marvel was much more familiar with than would have been the case with the late 19th century.|
|However, Graves plans to lure his somewhat naive companion into the castle and then dispose of him, leaving himself in sole possession of the lucrative business of running the castle. Things quickly start to go anything but the way they were planned once the trio actually reaches Castle Dracula.|
|However, the enraged count finds easy prey in the nearby village as the curse of the vampire once again lives around Castle Dracula. As the locals quickly grasp the new situation they turn out in crowds and march towards Castle Dracula, where Drake faces off Dracula once more. This time, however, he is unable to prevent the count from attackng Jeanie.|
Dracula #1 (the extension to the vampire count's
name was necessary for Marvel to be able to copyright the
title) provided the new ongoing series with a fast-paced
and well told initial storyline which tied rather well
with Bram Stoker's original story as the existence of
this literary work is not ignored or denied (as could
well have been the case - none of the Universal or Hammer
Dracula movies makes any reference to Stoker's novel at
all within their storylines) but rather portrayed as a
grand misconception: Stoker's book is not, as everybody
thinks, a work of fiction, but rather an account of
actual events. This - fairly intriguing - 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. This way of handling the
likes of Dracula or the Frankenstein Monster has its
roots in Stan Lee's very early conception that Marvel
comic books about superheroes were to be perceived as
being published in a New York City which was populated by
these very same superheroes.
For Tomb of Dracula, the true quality and potential of this approach would unfold as of issue #3.
Tomb of Dracula #2
"The fear within!"
Story - Gerry Conway
|Frank Drake returns to the ruins of
Castle Dracula to take possession of the vampire
count's coffin, in the hope of thus depriving Dracula of
his nightly resting place. Inside the castle walls, he
also finds Clifton Graves, who is still alive, and
together they return to London where Graves learns from
Drake that he has since sold the remains of Castle
Drake is trying hard to come up with a plan for Dracula's destruction, but finds himself in a weak position when he learns that Dracula too has arrived in London and is now prowling the foggy streets in search of new victims. Worse still, Drake soon discovers that he is virtually cornered as his fiancee - now a vampire herself - is hypnotizing Graves into helping her. Trying to subdue Jeanie with a cross and at the same time fighting off Graves, Drake's bad luck seems to dip even further when Dracula himself enters the scene. Drake manages to send Graves to the ground but is utterly helpless against the brute force and power of Dracula. However, just as the vampire count is closing in on him, the rising sun sends its first rays through the apartment window. Dracula manages a narrow escape, but Jeanie is trapped - and destroyed by the sunlight whilst Drake can only watch on in horror.
moves the characters introduced in the first issue -
including Dracula himself - to London in Tomb of
Dracula # 2, and the British metropolis would remain
the story's home base for many issues to come with its
famously foggy and dark alleys after midnight....
Spread out over the first few issues, certain rules governing vampires are established. Most of them could be considered basic knowledge for anybody who had read Stoker's novel or seen one or several Dracula movies, but they were of course necessary information for any newcomers to the genre. These points were mostly woven into the storyline, such as Frank Drake's mistaken idea that stealing Dracula's coffin would deprive him of his necessary daily refuge and therefore destroy him, when in fact Dracula only needs to rest in Transsylvanian soil. Also used prominently in this issue is the destructive effect of exposure to sunlight on a vampire, and the scene in which Frank Drake's fiancee is destroyed is highly reminiscent of the similar take in F. W. Murnau's 1922 movie Nosferatu, which effectively introduced this specific item of "vampirology" - sunlight did not feature as a threat to vampires in Bram Stoker's novel.
Tomb of Dracula #3
"Who stalks the vampire?"
Story - Archie Goodwin
established the reasons and circumstances of Dracula's
return, Tomb of Dracula # 3, now scripted by
Archie Goodwin, moved on to the question of who was going
to try - once again - to put an end to the lord of
vampires. Keeping up with Stoker's novel, this would be a
team effort, but the group of individuals is not formed
by family ties but rather by having a common cause.
