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 #13
"To kill a vampire!"
Story - Marv Wolfman
contrasts of life and death are at the heart of Tomb
of Dracula #13, which opens with the death of Edith
Harker, spared an existence as a vampire by means of a
stake driven through her heart by Quincy Harker, and
closes with the death of Dracula through the same means
with Blade as the successful vampire slayer.
In between, the members of Harker's band learn more about Blade and his life: because a vampire killed his mother while she was giving birth to him, Blade has just enough vampire blood to make him immune to a vampire's attack without actually turning him into a vampire. The only visible weakness he has are his oversensitive eyes, which explains why he is wearing glasses all the time.
Dracula dies for the first time in this issue, once again following a fight with the vampire hunters in a deserted house. A major event not easily explained away with other characters if they are to return, the vampire count is less vulnerable as readers know that all it takes is for someone to remove the stake from his heart...
|Again, Wolfman injects small doses of moral philosophy when Quincy Harker has to stake his own daughter and Dracula turns away from a boxing match in disgust at this "wasteful display of violence". Also interspersed is a short strand of storyline which has two Asians visiting the morgue in search of Brand, the motorcycle-gang leader turned vampire from Tomb of Dracula #11. Their succes in procuring Brand's corpse introduces the name of Dr Sun, a character which will play an important role in many upcoming issues, and is typical of Wolfman's way of gradually interweaving plots to introduce new events and characters with a growing momentum of suspense. In this case, the reader will learn more about Dr Sun bit by bit until he actually makes his first appearance in Tomb of Dracula #20.|
Tomb of Dracula #14
"Dracula is dead!"
Story - Marv Wolfman
who suspected that Dracula's death would not last for
long were proven right as quickly as halfway through the
next issue. The vampire count's body is snatched by a
hypnotized mob summoned by Dracula just before Blade
brought him down. His control over the villagers
diminuishes along with the decay of his body, and they
eventually abandon the corpse.
Enter an over-the-top and misguided preacher who plans to raise Dracula from the dead, hoping this will restore his standing amongst his followers. Not surprisingly, this display of miracle-working goes completely wrong, and the vampire count is back - showing just how difficult it is to permanently destroy Dracula.
Meanwhile, in a laboratory somewhere on the Irish coast, a group of Chinese scientists perform tests on the body of Brand which show that he is, indeed, a vampire, a fact which they are certain will please Dr Sun....
|Tomb of Dracula #14 was another example of how Wolfman and Colan managed to create an atmosphere which could have come straight from a Universal movies horror classic, in this case almost in the vein of Bride of Frankenstein.|
Tomb of Dracula #15
"Fear is the name of the game!"
Story - Marv Wolfman
of Dracula #15 was another important stepping stone
issue for the series, as Wolfman introduced the concept
of Dracula's diary.
The issue opens in line with the cover as the vampire count is shot down by a hunter - obviously without being killed - but turning back on the hunter, who is now the hunted, reminds Dracula of similar incidents in his personal past. His reflections include how he came to be a vampire in the first place, as well as other incidents, one of which presumably shows how he was defeated prior to the events in Tomb of Dracula #1.
All of these events only serve to show, in Dracula's perception, that the occasional defeat is meaningless to him, as he will always find a way to return.
Wolfman defines the diary as a counterpoint to the vampire count's devious and treacherous character, as Dracula declares:
is no place for lies here in my personal ledger, and
though the very precepts of truth-telling sickens me,
still it must be written as the facts themselves were
presented. These notes must speak with no need of
interpretation . They show at times my innate greatness,
and also the still-human frailities that must course
forever through my blood' .
Quite obviously, a diary is a great way for a script writer to introduce flashbacks which both explain past happenings and herald the beginnings of possible upcoming events, completing the storyline and adding subplots along with, possibly, characters for future use. It also adds dimension to the character of Dracula himself, as he gathers depth by his intro- and retrospection.
As noted before, Marv Wolfman wasn't all too happy with the scenario introduced in the first issues of the series, and he would digress from the initial plot more and more. In this case, the discrepancies are still blurred to a certain extent, but contradictions to the established storyline of Dracula having been "dead" for around 80 years (i.e. since the main characters of Bram Stoker's novel hunted him down towards the end of the 19th century) became more and more evident.
Tomb of Dracula #16
"Return from the grave!"
Story - Marv Wolfman
of Dracula #16 is another "interlude"
issue which harks back at some of the themes of 1940s and
1950s "B" horror movies. In this case, it's a
"living skeleton" which stalks the streets of
London and thus provides work for Inspector Chelm of
Scotland Yard and causes concern with Dracula because he
sees it as a threat to his plans. Eventually, it turns
out that it is a corpse removed from its original grave
because someone in search of the "perfect burial
site" found that grave to be that spot after doing
astrological calculations. The corpse was moved
elsewhere, but now comes back to reclaim its grave.
A fairly classic horror tale, this one is no different in that it works best if you don't ask too many questions about the logic of it all. Again, Gene Colan makes the best of it and provides highly atmospheric comic art. Marv Wolfman, on the other hand, could perhaps be seen as going a bit too far in his attempt to display Dracula as a complex character: after Chelm has convinced the vampire lord of why the skeleton has risen, Dracula takes the ghoul back to his rightful resting place - perhaps just a wee bit too humane for an evil vampire.
|Despite its interlude character, Wolfman didn't forget to insert a brief switch of locale to the Irish coast to remind readers of the growingly mysterious Dr Sun...|
Tomb of Dracula #17
"Death rides the rails!"
