Marvel Comics - The Tomb of Dracula

# 31 - 36


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 #31

April 1975

"Ten Lords a-dying!"


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


  Three years and 30 issues after its launch, Tomb of Dracula had come a long way. Initially a fairly "straight" vampire tale, it had developed into an increasingly complex account of events and figures reaching out beyond the classic basics of the vampire genre. Since taking on the plot with Tomb of Dracula #7 Marv Wolfman had constantly developed the series and its style while at the same time establishing Tomb of Dracula as Marvel's unchallenged number one horror genre comic book. It also opened up the more adult segment of the comic book readers market for Marvel, as the series had reached a far more mature overall concept than when it started.

Tomb of Dracula #31 is concerned for its larger part with Dracula's attempts to gain control over members of the British House of Lords (hence the issue's title). After he kills the daughter of Lord Singleton, Quincy Harker and Inspector Chelm from Scotland Yard meet once again and together review the evidence of several vampire attacks which have occured as of late, reaching the firm conclusion that Dracula must still be alive and obviously survived the explosion in Dr Sun's laboratory (way back in Tomb of Dracula #21).

The cover - another impressive piece of art by Gil Kane - refers to the second strand of story in which the villagers in India demand that Taj's vampire-son be killed.

Inspector Chelm, who made his first appearance in Tomb of Dracula # 3, has since turned his initial disbelief in vampires into well-founded knowledge thanks to Quincy Harker and is now a formidable vampire hunter in his own right - demonstrated in this issue by the fact that he has armed the fire weapons of his policemen with silver bullets inn order to pose an effective threat to Dracula.



Tomb of Dracula #32

May 1975

"And some call him... Madness!"


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


  After having taken a back seat throughout Tomb of Dracula # 22 - 30, Quincy Harker is back in the spotlight in issue #32, another classic masterpiece of the series, in which Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan produce some of their finest work.

Quincy Harker and his dog Saint wait patiently in his mansion for what he hopes will be his final confrontation with Dracula, who desperately wants a file of documents in Harker's possession which seemingly explain why Dracula is slowly losing his vampiric powers. The latter is confident that Harker's allies will not be there to help him, as he has lured them all away - Drake is in Brazil, Taj in India, and he has taken measures to ensure that Rachel van Helsing is out of the way as well, as the reader will learn later on...

The following encounter between the two archrivals in Harker's home is the centerpiece of this issue, brilliantly set up and developed by Wolfman - on one side, we have an old wheelchair-bound man, and on the other a seemingly overwhelmingly powerful supernatural foe.

What would surely seem to be a loosing battle from the start turns into a staggering fight as it becomes apparent that Harker is well prepared for this encounter and that his house is absolutely full of ingenious booby traps for Dracula. Eventually, even though knocked out of his wheelchair by the vampire count, Quincy Harker gains the upper hand and sends a wooden arrow deep into the body of his vampiric foe.

However, a slowly dying Dracula has prepared for all eventualities and tells Harker to call Rachel van Helsing. Sensing another diabolic move by his adversary, Harker phones up Rachel and learns that two female vampires have taken her prisoner and that they will kill her unless Dracula is released...

Elsewhere, Frank Drake learns that the men he is supposedly supervising are, in actual fact, zombies and he finds himself running for his life.



Tomb of Dracula #33

June 1975

"Blood on my hands!"


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


  As Quincy Harker reflects upon his choice of having Rachel van Helsing killed if Dracula dies at his hands following their battle, he also reminisces about his previous encounters with the lord of vampires, all of which are painful memories to him, such as making a graveside promise to his daughter that he would never allow her to become the victim of a vampire (an event which nevertheless happened and ended with the death of Edith Harker in Tomb of Dracula #13) or Dracula's attack at the opera which left himself paralyzed and his wife in a state of needing blood transfusions for months, whilst the mental shock lingered on and caused her to commit suicide ten years later. Eventually, Harker admits yet another defeat and pulls the wooden arrow from Dracula's body, bringing him back to life. The count mocks Harker, calling him an old and weak man, to which Harker replies that Dracula himself has only little time left as someone is robbing him of his vampiric powers. Dracula has promised not to kill Harker here and now and intends to keep his word "just for once". However, just as he is about to leave, Dracula - in a surge of utter provocation towards Quincy - shatters the urn containing the ashes of Edith Harker.
The original plot of the first issues presented the rising of the count in Tomb of Dracula #1 as the end of a period of time in which this curse had been laid to rest since the events which had taken place in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel. The link between the original Dracula and Marvel's comic book title was not only forged by introducing Frank Drake as the last living descendant of Dracula, but through Stoker's book itself, which is referred to several times in the first issues. This is noteworthy, as the original literary work is generally ignored - none of the Universal or Hammer Dracula movies make a direct reference to Stoker's novel within their storylines, because they are to be seen and understood simply as a different media rendition based on the original work.