When Frank Drake - shattered by his experience with Dracula and the loss of his fiancee to the vampire world - is about to jump from a London bridge at night, he is stopped in his tracks by two individuals who reveal themselves to be Rachel van Helsing, the great grand daughter of vampirologist Abraham van Helsing (Dracula's prime adversary in Stoker's original novel), and Taj Nital, her Indian bodyguard of giant size and tremendous strength, who had joined her after his village had been attacked by vampires; an assault which left his wife paralyzed, his son a vampire (kept alive with the blood of animals), and Taj himself mute. Van Helsing and Taj inform Drake about their common cause, which is the hunt for Dracula and the vampire count's final destruction, and invite him to consider joining forces.
|The concept of having a group of "vampire hunters" as opponents to Dracula's actions and scheme of domination is staged and introduced in a promising and interesting way, and would eventually be worked on so well that it became an important element of the ongoing saga and contributed in a very important way to the success of Tomb of Dracula.|
Tomb of Dracula #4
"Through a mirror darkly!"
Story - Archie Goodwin
Dracula has a new owner in the person of ageing model
Ilsa Strangway, who bought the property with a view to
securing eternal youth after she studied Bram Stoker's
novel and heard rumours about the actual resurrection of
the vampire count. Hoping that her ownership of the
castle would eventually bring Dracula to her, she finds
her hopes fulfilled very soon. Wanting him to turn her
into a vampire so she may gain her desired youth for
ever, she offers him a means of easy escape from the
vampire hunters in return. After rising as a vampire,
Strangway tells Dracula of an occult mirror which can be
used to transport a person through time. She
intends Dracula to use the mirror in order to return to
an earlier time in history - one with which he is more
familiar than the 20th century.
In a confrontation with Rachel van Helsing, Strangway is forced to see that Dracula has deceived her, for although she is now a vampire, she has not regained her youth and will thus eternally be trapped inside her ageing body. In revenge, Strangway tells Van Helsing that the mirror will transport anyone attempting to use it without the proper incantatio to a dimension of monsters rather than another time period.
wish, Van Helsing puts an end to Strangway's vampiric
existence. When Frank Drake, Taj and some officers from
Scotland Yard chase Dracula, he flees to Strangway's home
and steps into the magical mirror just as Taj leaps after
him. Now, they both find themselves in the realm of
monsters which Strangway had warned Van Helsing about...
The magic mirrors, through which individuals could step through into different locations and time periods, would be the underlying story arc for Tomb of Dracula # 4 -6, and it is no doubt this part of the initial general plot which has led many to view the pre-Wolfman script as unsteady and jumping about. In the end, the "magic mirror time travelling" didn't account for much, and a number of characters were introduced during the first six issues which often made their demise in the very next issue and added to a sometimes hasty storytelling.
On the other hand, the difficult task of introducing the vampire count to modern times is accomplished very well (as the unnecessary travels back in time illustrate), not the least because Dracula's need to adapt to these new, unknown surroundings quickly if he is to survive is weaved into the storytelling - simple items such as flashlights or car headlights can be turned into deadly weapons against Dracula if the shape of a cross is masked onto them, throwing powerful cross-shaped beams of light which will destroy a vampire who finds himself in such a spotlight...
Tomb of Dracula #5
"Death to a vampire-slayer!"
Story - Gardner F. Fox
|Dracula and Taj find themselves in an
unworldly realm full of powerful monsters. Dracula
battles the monsters, taking Taj with him as a source of
blood, before he finally finds another mirror through
which he manages to escape, finding himself to be back in
Transsylvania at a point in time just after Abraham van
Helsing destroyed him.
Frank and Rachel visit Ilsa Strangway's butler and discover her book on witchcraft which contains the correct incantations to access the mirror. Dracula quickly learns that Frank and Rachel have found him, but he is determined to carry out his plan to kill Abraham Van Helsing and decides to free a vampire that he has kept imprisoned for centuries in a bottle of blood, instructing the now released female vampire named Lenore to destroy his pursuers. Her attack, however, fails and Drake and Van Helsing manage to free the captured Taj. The vampire hunters then head for the home of Abraham Van Helsing where they prevent Dracula from killing him and force him to escape into the mirror - with Frank, Taj, and Rachel close on his heels.
the "magic mirror time travelling" doesn't
account for much - Abraham van Helsing is attacked by
Dracula, intending to have his revenge, then immediately
saved by Rachel van Helsing, Frank Drake and Taj, and
left behind only moments later as the vampire hunters
follow Dracula in pursuit once more through a mirror.
