Marvel Comics - The Tomb of Dracula

 

SYNOPSIS
TOMB OF DRACULA
# 25 - 30

 

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 and most illustrations for larger images)

 

 

Tomb of Dracula #25

October 1974

"Night of the blood-stalker!"

 

Story - Marv Wolfman
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Tom Palmer
Colours - Tom Palmer
Cover - Gil Kane

 

 
  Tomb of Dracula #25 is a very special issue of the series - and a true classic of the comic book medium. Basically a stand-alone story (although containing a few strands of sub-plot to re-emerge in later issues) sporting a superb cover by Gil Kane, Wolfman's script is actually a cross-over between the two very atmospheric genres of horror and private eye detection.

Young and good-looking Adrianne Brown Walters enters the London office of private eye investigator Hannibal King with the intention of hiring him to investigate the murder of her newlywed husband, Fred Walters. However, her story quickly jumps the common framework as she believes her husband was killed by something paranormal because she witnessed a man bite her husband across the throat before disappearing out of sight.

In his mind, King instantly knows that she is describing the actions of a vampire, and accepts to work on the case.

 
His investigations lead him to a pub where the bartender lures King into a back room with the promise of information but then actually attacks him. The private eye easily wins the upper hand in the struggle and then discovers two small bite marks on the man's neck... obviously, he is on the right track.

King then turns to investigating Fred Walters' employers, a company called Wyandanch Limited where the victim worked as an accountant for their international shipping interests. He sneaks into the dockside shipping office just as Dracula is conspiring with a fellow named O'Brien, one of his non-vampiric underlings. As the count becomes aware of his presence he attacks King, and in the ensuing fight Dracula's servant is wounded by a stray bullet from King's gun whilst the private eye himself is hurled out of a window on the second floor by Dracula.

 
King, who can obviously take a beating or two, picks himself up and hurries back inside, but finds Dracula gone. Interrogating the wounded O'Brien, he learns about a shipping manifest including a wooden coffin, which was transported to a warehouse in Kensington.

King immediately heads for the warehouse in question and finds Dracula as well as several of his vampire followers there. With his vampire slaves fallen victim to King's swift but determined attack moves and police sirens wailing in the distance, Dracula decides that it is best to leave the scene, even though this means conceding victory to King - at least for the time being.

The following evening, Hannibal King meets up with Adrianne Walters and tells her everything that he has learned, explaining that Dracula killed her husband to cover up the evidence concerning the exportation of his various coffins. Adrianne leaves, without ever learning the true reason why Hannibal King knows so much about vampires and is so adept in fighting them - the reason is that he is, in fact, one himself.

 



Dracula appears only briefly in issue 25 as Hannibal King takes center stage, but his presence is imposing

 
A surprise ending with an interesting take on the two genres, Wolfman did in fact place hints throughout the story for the acute reader to see, e.g. no reflection of King in a mirror at the pub where he starts off his investigations).

Marv Wolfman had a soft spot for classic hard-boiled film noir private eyes, and his Hannibal King was perfect right down to his name. The extremely intense and compelling storytelling combined with the densely atmospheric artwork by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer to form nothing short of an hommage to the detetctive mystery genre.

"Hannibal King came out of my love for the old 30s/40s mystery stories. King's very much in that great tradition of hard-boiled detectives, but he has one thing extra going for him: vampire abilities that let him see things and do things ordinary detectives could only wish for." (Marv Wolfman, quoted from www.marvwolfman.com)

Issue #25 also showed and opened up the immense potential which Tomb of Dracula now had. Throughout the book there is no glimpse of the gang of vampire hunters, and Dracula only makes a very late and brief appearance, but even with an entirely new character in the form of Hannibal King, everything worked just perfectly. Unlike previous one-shot story issues, Wolfman had now developed the series to the point where he could actually turn an issue such as Tomb of Dracula #25 into a prime event rather than just see it and have it as a fill-in.

Hannibal King is Wolfman's second attempt (after Tomb of Dracula #8) to introduce a vampire who is not quintessentially evil and keeps his blood-lust in check. The character is so exceptionally well crafted that, although a secondary character, he also made it into the film Blade III. And even though, as pointed out, this is quintessentially a stand-alone issue, Wolfman did insert plot points which connected to events outside of Tomb of Dracula #25, as King's prime motivation to take on the case of Fred Walter's murder is the fact that he is dedicated to obviously hunting down the same vampire who killed Blade's mother (a common story thread which indicated that King would be back, but Wolfman actually kept readers waiting for this to happen for a good 18 months real time). Furthermore, this issue also continues to show the gradual (and at this stage still unexplained) loss of Dracula's vampiric powers.  As Lord of the Vampires, Dracula should be able to dominate King's thoughts and actions, but he clearly fails.

