Marvel Comics - The Tomb of Dracula


# 37 - 70


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.

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Tomb of Dracula #37

October 1975

"The vampire is coming! The vampire is coming!"


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

  In Boston, Dracula is racing against time to track down Dr Sun whilst a struggling pulp writer named Harold H. Harold attempts to come up with another story for True Vampire Tales magazine and tells his publisher's secretary, Aurora Rabinowitz, that he will try to do an interview with a vampire. When Dracula attacks a young couple riding a motorcycle, Harold H. Harold stumbles onto the scene and sees Dracula's fangs. The weakened vampire count collapses in front of the pulp writer, who takes him back to his apartment so he can get his interview. Uneasy about his discovery that vampires seemingly do exist after all, Harold asks Aurora to join him.

In Brazil, Brother Voodoo magically reunites Drake with Quincy Harker and Rachel Van Helsing who have just arrived at Boston airport.

Marv Wolfman tried to avoid an all too harsh change in the overall atmosphere by choosing Boston rather than NYC for Dracula's arrival in America as "THE VAMPIRE WALKS AMONG US!"

But even with this subtle approach he traded in what had always felt like an authentic backdrop for the settings and storylines. Just as Sam Spade is quintessentially a character requiring an American setting to be authentic, Dracula is rooted in Transylvania and Britain. Boston, in spite of all of its olde world character, simply could not replace that setting. As a result, the density of the overall atmosphere - one of the main winning points of the book - dropped almost immediately.

This coincided with another unfortunate decision by Marv Wolfman, namely to open up the book to comedy in Tomb of Dracula #37. Together with the already thinned out atmosphere of the Boston storyline, this move harmed the consistency of the book even more as it felt awkwardly out of place even in the way it was brought into the plot: Quite unlike his usual storytelling and characterization technique, Wolfman is almost unrecognisably transparent and simplistic as he introduces would-be horror writer Harold H. Harold and his publisher's secretary Aurora Rabinowitz. As the names suggest beyond even the faintest shadow of a doubt, Harold is intended as comic relief, and Aurora is there to feed the naive punchlines (Witz, incidentally, meaning "joke" in German).

It is a matter of both taste and opinion whether or not Tomb of Dracula needed the Abbott and Costello type of fly-in-your-face comic relief that Harold and Aurora were to provide, but even those who felt the answer was yes found that both wore out pretty fast. Wolfman had injected subtle doses of wry humour ever since he took over the scripting, mostly uttered by Blade and with ironic undertones, but it never interrupted the eerie tone of the plot - this was, after all, a story about vampires. The characters of Harold H. Harold and Aurora Rabinowitz, however, were irritating from the moment they were introduced.



Tomb of Dracula #38

November 1975



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


  Would-be horror writer Harold H. Harold breaks into a medical school and steals bottles from the blood bank so he and Aurora Rabinowitz can revive Dracula. At the same time, the gang of vampire hunters are lured into Dr Sun's headquarters who tells them that they will be spared if they decide to side with him. Harker unleashes one of his wheelchair's weapons, a barrage of wooden darts designed to explode once inside a vampire. Dr Sun is hit, and even though he survives the explosions, the part of the system sustaining his brain - and which has also been draining Dracula's powers - is destroyed, thus ending his grasp on the vampire count.

Back at Harold's apartment, Dracula is revived by the blood administered to him, and consents to the interview Harold asks him for. However, this is interrupted by the arrival of Dr Sun's servant Juno who sports a silver spike instead of a left hand and forces the still weakened vampire to follow him to Dr Sun's headquarters, where he is told by Sun that he shall never leave again.

Tomb of Dracula #38 sets up a rematch between Dracula and Dr Sun after their first encounter ended in Tomb of Dracula #21. One and a half years had passed since in real time, and the series had been through a number of changes. Maybe it was the fact that Dracula and Dr Sun had a face-off before which made the sum of all of these small changes so evident in one issue: the general atmosphere had changed - not completely, but intermittently.

Despite some single issue plots which came close to the lesser examples of "B" horror movies, Tomb of Dracula had never felt cheesy. Now, however, some of the plot of Tomb of Dracula #38 dropped to downright ludicrous - it really felt more like an issue of Mad Magazine doing a spoof of the series, as the following piece of dialogue shows:

HAROLD: Er, Dracula, sir? Could I speak with you, just for a moment or so? You see, I promised the publisher of this magazine I work for, to interview a real vampire. And you may be the only one who can save my job.
DRACULA: What care have I of your problems, human? I gave you thanks, and that is more than you should expect. Be thankful I do not slay you for blood. For I may have need of you shortly, and therefore you will be spared.
HAROLD: Gosh, thanks, Dracula-- sir! Really, thanks!

