SPOTLIGHT ON

TOMB OF DRACULA #27

(DECEMBER 1974)

 

 


UK pence price variant cover

 

"Night-Fire!"
(17 pages)

Story - Marv Wolfman
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Tom Palmer
Colours - L. Lessman
Lettering - John Costanza
Editor - Roy Thomas

Cover - Gil Kane (pencils), Tom Palmer (inks)
Alterations to Dracula's face by John Romita

On sale 3 September 1974

 

 
Tomb of Dracula was Marvel's most popular and successful ongoing horror title of the 1970s, weaving an ongoing saga that plotted the vampire count against a group of vampire hunters. It was vividly brought to life by Marv Wolfman's gripping multi-layer storytelling, Gene Colan's moody cinematographic artwork, and Tom Palmer's intensely gripping inking.

The overall result harked back to the classic vampire stories but also added new momentum to the theme. Marvel's Tomb of Dracula was an outstanding contribution to the genre, a classic in its own right, and the jewel in the crown of Marvel's Bronze Age horror. It remains a fan favourite to this day.

 

 

SYNOPSIS
! SPOILER ALERT !

Tomb of Dracula #27 features the second segment of a three issue story arc plus epilogue centering around a mythical artefact called the Chimera, made up of three individual pieces and holding incredible supernatural powers.

The story continues on from the cliffhanger ending in the previous issue, Tomb of Dracula #26, with Dracula helplessly (or so it seems) trapped by Dr. Sun in an enclosed room being flooded with holy water...

The question of course is not if Dracula will escape, but rather how. In this case, the only way out lies in his 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.

Elsewhere, young David Eshcol (who still holds one piece of the Chimera from his father's pawn shop) and Sheila Whittier (who is still posing as a musueum representative and hiding the fact that she is actually in contact with Dracula) are still anxious to locate the stolen two pieces of the chimera and are driving through the outskirts of London - where they are both about to get a glimpse of the incredible power the artefact holds: 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 on his return 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 chimera is in fact complete...

The pawnbroker's son is also struggling to come to terms with the notion of Dracula being a vampire. After all, as he poignantly puts it, "this isn't medieval Europe, this is London, 20th century England" - a reasoning that amuses the Count quite a bit.

 
Meanwhile, Dracula's (non-vampire) descendant Frank Drake - reacquainted with an old friend and searching for a new life - arrives in Brazil and is anxious to get started on his new job, although he somehow has a mysteriously impending sense of danger.

Back in England, Dracula finds that in spite of all of its power, one thing the solitary piece of the Chimera statue cannot do is to locate the other missing pieces.

It does however allow Dracula 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, pulls back in anger - and drops the Chimera's tail piece.

 
 
But before Eshcol can reach for it, two strangers appear from the shadows and hold him and Sheila at gunpoint, and they along with Dracula are forced to watch on as the two thugs are poised to take possession of it.

And thus, another issue of Tomb Of Dracula ends on a cliffhanger... to be continued.

 
 

REVIEW & ANALYSIS

 
According to Roy Thomas, Tomb of Dracula was a solid seller for most of its run (Cooke, 2001), and Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan steadily progressed on the title, from being two enthusiastic individuals working together, to becoming an actual team where mutual understanding and a shared perception created results not otherwise possible. The series just kept getting better and better, until it arguably reached its prime for a period running from April 1974 to August 1975 over a sequence of 17 issues, namely Tomb of Dracula #19-35.

Tomb of Dracula #27 is situated perfectly midway in that period of five star excellence, and by this time the narrative flow and the plot interest had reached such a high intensity that Marv Wolfman could come up with storylines which did not even feature the team of vampire hunters as central cast characters for a few issues without any worries about losing the overall dynamic.

 
For the story arc running through Tomb of Dracula #26-28 (with an epilogue-like issue #29) Wolfman dug deep into Greek mythology and ancient European mystic lore - the oldest reference to the composite-beast Chimaira comes from Homer's 8th century BC epic Illiad (Lattimore, 1951), 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" (Lattimore, 1951).

Avoiding the potential pitfalls of asking readers to suspend their belief too far by introducing an actual living beast modelled on the mythological monster, Wolfman's chimera is in fact a powerful magical artefact in the form of a statue, made up of three individual pieces and capable of transforming into reality the thoughts of whoever possesses all three pieces.

 


Etruscan bronze cast of the Chimera (c. 400 BC)

 
The chimera statue is a marvelous plot element and story device, since it also creates the suspenseful situation of several parties (most of them not on the side of what's good and right) hunting down the individual pieces.
 
  The actual focal point of the Chimera story arc, however, is the elementary human condition of doubt - most noteably self-doubt - and trying to bring personal hopes and expectations into sync with actual reality. Marv Wolfman exemplifies this with the two personas 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, of course, uses these dilemmas and the self-doubts to manipulate both of them to fit his own purposes. However, he is himself not without uncertainties; having always prided himself of his control and mastery over others he now seems at times faced with an inexplicable loss of power (a focal point of Wolfman's next major plot developments for the series).

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.