Tomb of Dracula #25 was reprinted in 1994 with only the ads being up to date and the entire Marvel content side (including letters page and editorial pages) left just as it was originally published twenty years earlier.

 

 

Tomb of Dracula #26

November 1974

"Where lurks the chimera!"

 

Story - Marv Wolfman
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Tom Palmer
Colours - Tom Palmer
Cover - Gil Kane


 
  Following the interlude of the previous 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 developed 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 Illiad, where this monstrous creature is described as "a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire".

Today, in the age of genetics and the publicly perceived possibility 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, hot on the heels of Hannibal King. Wolfman's chimera is, in fact, not a living monster but a powerful magical artefact in the form of a statue, made up of three individual pieces and capable of transforming the thoughts of whoever possesses all three pieces into reality.

 
The issue opens at a pawn shop where the owner, Joshua Eshcol, shows the statue to his son David and tells him how he searched far and wide for the three parts that make up the chimera, whilst at the same time explaining the powers of the artefact and indicating that these could be used for good or evil purposes alike, and that care should accordingly be taken as to who owns the chimera. The stage and the story's focus are thus both set, and the events start to unfold with an explosive being hurled into the pawn shop. Joshua Eshcol is killed, and a group of masked men storm the shop and steal the artefact.  However, as the shop owner's son manages to hold on to a piece and hide it in his clenched fist amidst the confusion of the explosion, the thieves leave with only two pieces of the chimera.

Soon after this incident, Dracula appears at the pawn shop because he has learned from one of his informants that Eshcol may have acquired the complete chimera, but only finds the place in ruins. At the same time, David Eshcol who had left the scene under shock runs into Sheila Whittier. Not knowing about her ties to Dracula, he has no reason to doubt her statement that his father supposedly met with her to discuss the chimera, and Eshcol 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.

Wanting to learn more about the background and origin of the chimera, David Eshcol takes Sheila to consult with 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 chimera 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. 

 

 

The first part of the origin of the chimera - page 23 of Tomb of Dracula #26, pencilled by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer; Left: Original artwork (scanned from the original art page in my personal collection) - Right: the page as it appeared in print.

 
At the same time, Dracula succeeds in tracking down the two pieces of the chimera stolen from the pawn shop to a 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 intoa 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. As 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 as Dracula realizes in terror that the liquid is actually holy water, he is seemingly trapped with no way of escaping this deadly threat.
 
It is interesting to note that Wolfman actually goes beyond the nominal Greek mythology by bringing Atlantis into the plot to anchor the chimera in an actual, real world cultural context. The reference to mythic Atlantis, of course, also originates in ancient Greece (as a legendary island described by Plato in two of his dialogues as a mighty naval power in an era which by today's timeline would have been around 10,000 BC and which sank into the ocean "in a single day and night of misfortune" after a failed attempt to invade Athens), but even to those readers who are unaware of this specific connection, mentioning Atlantis links the plot 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. Further "authenticity" is established by numerous quotes from the Old Testament which appear throughout the issue.

Apart from launching the chimera story arc, Wolfman also sets up several plot sidelines which will become important story elements in future issues. Amongst these, Taj is admonished by an old friend in his Indian village that he really ought to return to his wife before their son dies, and Frank Drake (who has "officially" left Quincy Harker's group of vampire hunters) is offered a new direction in life through a job offer as the head of the Brazilian side for an enterprise run by an old friend of his, Danny Summers, and gladly accepts the offer, thus heading out to Brazil.

As for the quest for the chimera, it is quite evident that the other party seeking the artefact must be none other than Dr Sun...

A more in-depth review and analysis of this issue is available here:
A Vampire stalks the Night!

 

 

Tomb of Dracula #27

December 1974

"Night-fire!"

 

Story - Marv Wolfman
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Tom Palmer
Colours - Tom Palmer
Cover - Gil Kane

 

 
  Tomb of Dracula #27 continues with the second installment of the story arc surrounding the chimera.

Taking up from where the cliffhanger ending of the previous issue left Dracula in a seemingly hopeless situation with holy water pouring into an otherwise sealed room, the question of course is not if he will escape, but rather how. In this case, the only way out lies in Dracula's ability to shift shapes, and turning first into a bat and then into mist he manages to squeeze out through the cavity which allows the water to flow into the room. It is a tight escape, and Dracula is indeed unable to avoid the deadly liquid completely and experiences excruciating pain as a splash of holy water hits him and inflicts a burning wound.

At the same time, David Eshcol and Sheila Whittier - who is still posing as a musueum representative and hiding the fact that she is in contact with Dracula - are still anxious to locate the stolen two pieces of the chimera and are driving through the outskirts of London.

