Friday, August 24, 2012

In The Mist Of Battle

Exactly who defeated who in this life-or-death battle?

It depends on who you ask.

The crossover matchup of 1976 was the classic battle between Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, and Dracula, Lord of Vampires, beginning in Tomb of Dracula #44 and concluding in Doctor Strange #14. Each character was unaware of the other at the time, until Dracula--in a pretty casual feeding stop--decided to make a snack out of Strange's servant, Wong. That led Strange to finding Wong, determining that he was the victim of a vampire, and then confronting the bloodsucker in his lair--said bloodsucker turning out to be none other than Dracula.

The order of the books in this crossover battle should tell you something about who walked out of this conflict alive, as it were. Though I must say that, while in typical Marvel form of nobody-wins/nobody-loses, the ending was still cleverly done--and the battle itself is, for the most part, no-holds-barred. Not completely, though. If Strange, for instance, were fighting with all the tools at his command, Dracula would have been nothing but a smear of blood on the floor by the time they were done. Yet Strange was virtually fighting with one hand tied behind his back, in that his goal was not to destroy Dracula but to force the vampire to submit to his will in order to aid in resurrecting Wong.

Yeah, good luck with that. In Tomb of Dracula, writer Marv Wolfman had to date done an excellent job of establishing that Dracula's will was nothing to be trifled with. So while Strange's attack forced Dracula to relive some of his most humbling and tragic moments, in the end it only marshalled his will to resist Strange's power to keep him at bay:


Yet, as grim as things appear to be here for Strange (you can't get much grimmer than being killed), Strange had the presence of mind to free his astral form before Dracula leapt in for the kill; so while his body fell under the spell of vampirism (c'mon, Strange, just say it--you were dead!), his spirit was free to plan strategy, which initially involved haunting Dracula for the three-day period leading up to the time when his body would rise as a vampire. That led to a very pissed-off lord of vampires confronting Strange's corpse with a stake as it sought to rise, intending to slay it. At that moment, Strange's astral form rejoined his body, and sought to fight Dracula once again. But the battle didn't go well for Strange, who had to battle his vampire nature at the same time.

Finally, in desperation, Strange realized that there was one power he could call upon that would prove deadly to one such as Dracula. Grabbing Dracula by the throat, he invoked the power of the Tetragrammaton, the Hebrew term for the name of the God of Israel:

After slaying Dracula, Strange recalls Wong from another dimension where he had stashed him for safekeeping--and with his new abilities, he removes the vampire "spell" from both Wong and himself. The two then depart the scene of battle, confident that Dracula will no longer be a menace. Once safely alone, though, Dracula reforms to his normal appearance, having combined his powers of hypnosis with the ability to turn into mist so that "my flesh vanished in the swelling mist, exposing only bone" during Strange's assault, while making Strange believe he saw burnt ash and not mist. A necessary deception by Dracula, who, being a realist, knew that Strange could have overwhelmed him otherwise.

As a result, each combatant felt they triumphed, though neither really did--which was standard fare when dealing with two characters with their own titles. But it was well-handled, giving fans of both a good fight, and showcasing each character decently. Enhancing it more was the fact that veteran artists Gene Colan and Tom Palmer handled the art chores on both issues, as they were also the regular artists on both titles at the time. Ironically, the Tomb of Dracula issue directly after this battle began an extended arc where Dracula would come into increased conflict with the religious aspect introduced here. And no amount of clever mist manipulation was going to help him this time.

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