In the established tradition of Tomb of Dracula, Harold H. Harold and the story woven around him was just plain silly - a character better suited for the whacky world of Marvel's Howard the Duck (where, sure enough, he did appear). Tomb of Dracula #38 was a turning point as the comedy element introduced by Marv Wolfman backfired completely and basically killed an overall atmosphere which was already thinning out a bit and was in need, if anything, of reinforcement. Instead, Wolfman placed a character at center stage who was nothing but a completely neurotic fool. A few of his lines were funny, most of them weren't, but they all resulted in the same: it was getting increasingly hard to take events seriously when you were constantly confronted with oneliners which could have come straight from a Woody Allen spoof on vampire movies. Or was Wolfman thinking about Polanski's Fearless Vampirekillers in the back of his mind? Whatever it was, it didn't work in the context of Tomb of Dracula - an opinion shared by Gene Colan even though he had a soft spot for Harold:

"Marv also put in Harold H. Harold - that was a good character, but he would dominate the Dracula book to the point where it wasn't Dracula! And although I enjoyed drawing him - it was a comical break from the seriousness of it - and Dracula came in at the end or the middle a little bit, you didn't see much of Dracula." (2001 interview with Gene Colan, published in Comic Book Artist #13)



Tomb of Dracula #39

December 1975

"The death of Dracula!"


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

  At Dr Sun's headquarters, Dracula and Juno clash. None of them is gaining the upper hand until Harold and Aurora burst onto the scene, having finally found Sun's headquarters. This moment of distraction is all Juno needs as he strikes Dracula from behind with the silver stake, killing the vampire lord. As Dracula is dying he apologizes to Quincy Harker, telling his longtime foe that Harker should have been the one to slay him. Dr Sun wants to ensure that he is never revived and burns Dracula's remains to ashes which are then put into an urn - the final triumph of Dr Sun, who lets the vampire hunters escape to an army base as he has plans to use them for his scheme of world domination.

The growing and, for some, rather nagging feeling that the series was changing was made visually apparent when Tomb of Dracula #39 hit the newsagents stands. The logo, hinting at the shadow of a bat, was changed into the shape of an outstretched cloak, and the small figure of Dracula in the upper left hand corner was revised. The comic also gained the sub-title "Lord of Vampires". To round it off, Marvel placed a rosette-shaped blur on the cover proclaiming this to be "comicdom's number 1 fear magazine".

This was indeed the case at the time, but it could also be seen as an attempt by Marvel to add a "buying point" not just to new but also to seasoned readers who were feeling unhappy about the latest developments. To them, the title of issue 39 - The death of Dracula - sounded sadly fitting, as this was, in a way, the end of the Dracula series they had known and come to appreciate.



January 1976 - August 1979


Even though Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan continued as a team on the remaining 31 issues of Tomb of Dracula, the series had taken on an entirely new direction.

Earlier on, Dracula mocks any attempts (in this case by Hannibal King in Tomb of Dracula #25) asking him to reveal his knowledge. In later issues, Dracula would accept such demands to almost no end.

  It wasn't a case of Wolfman's storytelling becoming uninteresting - for most of the time, there was always something there to keep it all from falling apart completely.

However, Pandora had slipped Wolfman a few boxes which he had opened and which went on to plague the series to no end. Harold H. Harold was one such box, another one was overdoing Dracula's weakness induced by Dr Sun, because it lead to Dracula becoming one of the cast of actors rather than being the central and paramount threat to everyone.

Thus Dracula is brought back to life by Harker and the gang of vampire hunters in Tomb of Dracula #41 as an ally to defeat Dr Sun (which he does), and the mould is cast, for in the final panel of that issue it is Blade's turn to do his version of the "you owe me a favour" game when he virtually commands Dracula to help him track down the vampire who killed his mother.

Marv Wolfman had unleashed the taming of the lord of vampires...

The (undisputed) need to take the book's general plot into new directions had thus turned from a simple option for improvement to a looming necessity for saving the title in an akwardly short span of time, and the now introduced American setting didn't exactly make things easier.

  The vampire count was propelled further into the Marvel Universe following the appearance of Brother Voodoo in Tomb of Dracula #34 (where Brother Voodoo only meets Frank Drake, not Dracula himself) by direct encounters of the vampire count with Doctor Strange in Tomb of Dracula #44 and the Silver Surfer in Tomb of Dracula #50.

The guest appearances of Doctor Strange and the Silver Surfer were entertaining but also widened the growing number of gaps in the book's consistency. For one thing, the previous portrayal of Dracula's weakness made it very difficult to believe that neither a sorcerer such as Doctor Strange nor a cosmic being such as the Silver Surfer would do anything but destroy the count within minutes.

The storyline of Tomb of Dracula #44 was carried over to Doctor Strange #14 and finally completed much later in Doctor Strange #58-62, when the sorcerer supreme did just what readers of Tomb of Dracula #44 thought would happen, namely put an end to all vampires - by casting a magic spell called the "Montesi formula".

In essence, the forays of Dracula into the Marvel Universe didn't help the book at all. Tomb of Dracula had always been at its peak in terms of plot and storytelling when conveying the uniqueness of Dracula - which Wolfman himself had always clearly prefered.

The Silver Surfer makes his entrance in Tomb of Dracula #50 - "turn now, and face your destroyer!"


