Marvel Comics - The Tomb of Dracula

SYNOPSIS & REVIEW

THE TOMB OF DRACULA

# 1 - 6

 

 

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.

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TOMB OF DRACULA

 

 

Tomb of Dracula #1

April 1972

"Dracula"

 

Story - Gerry Conway
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Gene Colan
Colours - L. Kindzierski
Cover - Neal Adams

 

 
  Following 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.
 
The link between the original novel and Tomb of Dracula was forged by introducing the last living descendant of Dracula, an American named Frank Drake.

Formerly a millionaire but now virtually broke, Drake ventures to Transylvania together with his fiancee Jeanie and long-time friend Clifton Graves after learning that he is in fact a descendant of the legendary Count Dracula and thus the inheritor and rightful owner of the ancestral castle. Drake, along with his companions, plans to make a fortune by refurbishing the alleged vampire count's estate and opening it as a tourist attraction.

 
 
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.
 
  Separated from the others, Graves falls through a rotting floorboard and finds himself in an underground chamber, face to face with a coffin containing a dust-covered skeleton with a wooden stake protruding from between its ribs. Graves mocks the superstitious locals - who undoubtedly desecrated the grave of their former lord - by removing the stake and casting it aside. To his great shock and horror, he is quickly forced to acknowledge that, in the damp darkness of the tomb, Dracula has risen again...

Emptying his gun at the count, Graves is also forced to acknowledge that Dracula is immune to common weapons as he his helplessly thrown into a pit - to be visited by the count at a later point in time, for Dracula hears the voices of Frank Drake and Jeanie.

Casting a hypnotic spell on Drake's fiancee, he calls her unto him but is stopped in his tracks at the very last moment by Drake who remembers the old tales about vampires and points an item made of silver at Dracula, thus preventing him from approaching them.

 
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.
 
As the people from the village set fire to the castle, Drake appears with the seemingly lifeless body of his fiancee, and as the old and cursed walls are burnt to the ground, Drake mourns the death of Jeanie - who all of a sudden seems to come back to life... however, only to tell Drake that she too, like the count, is now an undead creature of the night.

Drake realizes his true loss, and at the same time has a first premonition of even more terrible things about to happen...

 
 
Tomb of 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

May 1972

"The fear within!"

 

Story - Gerry Conway
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Vince Colletta
Colours - L. Kindzierski
Cover - John Severin

 

 
  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 Dracula.

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.

 
The plot 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

July 1972

"Who stalks the vampire?"

 

Story - Archie Goodwin
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Tom Palmer
Colours - L. Kindzierski
Cover - Gil Kane / Marie Severin (alterations)

 

 
  Having 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.
 
The presence of Abraham van Helsing's granddaughter grew out of an important implication of Marvel's approach to treat Stoker's novel Dracula as a work of fact and not fiction: If Dracula is real, then all the other main characters of the novel - and most importantly Dracula's adversary Professor Van Helsing - were, of course, just as real. It was this logic of the Marvel Universe which enabled Archie Goodwin and subsequent writers to set the scene for characters such as Rachel van Helsing.

Also introduced in this issue is Inspector Chelm of Scotland Yard, who would become something of a regular character and one of only a few outsiders who would eventually come to learn the truth about vampires in general and Dracula in specific from the vampire hunters, and from time to time lend "administrative support" to the group's mission.

 
 

 

Tomb of Dracula #4

September 1972

"Through a mirror darkly!"

 

Story - Archie Goodwin
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Tom Palmer
Colours - L. Kindzierski
Cover - Neal Adams & John Romita

 

 
  Castle 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.

 
Upon her 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

November 1972

"Death to a vampire-slayer!"

 

Story - Gardner F. Fox
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Tom Palmer
Colours - unknown
Cover - Gil Kane & Tom Palmer

 

 
  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.

 
Again, 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

January 1973

"The moorland's monster!"

 

Story - Gardner F. Fox
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Tom Palmer
Colours - unknown
Cover - unknown* & Neal Adams (inks)
* Neal Adams or Gil Kane most likely penciller

 

 
  The 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 around $50 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 $15.00 and $7.00 (again as per the Overstreet Price Guide).

Reading Tomb of Dracula #1-6 in collected form is thus a viable alternative, and Marvel has reprinted this early material in several forms. The most Dracula you can get for your money is, no doubt, through the Essentials series: Essential Tomb of Dracula volume 1 (ISBN 0-7851-0920-X) which collects issues #1-#25 (as well as Werewolf By Night #15 and Giant-Size Chillers #1); it was first published in December 2003 for a cover price $16.99. The only compromise here is cheap quality paper (actually making the Essentials close cousins of the originals in that respect) and loss of colour as the reprints are all black and white; whilst some feel that this actually accentuates the wonderful Gene Colan artwork, it does take away an original element of the series.

A far more luxurious collected edition is Marvel's Tomb of Dracula Omnibus volume 1; this hardcover and oversize edition assembles issues #1-31 plus Werewolf By Night #15, Giant-Size Chillers #1 and Giant-Size Dracula #2-4. Published in November 2008 it has, however, been out of print for quite a while, and although it can still be found in places, it is quite common to see top prices asked even for second-hand copies.

In July 2010, Marvel started to publish a series of trade paperback colour collections of Tomb of Dracula; volume 1 features issues #1-12 and is currently by far the most economical way (at a cover price of $24.99) to read the first issues of the series in colour.

Digital issues of Tomb of Dracula #1-6 are also available for online reading. Digital copies of these issues for downloading onto mobile devices were available in 2011 but have since been dropped and are no longer available through the Marvel and ComiXology app.

 

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

COOKE Jon B. (2001) "Son of Stan: Roy's Years of Horror", in Comic Book Artist #13 (www.twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/13thomas.html)

 

continue with

TOMB OF DRACULA # 7 - 12

or venture
INTO THE TOMB OF DRACULA
HOW MARVEL'S MOST SUCCESSFUL HORROR COMIC BOOK TITLE CAME ABOUT
AND HOW IT CHANGED COMIC BOOKS

 

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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