 
They both get a glimpse of the incredible power which the artefact has when Sheila, holding David's piece of the chimera in her hand, wishes in her mind that Dracula was with her and David then has to brake hard because he sees Dracula suddenly appear in front of his car.

Dracula approaches David and orders him to give him the piece of the chimera, and although Eshcol senses that something is not quite right, he succumbs to the suggestive powers of Dracula and hands over his piece of the statue. The lord of vampires then demonstrates the incredible power of just one piece by raining down fire all over the globe - an event even witnessed by Taj in India. Dracula then uses the chimera to reverse his destruction and return everything to normal, and Eshcol (as well as the reader) is left to wonder just what would be possible when the chimer ais in fact complete...

One thing the solitary piece of the statue cannot do, however, is to locate the other missing pieces, but the power is sufficient for Dracula to be able to raise a virtual army of the undead to help him in his search. Turning to Eshcol, Dracula mocks him for his naive actions and intends to bring this episode to an end, but as he attempts to bite him, David lashes out his star of David pendant into the face of Dracula, who is scarred and pulls back in anger. However, as Eshcol reaches for the piece of the chimera which has dropped to the ground, he is forced to watch at gunpoint as two strangers take hold of it. 

Meanwhile, Frank Drake arrives in Brazil and is anxious to get started on his new job, although he somehow has a mysteriously impending sense of danger.

The recurring story device and focal point of the chiemra story arc is the elementary human condition of doubt - most noteably self-doubt - and trying to bring personal hopes and expectations into sync with actual reality. This is exemplified by 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 to manipulate both of them to fit his own purposes.

Wolfman also introduces an interesting piece of vampirology knowledge as he shows that the star of David can be used very much the same way as a crucifix because, as Dracula himself explains, all religious symbols can repulse a vampire.

 

 

Tomb of Dracula #28

January 1975

"Madness in the mind!"

 

Story - Marv Wolfman
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Tom Palmer
Colours - Linda Lessman
Cover - Gil Kane

 

 
  Reluctantly returning to his home village in India, Taj finds out that his son has been kept in restraints ever since his transformation into a vampire.  Bound with garlic and kept alive with blood donations from the local villagers, he is an undead memento of the day when vampires led by Dracula attacked the village and left Taj mute and his wife crippled.

Back in London, Dracula as well as Sheila Whittier and David Eschol are now in the hands of an unknown opponent who has also been hunting down the pieces of the chimera and now possesses the complete artefact. Its powers are demonstrated by an Asian female called Mae Li - who is a servant of the mysterious enemy - when she uses it to manipulate Sheila's feelings and turns her slowly growing love for David into hatred. Directed towards David, the chimera conjures up a seemingly real vision of his dead father who tells him that his faith is a lie. When the power of the artefact is chanelled towards Dracula, he finds himself attacked by Quincy Harker and the vampire hunters who overwhelm and kill him (this is the scene depicted on the cover). 

 
However, Dracula realizes that this must be an illusion as Harker can suddenly walk and Taj actually talks to him, and so he fights his deepest fears until he can free himself both of the tricks his mind is playing him and his actual captivity - and also manages to seize the chimera at the same time.

With the artefact now in his hands, the tables have turned, but before Dracula can make good use of the new situation, his remark that he will now leave after eliminating David Eshcol enrages Sheila to the point where she grabs the chimera from Dracula's hand and smashes it against the wall.  To the sheer disbelief, horror and anger of Dracula, Sheila tells him that she is not his servant and leaves with her new lover David.

Bringing the chimera story arc to a close, Wolfman depicts Dracula as a figure who has always prided himself of his control and mastery of others but has now been both defied and humiliated - not exactly what one would expect from the lord of vampires. Just how and why this can happen will become a focal point of the next major plot developments.

Overall, the chimera story is one of the strongest writings from Marv Wolfman for the series, and Tomb of Dracula #26-28 are highlights of the entire run of the title. The storytelling is extremely dense and increasingly embraces topics and plot techniques which clearly address a far more mature readership than most Marvel titles at the time. - the hunt for the mysterious artefact is both juxtaposed and intertwined with the triangle of emotions and relationships between Dracula, Sheila and Davis. With the chimera issues, Wolfman had finally taken Tomb of Dracula completely out of the "all ages" framework - which was exactly what he had always intended to do:

"It seemed to me that this was an ideal concept to try and do more realistic comics, to try and break out of the comics for 11 year olds (...) I really wanted to try to write something that was starting to appeal to my age." [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]

 

 

Tomb of Dracula #29

February 1975

"'Vengeance is mine' sayeth the vampire!"