One key element that Wolfman brought to the series was the depth and complexity of the plot, building up multiple underlying themes and sub-plots in the overall storyline which sometimes would only reveal their full meaning at a later stage.

 
Everything was thus embedded in an arc of overall continuity and suspense. In addition, Wolfman's introduction of aspects of moral philosophy, along with portraying all characters involved (including Dracula) as self-conflicting and sometimes even outright self-contradicting personalities, gave Tomb Of Dracula a maturity other comic book titles never even got close to.
 
Marvin "Marv" Wolfman (*1946) had started working for the comic book industry in 1968 with DC, yet he was still only 26 when he took over the scripting of Tomb Of Dracula #7 for the March 1973 publication schedule. With Wolfman at the reins, Marvel's take on Dracula became a cleverly conceived and superbly balanced piece of fiction.

"I'd never seen a Dracula movie at that point, but I'd read the novel, and I loved the novel (...) Dracula himself was really a force more than a presence because he's only in 80 or something pages of a 500 pages novel, so the attitude of the original book was more on the people who are hunting him and the effects of evil on them (...) Using that as the template for the entire series 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." (Marv Wolfman in Siuntres, 2006)

 


Marv Wolfman in 1975

 


The entire group of vampire hunters features on the Gil Kane cover for Tomb of Dracula #28 (January 1975)

  Consequently, fighting the newly risen lord of vampires in Tomb of Dracula was a team effort, just as it had been in Stoker's novel. Having a group of "vampire hunters" as antipodes to Dracula's actions and schemes of world domination was presented and worked on so well that it became an important element of the ongoing saga and contributed in a very essential way to the success of Tomb of Dracula.

Also quintessential was another direct connection to the literary source which was established by Wolfman through the introduction of the persona of Quincy Harker in his first script for Tomb of Dracula. Harker - introduced on the final page of Stoker's original novel as a newly born baby - is now an elderly man bound to a wheelchair; however, he has used scientific means and sophisticated machinery to hunt down vampires for the past sixty years after having been trained by Abraham van Helsing himself. He is the driving force behind the group of vampire hunters, which includes Dracula's descendant Frank Drake, Rachel van Helsing, Indian mute Taj Nital, and "daywalker vampire" Blade.

Within this framework, Wolfman's conceptual ideas for breaking out of established comic book routines proved to be simply perfect, and very soon the title found itself outside of the commonly defined and charted corners not just of the Marvel Universe, but the entire comic publishing business.

"This was the first time anything like this had been done. I was fighting the Comics Code every single month. We were just stretching - for the first time - out of standard comics." (Marv Wolfman in Comic Geek Speak, 2005)

 
Unlike Wolfman, Gene Colan (1926-2011), nicknamed both "Gentleman" and "the Dean" by Stan Lee, worked on Tomb of Dracula right from the start, and he would stay on the book throughout its entire run - after having literally fought for this assignment from Stan Lee

"The only strip I really begged for was Dracula. [Stan Lee] promised it to me, but then he changed his mind (...) But I didn't take that for an answer. I worked up a page of Dracula (...) and I sent it in. I got an immediate call back. Stan said 'The strip is yours'." (Gene Colan in Thomas, 2000)

Colan created an intensely atmospheric visual rendition of Wolfman's horror saga and established a look and feel that went far beyond the classic horror comic qualities. His style, superbly inked by Tom Palmer, provided readers with a truly captivating visual journey into the dark shadows. For Colan, it all bioled down to a deeply rooted belief that comic books and movies share common traits.

"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." (Gen Colan in Mata, 2007)

 


Gene Colan in 1975

At this point in time of the series, Gene Colan was really in top gear and provided gripping visuals for Wolfman's stories. It all seemingly just flowed from his pencils with ease as he embedded his characters in atmospheric settings which embodied everything - and more - the genre had to offer. Issue after issue Colan's cinematographic style and his enthusiasm for this kind of work left their quality mark on each and every page.
 


Original artwork by Gene Colan (pencils) and Tom Palmer (inks) for page 15 of Tomb Of Dracula #27 (scanned from the original)
and the same page as it appeared in print

"The more you work on something, the better you get at it. I felt that the character became my own" (Gene Colan in Dlugos, 2002)

One new element which had come up for Colan with Tomb of Dracula #26 was the chimera. In contrast to the classic Greek rendition with three bodies and three heads, Colan chose to simplify this by drawing only one head, namely the lion's. The result is a creature which is actually much easier to "decipher", and Colan's portrayal of the statue plays an important part in how successful the story arc works as a whole - just as his artwork did for the entire series.

"Gene's artwork certainly is the reason why we could do a lot of that stuff." (Marv Wolfman in Siuntres, 2006)

On a personal note to further illustrate this, I immensely enjoyed Tomb of Dracula #27 when I picked it up at the newsagent as a 12-year old. It was only my third issue of the series, but it thrilled me so much that even 45 years later I can still recall just how much I liked the way the mystical chimera intertwined with the Dracula theme. It was only decades later, upon re-reading the issue for the first time, that I was struck by just how many interesting facets of the plot I had missed, yet without any detriment to its entertainment value at the time.