Veteran writer Gardner F. Fox (who had introduced many of Batman's iconic weapons back in 1939), called in as the third writer in only five issues, would himself only take over the script for two issues, as had been the case with his predecessors Gerry Conway (issues #1 and #2) and Archie Goodwin (issues #3 and #4). Together - or rather separately - they set up the basic parameters of Marvel's tale of Dracula, but not surprisingly, there was an excessive amount of jumping about in terms of storytelling consistency, and a far too large number of characters were introduced during the first six issues which often made their demise in the very next issue, and thus added to a sometimes hasty narrative.
|Just like Conway and Goodwin, Fox set up a plot for issues #5 and #6 which provided generally enjoyable reading, but was lacking consistency for most of its course.|
Tomb of Dracula #6
"The moorland's monster!"
Story - Gardner F. Fox
vampire hunters and Dracula travel through the magic
mirror from 19th century Transsylvania to the present day
Yorkshire moors. When Inspector Chelm of Scotland Yard
finds a blood-drained body in the moor, the locals
mention a monster which is said to roam there. However,
this turns out to be the disfigured son of Lord and Lady
Dering, whose medical condition gives him the appearance
of a hunchback monster. When Van Helsing and Drake are
trapped by Dracula in a ruined castle pit, the vampire
hunters are actually freed by the Dering's son Randolph.
Again not a terribly strong storyline, the merits of the first issues are to be found elsewhere: in the underlying story concept. The stage for things to come is set, with a band of vampire slayers bent on hunting down and destroying Dracula once more. In addition, Fox introduces some strands of romance relief when Drake discovers his love for Rachel van Helsing but - in true Peter Parker fashion - immediately doubts that his feelings will stand the slighest chance in the future because his Dracula heritage will always prove to be far too dark a shadow over his private life.
WHERE TO READ IT
Whilst the original first six issues of Tomb of Dracula can be found fairly easily, the overall classic status of the series accounts for higher prices in comparison to other Bronze Age comic books. With the exception of the obviously more expensive first issue, #2-6 in a collectable (VFN/very fine) condition will usually command between $100 and $75 each (as per the Overstreet Price Guide), whilst copies intended for reading purposes only (in VG/very good to G/good condition) sell for between $50.00 and $20.00 (again as per the Overstreet Price Guide).
Reading these comic books in collected form may therefore be the way to go, and Marvel first reprinted Tomb of Dracula #1-6 in 2004 in its Essentials series (Essential Tomb of Dracula volume 1, collecting issues #1-#25 as well as Werewolf By Night #15 and Giant-Size Chillers #1) but this has been out of print for quite some time. In 2008 that cheap black and white newsprint Essentials version was followed by the oversize hardcover and glossy colour Tomb of Dracula Omnibus volume 1, collecting issues #1-31 plus Werewolf By Night #15, Giant-Size Chillers #1 and Giant-Size Dracula #2-4 - also out of print for a long time, but a second printing was published in 2018 which is currently (2021) still available. Also out of print is a series of three trade paperback colour collections of Tomb of Dracula which Marvel launched in 2010 (Volume 1 featured issues #1-12).
The good news for Tomb of Dracula fans is that the series will finally see reprinting in the Marvel Masterworks format, with the first issue announced for October 2021 (just in time for Halloween); it will feature the first 11 issues of the series.
And last but not least, digital issues of Tomb of Dracula #1-6 are of course available.
COOKE Jon B. (2001) "Son of Stan: Roy's Years of Horror", in Comic Book Artist #13 (www.twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/13thomas.html)
or back to
The illustrations presented here are copyright material and are reproduced for strictly non-commercial and appreciative review purposes only.
Text is (c) 2005-2014 A. T. Wymann
page originally posted on the web 14 November 2005
revised and updated 16 July 2012
reposted 20 March 2014
updated 11 January 2015
updated 11 April 2021