 

Story - Marv Wolfman
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Tom Palmer
Colours - Tom Palmer
Cover - Gil Kane

 

 
  Dracula is enraged by the outcome of the events surrounding his quest for the chimera. Having to acknowledge the loss of the artefact through destruction by the hand of Sheila Whittier is already virtually unthinkable, but having to face the fact that following that defeat she actually turned her back on him is too much for the count to bear, and all his anger and frustration sends him off on a bloody rampage amongst local townspeople - depicted on the cover and summarized in the blurb "What happens when a vampire goes mad?".

In India, Taj again pays a visit to his estranged wife, and together they recall how Dracula virtually destroyed their peaceful lives years ago when he and two of his vampire underlings attacked their village. All three members of his family still bear the emotional scars of the event...

 
The wife because she fled from the attack and sees the crushing of her legs by a cart tipped over by a vampire as a constant reminder of the fact that she abandoned her husband and son in blind fear; the son because he was turne dinto a vampire that night; and Taj because he he was unable to fight back the attack on his family and sees the ripping of his throat by a vampire and his consequent loss of speach as a memento of his helplessness. Only the sudden appearance of Rachel Van Helsing saved his own life, and the only thing left to Taj which felt worthwhile after this incident was to join Rachel Van Helsing in her hunt against Dracula.

Back in London again, David Eshcol is convinced that he and Sheila will only have a common future if he can end Dracula's haunting presence in both their lives. Driving to the count's current castle of residence, he is well prepared with a hammer, a stake and the courage to go through with his plans. The only thing he lacks is good timing, and as he opens Dracula's coffin the sun is already setting behind the horizon, and he falls at the hands of the newly risen lord of the undead. Taking Eshcol's dead body to Sheila's apartment and dropping it at her feet, Dracula once more faces a woman who stubbornly withstands his manipulations as she steps back in terror and crashes through a window down to the street. Dracula dives out after her but is too slow and cannot prevent her deadly fall - yet another defeat for the vampire count.

The picture of Dracula drawn up by Marv Wolfman in Tomb of Dracula #29 is an entirely gloomy and utterly despicable one, emphasizing the vampire count's inhuman views and twisted perceptions of the basic principles of relationships.

 

 

Tomb of Dracula #30

March 1975

"Memories on a mourning's night!"

 

Story - Marv Wolfman
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Tom Palmer
Colours - Tom Palmer
Cover - Gil Kane

 

 
  Dracula reflects on the recent death of Sheila Whittier and recalls previous setbacks he had to face in the past. These flashbacks include a German noblewoman named Strang who seeks to have Dracula kill her husband in order for Bismarck to be appointed minister of the German states. Dracula takes up her proposal for the sake of preventing war spreading to Romania and thus endangering his own castle, only to be ambushed by her thugs. Bismarck exiles her from Germany and she is killed by Dracula who has survived the attempt on his life. A second flashback deals with a blind girl Dracula encounters whose father kills his wife in a moment of rage only to be killed himself by Dracula, thinking that the young girl will want revenge.  When he tells the young girl what has happened, she lashes out at Dracula who leaves her, confused at why she would not want Dracula to act as her avenger. Finally, Dracula ponders events which took place in China in 1968 when a young Blade introduces himself to Dracula as a man who realizes that humanity will lose the war against vampires and who wishes to help Dracula as a servant in order to be spared a life as a vampire. Dracula follows Blade to his base, a cavern, where he is ambushed by Blade and four of his companions, managing to kill him.  
 
However when the five leave to prepare a grave for Dracula, three of Dracula's female servants return and revive him. From all of these incidents Dracula draws the conclusion that he will always survive because of his very nature as Dracula, Lord of the Damned.

Almost an anthology issue, Tomb of Dracula #30 highlights Wolfman's desire to link up and anchor the series with real events and places while again showing Dracula's twisted perception of social concepts central to a humane society.

With the storyline and general plot becoming increasingly complex and also more ambitious in terms of what it required from the reader to truly follow the events unfolding, the series also showed clear signs of an increasing level of gory violence - rather similar to the "second wave" of vampire films produced by the British Hammer film studios in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

 

 

WHERE TO READ IT

The original issues of Tomb of Dracula #25-30 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 around $25.00 (as per the 2013/14 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 #25-30 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 2, which collects issues #26-#49 (issue #25 is to be found in the first Essentials volume) as well as Doctor Strange #14 and Giant-Size Dracula #2-5). 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 outright silly 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 3 collects issues #24-31 and Giant-Size Dracula #2-4. They are currently by far the most economical way (at a cover price of $24.99, they can be found for $19.99) to read these issues of the series in colour.

 

 
 

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

 
 

The illustrations presented here are copyright material and are reproduced for strictly non-commercial and appreciative review purposes only.
Text is (c) 2006-2014 A. T. Wymann

page originally posted on the web 19 June 2006
page completely revised 21 September 2009
page updated and reposted 22 March 2014