Saturday, March 23, 2013

Journal Of Darkness

I know I've mentioned before how much I admired the classic Tomb of Dracula series, while also making mention of the stories which featured the vampire's journal entries. But I can't leave it at that, without giving you a peek into those particular stories which served as reflective interludes from the normal storylines and gave us some measure of insight into the motivations of this--man? Villain? Dracula is difficult to categorize at times, though "egotist" would certainly come to mind. Perhaps "force of nature" would best describe him in a general sense.

There were two such "journal issues," numbers 15 and 30, both taking place before Marvel brought Dracula to America and involved him in more contemporary stories such as his further battles with Doctor Sun as well as the schemings of his Satanist cult. And I make note of it that way because Dracula's journal reflections are framed by his informal status as an aristocrat as well as his extensive dealings in the past, both of which are defined by the histories of Europe and its bordering lands.

Such past reflections would seem out of place if they were being jotted down in the United States. The closest we ever come is in "A Song for Marianne!", where a vampire over 100 years old approaches Dracula while he's in residence in his Satanic church and asks him to end her life, after recounting for him the lifelong cycle of death that he himself was responsible for when he killed both her father and, later, her husband:

However, when Dracula himself sits down to ponder his life, the words carry equal weight even though his often vicious actions are going to come out as justified from his point of view. Take, for instance, his chance encounter with a little girl, which would end in tragedy as well as horror:

If there were space in the issue, just exploring this one scene would be fascinating reading. But we cut to the chase when Dracula reacts to a gunshot in the girl's house, where her parents have been having a bitter argument:

You or I might attempt to deal with this situation without further violence, for the sake of the girl who only heard the loud shot and is unaware of its ramifications--confiscate the gun, contact the authorities, take steps to keep the girl from the house, etc. But I don't think I have to tell you that Dracula's disgust and anger here is only going to grow into rage, resulting in a gruesome end for this family:

Dracula, in his entry, calmly recites the facts as he sees them, from the perspective of a ruthless warrior who regards such events as the brutal lessons of life, with no thought of self-blame even entering his mind. If published, his writings would make for either a priceless examination of history, or a horrifying memoir.

When Dracula sits down to write, he either seeks to occupy his time or to put recent events into clarity. In either event, the results of his writings will be both unapologetic and a reaffirmation of his strength and self-worth. And you can probably see a little of both in these introductions to each sitting:

As for the entries themselves, you almost have the feeling that you're reading one of those old fear-based comics like Chamber of Darkness or Tower of Shadows, with a generous dose of the macabre. There's usually something of a twist to each of the stories--or, as Dracula puts it, "Ah, the ironies...the infinite ironies." Such was the case with Lyza Strang, a woman in Germany who sent for Dracula to enlist his help in regard to matters of both love and power. Though in dealing with someone of Dracula's background and might, she obviously felt that seduction was a necessary preliminary to their discussion:

Never underestimate feminine wiles, that's what I always say:

So, due to both self-interest and Lyza's charms, Dracula does what she asks. And falls right into a carefully-laid trap--as Lyza is there with the authorities to witness Dracula's murder of her husband, and subsequently has the soldiers spear the surprised vampire and toss his corpse in the river. And in his musings, Dracula acknowledges how well Lyza played her cards, for all the good it would do her:

Here, those ironies Dracula spoke of fall into place. Bismarck was disgusted with Lyza's actions and spurned her feelings toward him, ordering her to leave and never return. And despite all she'd lost, she had one more turn for the worse to confront that night:

Though Dracula didn't exactly come out ahead in the deal either, since Bismarck's policies led to World War I and the eventual overrun of Romania and destruction of his castle. As Dracula reflects on that particular irony, his manner serves to show us how we can look back with the calm eye of perspective at events which at the time seemed so crucial to our well-being.

That well-being was also of concern to Dracula when he responded to a summons from an old man, who tempts him with a seemingly guaranteed source of survival:

As Dracula converses with the man, I couldn't help but be struck by the setting of this scene. You'd think that this casual-looking meeting was as harmless as any, were it not for the deadly, possibly imminent threat graciously sitting just a few feet away:

And so the man makes his bargain with Dracula: an inexhaustible supply of blood for the vampire, in exchange for discrete transportation to the pool of blood in order to renew his youth. And Dracula complies, if only to satisfy his curiosity--though soon enough, he realizes he's been duped:

The properties in the locket destroy the pool and the old man, with Dracula barely surviving. And in the following scene, he reveals that his bloodthirsty nature is more than just in a literal sense:

There's also one entry that reveals how Dracula came to be found and revived by Frank Drake's greedy friend, Clifton Graves, due to a fierce encounter with a Scotsman who'd come to Castle Dracula seeking his missing son:

Dracula, of course, had the edge in this fight, but their struggle was nevertheless hard-fought. And by sheer chance, it's the Scotsman who proves victorious with a stake to the heart.  Though the victory is short-lived:

Weakening and aging by the moment, Dracula makes his way to his coffin, where he remains dead for three years until Graves pulls out the Scotsman's stake. Given what happened next, though, it looks like Graves and the Scotsman may be doing some bonding:

For those of you who have never read Tomb of Dracula or perhaps thumbed through just the first initial stories, these two issues might serve to give you a decent introduction to the types of stories you could expect to find in the series once it found its legs. Or, you can just pick up the first two omnibuses and thank me later. (Though the third omnibus contains a treasure trove of the old Dracula Lives! magazines and some other related goodies which would be the icing on the cake for you.)

Now that I've hopefully whetted your appetite, I can think of no better time to sample some of that reaffirmation that Dracula's journal time seems to bring out in him:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I have the second omnibus and quite a few of the original comics, but I've never seen this before, and it was a real treat. What a fantastic series this was; at it's best it was fantastic and at it's worst it was still pretty damn good.

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