In the end, the somewhat forced opening of Tomb of Dracula would reveal itself as another substantial weakening of the overall plot and therefore, ultimately, an important part in the faltering of the title.
Perhaps an almost logical move was to introduce Anton Lupeski and his Boston based satanic sect - clearly modelled on real-life satanist Anton LaVey.
  But even though this kept the story moving and produced a number of new subplots and characters, the wedding of Dracula to one of the sect's female members and ultimately the birth of Dracula's son really only diluted things even further as additional characters made the round, from Robin Hood to Satan himself, before going back to Harold H. Harold.

Marv Wolfman had gotten himself and the book into a very tight spot, and it never again matched up to his first 30 issues of Tomb of Dracula, simply because it all got so entangled and so far removed from the essence of a vampire story. Steadily, the title started to falter at the newsagents. As of Tomb of Dracula #61 (November 1977), the comic went back to bi-monthly publication, and when Tomb of Dracula #68 (February 1979) was published three months after its preceding issue, all was clear.

Tomb of Dracula #69 followed the bi-monthly publication sequence again but contained the announcement that the series would be cancelled.
  Just to what extent Tomb of Dracula had lost favours with a readership which previously had been extremely loyal could be seen from Wolfman's statement that despite plans to wrap up the series over another three books (which would have been Tomb of Dracula # 72) the end would now be compressed into one, double-size issue, making issue #70 the final one.

The final issue thus appeared on the newsagents stands in August 1979, four months after the penultimate issue #69 had been published. But at least, the series bowed out in style, with Wolfman finding back to the roots of the success of Tomb of Dracula with an intensive and atmospheric storyline which ends when Harker puts an end to Dracula by blowing himself up and burying the count underneath the rubble of Castle Dracula.

Real-life suicide-bombers were still few and far between in those days, so this ending had a heroic undertone it would not have today.
Marvel's reasoning for the downfall of Tomb of Dracula was that the material was contained in the wrong kind of packaging.
  Instead of a code-approved colour comic, the House of Ideas felt that a black and white magazine-format publication (without code-approval and hence marketed as being for "mature readers") would prove right.

Readers who had followed the colour comic book, of course, knew better, and were hardly surprised by the fact that the magazine-format Tomb of Dracula - which was launched in October 1979 and published bi-monthly - only lasted for six issues, bowing out in August 1980.

It contained stories by Wolfman and Colan which were fairly good (but which essentially made readers yearn for the "old Tomb of Dracula"), and stories by others which went from mediocre to downright awful.

In the end, Marvel had to acknowledge that the days for Tomb of Dracula were over. Exitus.
However, just like the vampire count himself, Tomb of Dracula rose anew in 2008 - almost 30 years after its cancellation - when Marvel released the first 31 issues of Tomb of Dracula in its high-end production value Omnibus edition series - the first Marvel horror title to receive such a publication platform.
  This would be followed by two further Omnibus volumes, ultimately collecting Marvels complete Tomb Of Dracula material (both from the comics as well as the magazines). Whilst this is an indication of its status as a classic comic book title (and also its continuing selling potential), the true importance of Tomb of Dracula lies elsewhere: in the way it shaped and influenced comic book history.

First off, Tomb of Dracula was the first continuing comic book title which featured a horror genre character both as its leading role and, consequently, as part of its title (from a purely chronological point of view, Marvel's character Werewolf by Night preceded Tomb of Dracula #1 by two months, but only got his own title in September 1972 after appearing in Marvel Spotlight for three issues).

Secondly, the launching of Tomb of Dracula took place in the context of Marvel's outing into the world of ghouls, monsters and vampires, which had been kicked off in 1970/71 but really only gathered speed and became one of the most innovative moves in the company's history when Tomb of Dracula appeared on the scene.
Ultimately covering the genre from wall to wall, Marvel's innovative approach was to infuse it with the underlying principles of the superhero comic book. The "superhero from the crypt" is one of Marvel's milestone contributions not just to the Bronze Age period of the 1970s, but to comic book history as a whole, and the basics of this concept were all tried out and then refined foremost in Tomb of Dracula.

And finally, the new momentum and 21st century revival of Marvel Comics which was triggered by the series of big budget movie adaptations based on the House of Ideas' characters was not started by one of the now newly popular superheroes, but rather by a character from Tomb of Dracula as Blade broke the Hollywood ice for Marvel in 1998.

Tomb of Dracula gained this key importance both for Marvel as a company as well as for the comic book history of the 1970s by being both a creative masterpiece and a revolutionary concept - it simply broke new grounds.

Together with the intense and atmospheric pencilling of Gene Colan and inking by Tom Palmer, Marv Wolfman's non-conformist comic book approach to Bram Stoker's classic genre character produced yet another classic: The Tomb of Dracula. As is the case with classics, the title has aged very well, and the appeal especially of the first 35 issues is, by comic book standards at least, seemingly timeless as both seasoned readers and newcomers pick up Marvel's classic horror material and once again thrill to the terrors which await them in the Tomb of Dracula.




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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 14 August 2006
page completely revised 7 October 2009
updated and reposted 24 March 2014


The artistic genius of Gene Colan, inked and coloured by Tom Palmer (Tomb of Dracula #25)