Marvel, however, took an entirely different route with regard to commonly known existing literary originals by acknowleding them outright and expressis verbis but portraying them all to be grand misconceptions: books such as Dracula or Frankenstein are not, as everybody thinks, works of fiction, but rather accounts of actual events, i.e. factual eye witness reports. This quite intriguing twist was, in fact, the standard logic of the Marvel Universe and rooted 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. It was therefore only logical for Dr Doom to pass by the Marvel offices at 665 Madison Avenue and use the Fantastic Four's connection to comic book creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to trick Reed Richards into paying them a visit to help on their latest adaptation of the FF's epics in Fantastic Four #10 (January 1963). There was a similar strand of wry humour in the early issues of Tomb of Dracula when Dracula, brought back to life, discovers that he actually is the subject of a published novel; after all, he missed the publication because Bram Stoker's book ends with the death of Dracula.

Marv Wolfman, however, had never been too happy with this presumed period of inactivity for Dracula between c. 1890 and 1972 ever since he took on the title with Tomb of Dracula #7, and this issue illustrates better than any previous one just why this was so.

"I realised pretty quickly that in order to do anything I had to decide on the handling of the characters and what the series was about (...) I was less concerned about the individual plots at this point than I was about the direction of the characters."
(Marv Wolfman in an October 2005 interview with Comic Geek Speak Podcast)

"I wanted to center on characters. And once you did that, that was the subtle difference [to previous writers], because everything was about people."
(Marv Wolfman in a September 2005 interview with Comic Zone Radio)

If Wolfman had followed the initial plot laid out in the first six issues of Tomb of Dracula, then Quincy Harker would, simply enough, not have been born until after Dracula's death at the end of the novel and would therefore not have encountered the count before his resurrection at the hands of Frank Drake in Tomb of Dracula #1, set in 1972 real time. However, given Wolfman's emphasis on the characters of the comic book title and their reasons for being what they were, it is obvious enough that the intense relationship between Dracula and Quincy Harker - which amongst other things provided the main impetus and motivation for Harker to form his band of vampire hunters - could hardly stem from a rivalry and antagonistic struggle which was merely two or three years old.

Rather, it had to be something of an almost lifelong crusade, fuelled every now and then by dramatic events and encounters. The same, in slightly toned down form, applied to the characters of Rachel van Helsing and Taj.

In this issue, Wolfman got rid of the original concept for Tomb of Dracula for good by anchoring the development of the relationship between Harker and Dracula through the traumatic incident at the opera in 1945 and Harker's graveside promise in 1955. This solidification of the general plot and the characerization of its main acting personae was rendered even more powerful by Gene Colan's art on Tomb of Dracula, which by now had reached a level of near perfection for the visualization of Wolfman's storytelling.

"I kind of improved as the series went on. The more you work on something, the better you get at it. I felt that the character became my own."
(Gene Colan in an October 2007 interview by

The pencils of Gene Colan and the inks of Tom Palmer were now so atmospheric that they virtually sucked readers into the comic book - not the least because the art had by now taken on a near cinematic feel.

"I was mostly influenced by film. Understand film, frame by frame, is very much like panel to panel. The lighting in black and white films taught me a great deal."
(Gene Colan in a 2007 interview by

The final page from Tomb of Dracula #33 illustrates this nicely: the dramatic and turbulent events depicted on this page are set into panels which themselves are tilted and jagged and almost force themselves into their adjacent counterparts. The page as a whole thus reflects the disturbing and eruptive contents it displays in its individual panels - just like a film would, both by nature of its individual frames as well as through the scene which those frames make up.


The final page of Tomb of Dracula #33, pencilled by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer (scanned from the original art page in my personal collection - the dedication and signature by Gene Colan on the Dracula file are, of course, later additions).

At this point, Tomb of Dracula had reached a level of quality both with regard to the storytelling as well as the art which only few comic book series ever attain.

(For more background information on the series, its creators, and its literary and cinematographic inspirations,
you might wish to delve further
into the Tomb of Dracula)



Tomb of Dracula #34

July 1975

"Showdown of blood!"


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

  Dracula receives informations through one of his servants from inside Parliament which confirm his suspicions that Dr Sun is the cause of his loss of power. Inspector Chelm from Scotland Yard is on the count's trail, however, his planned ambush on Dracula fails in spite of silver bullets with carved crosses, and members of his "vampire squad" have to rescue Chelm. Wolfman sets up another subplot as Dracula is observed from a distance by a white haired vampire who muses to himself that after years of pursuit Dracula's time will soon be up.

In Jaipur, Taj sees his future life at the side of his wife, now that his vampire son is dead, and he writes a farewell note to Rachel van Helsing as he moves on to his new life and out of the comic book. Taj was introduced in Tomb of Dracula #3, and Wolfman thus ends a long-standing subplot and retires a member of the original gang of vampire hunters.

Back at Scotland Yard again, Inspector Chelm together with Harker and van Helsing are joined by psychologist Dr Scott, and they all agree that it must be Dr Sun who is causing Dracula's loss of vampiric powers.

Parallel to these events, Wolfman also runs a storyline featuring Daphne von Wilkinson, an aggressive businesswoman who tries to use Dracula for her own private revenge, offering the weakened vampire blood and information on Dr Sun in return for a number of kills for her personal profit.