Story - Marv Wolfman
of Dracula #17 shifts the story to Paris and stages
another encounter between Dracula, who is running out of
coffins as they are being destroyed by the vampire
hunters, and Blade. The vampire count comes up on top
after the end of the ensuing battle, drinks Blade's blood
and leaves him in the catacombs, assuming him to be dead.
One of Dracula's "sleepers" (i.e. humans under
his spell) prepares a coffin for Dracula before he sets
off for Transylvania the next day in a coffin on board a
train. He hasn't shaken his pursuers off his trail,
though, as Frank Drake and Rachel van Helsing are amongst
the passengers too - as are two men with a fairly
mysterious briefcase who feel certain that someone is
after them and their luggage.
When Dracula prowls the train at night and attacks a passenger, a fight between the vampire count, the vampire hunters and the two mysterious men breaks out. Unlike the main characters, the reader learns that the two men with the briefcase - who both end up dead - were agents of Dr Sun, and the mysterious case is retrieved from along the railway tracks by a third mysterious figure while Dracula turns to a bat and flies off to nearby Transylvaniat.
|Things are also moving on in the laboratory on the Irish coast, where Brand is put to the test as he has to battle with a group of Dr Sun's soldiers, a task which he manages with ease. And finally, readers take note of yet another not so ordinary passenger on the train by the name of Jack Russell - the alter ego of Marvel's Werewolf by Night, a sure sign that there will be more in the upcoming issue...|
Tomb of Dracula #18
"Enter: Werewolf by Night!"
(continued in Werewolf by Night #15)
Story - Marv Wolfman
Dracula is back at his Transylvanian home and Quincy
Harker finds Blade in the catacombs of Paris, the story
turns to Jack Russell who is in fact travelling to
Transylvania in hope of finding answers linked to his
lycanthropy - in other words, he turns into a werewolf
with every full moon.
Unfortunately, it's exactly that time of the month, and before long Jack Russell is transformed, only moderated by the calming effect his female companion Topaz has on his werewolf existence.
A visit the next day to the ancestral manor house turns up the diary of Russell's father, also a victim of the werewolf's curse, and has them setting out to nearby Castle Dracula in search for more answers. As the vampire count seizes Topaz, Russell is transformed into a werewolf and clashes with Dracula.
i.e. guest appearances of one character in another
character's comic book, are a longstanding Marvel
tradition. They serve to establish a "common
universe" and provide the arena for different Marvel
characters to interact, but they were sometimes also used
to reinforce or even boost sales and provide a less
popular comic book series with a shot in the arm.
The appearance of Jack Russell aka Werewolf by Night was a case of establishing a common background to the story plots of the two best-known Marvel Horror characters, interweaving their stories to a certain extent. Tomb of Dracula was clearly Marvel's number one horror comic book, but the Werewolf by Night series had also established itself as a popular and successful comic book. The storyline of Tomb of Dracula #18 was carried over to and continued in Werewolf by Night #15, but readers who were reluctant to buy that comic would find themselves back on track in the next Tomb of Dracula issue, thanks to an extremely condensed flashback recapitulation.
|Also in March 1974, Dracula completed a guest appearance in another Marvel horror comic book, The Frankenstein Monster, which had lasted for 3 issues (#7 - 9). This crossover, however, was a clear attempt at capitalizing on Dracula's popularity and trying to gain new readers for the Frankenstein comic, which wasn't selling well at all. Unlike the werewolf episode, the events depicted in Frankenstein Monster 7-9 took place in 1898 and were thus rooted completely outside the timeframe and story plot of Tomb of Dracula. But the main problem for Marvel with the Frankenstein Monster story arc featuring Dracula was that this character had by now found his definitive master in artist Gene Colan. John Buscema's artwork in Frankenstein Monster 7-9 wasn't bad at all, but for readers of Tomb of Dracula there was little appeal because, in the end - well, it just simply wasn't Colan. And by now, readers of Tomb of Dracula would not settle for anything less.|
WHERE TO READ IT
The original issues of Tomb of Dracula #13-18 can be found fairly easily, but the overall classic status of the series is reflected by higher prices in comparison to other Bronze Age comic books. In a collectable (VFN/very fine) condition these issues will command between $32.00 and $68.00 (for issue #13) each (as per the 2012 Overstreet Price Guide) and are still widely available in this grade. Copies intended for reading more than collecting (in VG/very good to G/good condition) sell for between $10.00 and $5.00.
Alternatively, reading Tomb of Dracula #13-18 in collected form is a viable alternative as Marvel has reprinted this early material in several forms. The most Dracula you can get for your money comes, no doubt, in the form of 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 prices bordering on the absurd 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 2 features issues #13-23 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, although it too may take some hunting down.
Digital issues of Tomb of Dracula #13-18 are also available for online reading at marvel.com
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Text is (c) 2006-2014 A. T. Wymann
page originally posted on the web 21 February 2006
revised and updated 20 September 2012
reposted 21 March 2014