Tomb of Dracula #27 is one of those examples of a Bronze Age comic book - admittedly not available by the hundreds - which provides readers of any age (albeit probably best upwards of 12) with a very high level of storyline satisfaction: the plot kicks off from a superb cliffhanger and builds up instantly on various levels as it is taken forward very swiftly, building up a growing amount of suspense until it finally reaches yet another cliffhanger that really makes you wonder how things will go on from here.

In a nutshell, this is comic book writing at its best from Marv Wolfman as the hunt for the mysterious artefact is complemented on an equally high level of excellence by Gene Colan's artwork and the inking supplied by Tom Palmer.

 
 
Tomb of Dracula #27 is an exceptionally entertaining and surprisingly multifaceted comic book, and as such it is also an important part of the overall fabric which made the series what it is from today's perception: a comic book title which shaped and influenced comic book history. Tomb of Dracula was the longest running Bronze Age horror comic book title, in many ways serving as the prototype mould for Marvel's 1970s run of horror comics which infused the genre with the underlying principles of the traditional superhero comic book, making the "superhero from the crypt" 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 finally, Tomb of Dracula owes its uniqueness and success to an important shift in focus which Marv Wolfman brought to the title:

"A lot of us back then were trying to break out of comics just for kids, and it was very possible for us to do those things on the non-superhero books, because no one was paying attention. So Roy Thomas could do that on Conan, Steve [Englehart] could do that on Doc Strange and Master of Kung-Fu, [Steve] Gerber could do it on Man-Thing or Howard the Duck, and I could do it on Dracula [...] to try and push comics into other things, other areas, that they had not explored." (Marv Wolfman in Siuntres, 2006)

 

TRIVIA

 
Tomb Of Dracula had featured a letters page entitled "Tomes to the Tomb" since issue #3, and by the time issue #27 was prepared for the printers, editorial was receiving a lot of letters - so much so that Tomb Of Dracula #27 featured not one but two pages of missives from readers.
 
  One thing that always characterized the letters printed in Tomb Of Dracula (or TOD, as acronym loving Marvel often called it) was their quality - witness the example in this issue pondering Marvel's necessary choice to follow either the Dracula from the novel or the movies.
 
Of course simple and outright praise from readers was there too, and rightly so.

"Once, I scorned "monster" comics. "Juvenile!" I declared. "One dimensional!" I sighed. "Generally poor" I sneered. After great thought, and a long period of observation, TOMB OF DRACULA has changed my mind."

Like any other Marvel comic book from the 1974 period, Tomb Of Dracula #27 also featured a Bullpen Bulletin ("Notes and news on a nestful of Nebbishes!"), plus a Bullpen Bulletin bonus page, and the usual in-house advertising (not to mention the infamous flea market ads).

 

 
Also somewhat typical for the era was Stan Lee indulging in the communication of the fact - by way of his Soapbox column - that he was by then receiving regular invitations from universities and colleges to give talks.

"You should have seen upwards of two thousand college students, professors, deans, and other dwellers in the rarefied atmosphere of academia praising the merit and the miracle of Marveldom! Verily, 'twas a fete to remember! I can hardly tell you what a great source of satisfaction it is to know that, with your help, we've made the art of comic books widely respected, universally accepted, and avidly acclaimed both here and overseas. Yep, I gotta admit it - we're a great team, you and your blushin' Bullpen!"

 
 
Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, along with Tom Palmer, certainly had a lot to do with those accolades, raising the bar of quality in comic books significantly through their work on Tomb Of Dracula.
 

 
FURTHER READING ON THE THOUGHT BALLOON
 
  There's an issue-by-issue look at the Tomb Of Dracula series here.
 
  You can read up on the previous issue, Tomb Of Dracula #26, here.
 
  There's more on the roots of Marvel's Tomb Of Dracula series here.
 
  You can read more about Marvel's 1970s Bronze Age horror genre titles and their "superheroes from the crypt" here.
 
  There's more on "Gentleman" Gene "the Dean" Colan, acclaimed penciller of the Tomb Of Dracula series, here.
 

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

COMIC GEEK SPEAK (2005) Podcast: Book of the month club - episode 5 - Tomb of Dracula, Interview with Marv Wolfman (31 October 2005, quoted from personal transcript)

COOKE Jon B. (2001) "Son of Stan: Roy's Years of Horror", Comic Book Artist #13

DLUGOS Jenn (2002) "Gene Colan Interview", ClassicHorror.com, published online 15 December 2022

LATTIMORE Richmond (1951) The Illiad, Chicago University Press

MATA Shiai (2007) "Gene Colan Interview", SlayerLit (stored on Internet Archive)

SIUNTRES John (2006) "Marv Wolfman by Night", Word Balloon: The Comic Creator's Interview Show (quoted from personal transcript)

THOMAS Roy (2000) "So you want a Job eh? The Gene Colan Interview", Alter Ego (vol. 3 issue 6)

 

 

 

The illustrations presented here are copyright material and are reproduced for strictly non-commercial and appreciative review purposes only.
Text is (c) 2022 Adrian Wymann

Page uploaded to the web 13 November 2022