And finally, in Brazil, Frank Drake finds himself in dire straits face to face with the zombies but at the very last moment a bizare character named Brother Voodoo appears to rescue him.



Tomb of Dracula #35

August 1975

"Hell hath no fury!"


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


  Daphne von Wilkinson's scheme backfires as the victims of her contract killings - now turned into vampires by Dracula - are let loose on her by the vampire count. Before that, however, she has provided Dracula with the information that Scotland Yard believes Dr Sun to be in Boston (USA). In Brazil, Brother Voodoo prepares Frank Drake for his battle against the zombies. Together, they defeat the walking dead by driving them off of a cliff.  With the deadly threat thus vanquished, Brother Voodoo and Frank Drake begin searching for Danny Summers, Drake's so-called friend who lured him down to Brazil to be killed by zombies.

The way in which Wolfman and Colan handled Tomb of Dracula could easily make readers forget that this was, in fact, a Marvel character. By the mid-1970s, the logic of the Marvel Universe had become so stringent that it was virtually unconceivable that a character of a Marvel comic book could live in his or her own little world, and only a very small handful managed to stay clear of the current timeframe and NYC locale which formed the world in which the likes of Reed Richards or Peter Parker lived.

In fact, the force of the inner logic of the Marvel Universe was so strong that even characters who started out in a different timeframe, such as the Frankenstein Monster, were eventually transported in time to interact with other Marvel characters, as this had by now become a conditio sine qua non for virtually any of the House of Ideas' characters.

The creative team behind Tomb of Dracula was able to uphold the uniqueness of Dracula for a surprisingly long time, adding to the possibility that this ongoing tale just might take place in a world which had only one supernatural element: plenty of vampires but not a single costumed superhero. The way the title was steadily weaving the rims of its own world and purporting independence from the rest of Marvel's range of characters escaped the attention of the editors in charge for a long time, but not for ever, and one day Marv Wolfman finally received clear orders from the inner sanctum of the House of Ideas: to make sure people knew that this was all happening in the "Marvel Universe". The first such interaction had taken place in Tomb of Dracula #18 with Werewolf by Night, and now, almost 18 months later, Wolfman had to once more establish contact with the rest of Marvel's array of characters. Consciously avoiding any super-heroes, he turned to Marvel's world of horror and found Brother Voodoo - introduced in Strange Tales #169 in September 1973 with plotting by Len Wein and pencilling, conveniently, by Gene Colan.

"I brought in Brother Voodoo because - as strange as the name is - the character could fit (...) I just absolutely turned down though every possible use of writing the character with any other standard Marvel heroes (...) that was a very conscious move on my part."
(Marv Wolfman in an October 2005 interview with Comic Geek Speak Podcast)

More a forced than a voluntary plot move by Wolfman, the result was as uninspring as could be expected and displayed all the lacklustre traits of Universal's 1940s productions of "Dracula meets the Wolf-man plus Frankenstein plus you-name-it". Brother Voodoo in Tomb of Dracula #35 is just that: a guest appearance for the sake of a guest appearance.



Tomb of Dracula #36

September 1975

"Flight of fear!"


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


  Noted psychologist Dr Scott meets again with Inpector Chelm, Quincy Harker, and Rachel Van Helsing to give them eyewitness accounts of Dracula's flight to the United States by highjacking a U.S. Air Force test flight over the Atlantic. It is quite clear that Dracula has made his way to Boston where he believes Dr Sun to be in hiding.

The vampire hunters speedily make preparations in order to follow Dracula, who seemingly has but one week left to live. However, Dr Scott is revealed to the reader to be working for Dr Sun as he reports to him that he has planted all the proper clues in order to mislead Harker and van Helsing and make them work - unbeknownst to themselves - for Dr Sun's plans.

In Brazil, Frank Drake learns that it was Dracula who used an old friend of his to lure him to what would have been his death had it not been for Brother Voodoo.

The arrival of Dracula in the US was bound to happen, and in some ways it seems surprising that Wolfman had waited for 30 issues to move the storyline in this direction. Of course, it made Tomb of Dracula more accessible to the home market, as many readers would be able to relate better to the comic this way. On the other hand, some stories draw some of their lifeblood from the fact that they do not happen on your doorstep. Wolfman seems to have been quite aware of this by choosing Boston rather than New York City for Dracula's arrival on America's shore - after all, New England has its fair share of spooky traditions too...

With hindsight, however, the move did not prove a winning point for Tomb of Dracula, and although the series would continue for almost another three years and 34 issues, some of the things that went wrong were quintessentially rooted in the transfer to the US and thus Tomb of Dracula #36.




The original issues of Tomb of Dracula #31-36 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 #31-36 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 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 2 (issue #31 is collected in volume 1); however, this has been out of print for some time, and although it can still be found in places, it is quite common to see outright silly prices asked even for second-hand copies.



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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) 2006-2014 A. T. Wymann

page originally posted on the web 19 June 2006
page completely revised 1 October 2009
reposted 22 March 2014