Following the night of violence which led up to the birth of Dracula's child, there were five issues of The Tomb of Dracula published in 1977 that served as an interlude to the denouement of that event--stories which could easily be bound into one TPB and placed on your bookshelf, to be reached for on a snowy night when you're in the mood for sinking into your favorite chair and reading some of the most entertaining and diverse tales that this series had to offer. The talents of writer Marv Wolfman and artists Gene Colan and Tom Palmer are arguably at their peak during this time, as Dracula's affairs in the States move closer toward his goals and the book's influx of new characters are put to good use. This post will hopefully provide you with a good idea of what these issues have to offer--but you'll be well served in gathering them in one sitting and reading them in their entirety, as, together, they make for an excellent page-turner.
In these issues you'll find a mixture of tales that are in one way or another joined by the thread of Dracula's involvement with his "dark church"--with the exception perhaps being the exaggerated events of the "novel" written by the bumbling Harold H. Harold, based on the author's many entanglements with Dracula. By this point Tomb of Dracula had developed a successful formula of keeping the vampire lord interesting by not only shifting his plans periodically, but also by supplementing his ongoing story with the mystery and suspense brought by his involvement with other characters who had in some way crossed his path, and you'll find these issues offer excellent examples. You'll see Dracula basking in the role of proud (if still arrogant) father and husband, certainly a new approach for such a sadistic and evil character; there's also the change of pace of the humorous adaptations that Harold makes to past TOD stories for the sake of his (hopefully) best-seller; and then we have the tale of the "Forever Man," reincarnated from centuries past until fated to meet "the dead man" (and guess who that is?); followed by Blade, the so-called vampire-slayer, who encounters an old friend whose wife has been victimized by a symbiotic vampire, which, during the day, leaves her as one of the undead while he sleeps.
And finally, you'll come to the deadly endgame by cult leader Anton Lupeski, which brings tragedy in its wake and serves as another turning point for Dracula.
To bring you up to speed, Dracula has become involved with a cult of Satanists brought together by Lupeski and has used them to establish a "dark church" for his own ends, while also becoming involved with a woman named Domini who had fallen into the church's fold and who eventually became his bride. In time, a ritual of mysticism was invoked to implant a child of the two within Domini, a child which has now been born and is the heir apparent of either Dracula or of the church. The simmering dispute that emerges between Dracula and Lupeski is that each of them disagrees on which one of the two should take precedence.
For now, at least, Dracula sees no further need to couch his words or his goals in Lupeski's presence--though in finally putting his cards on the table, he unknowingly creates a rift between himself and Lupeski, as the latter now sees Dracula as a danger to his own supreme position in the church as well as what stands to be gained by having the child as its figurehead.
And so Lupeski attempts to use the upcoming ceremony that formally introduces the child to the cultists to cement his own position as well as to publicly wrest control of the church from Dracula and instead bind the cultists' loyalty and fealty to the child. But in a counterplay which likely comes from experience in dealing with such men, Dracula nips Lupeski's plan in the bud and reasserts his own position in no uncertain terms.
With Lupeski checked at least for now, what follows is a generous amount of characterization given to both Dracula and Domini--five pages' worth--which provides fascinating reading in terms of Dracula's frankness in completely letting down his emotional guard in Domini's presence, and, for the first time, discovering what led Domini to the church and the revelation of the depth of her loyalty to and love for her husband. Domini realizes that Dracula is not Satan, as Lupeski has presented him to the cult; she also knows precisely who he is, and what he is. Yet her love is unconditional, and Dracula need say nothing for Colan's scene to make clear the love he holds for her.
It's safe to say, of course, that no one holds any love for Lupeski, who even now makes preparations to rebound from Dracula's public rebuke of him in all but name.
Lupeski had formed an alliance of necessity with Dracula's nemeses--Quincy Harker, Rachel Van Helsing, Frank Drake, and Blade (including, believe it or not, Harold)--in his attempt to take Dracula out of the picture on the night of the child's birth, so it's no surprise that he prepares to do so again when the moment is ripe.
The following issue takes the form of a cover-to-cover presentation of Harold's novel--which one could regard as complete satire on the part of Wolfman and Colan, but which Harold would no doubt take pride in, and rather shamelessly at that. We then learn of Gideon Smith, the present-day incarnation of the "Forever Man," who, despite the warning he received in one of his past lives, cannot escape the one whose presence will bring an end to his cycle of existence. In addition, however, we're treated to a bit of intrigue when Domini pays a visit to Lupeski with a warning to abandon his plans for revenge against Dracula--for all the good it does her.
Clearly Domini retains some measure of fear of Lupeski, which isn't difficult to believe given what we've been told of the circumstances of their association--and it's likely due to that fear that she indeed says nothing to her husband of what Lupeski plans.
As for Dracula, even the "dark lord" of Lupeski's church must still occasionally hunt for his nourishment, and so we're treated to a life-or-death encounter with Boston's finest--one of which must run for his life.
A narrow escape for our policeman--but not so for Smith, who by the end of the story has finally crossed paths with Dracula and fearfully realizes, for reasons he doesn't understand, that his days of perpetual existence are numbered.
It's then on to an issue which throws the spotlight solely on Blade--whose surviving friend from his old pack of vampire hunters has asked his help regarding his wife, who's become a victim of a vampire exercising a psychic form of control over her. It's something of a sendoff that Wolfman gives the character; with Blade's vendetta settled against the vampire who killed his mother, he's at a crossroads as to what to do with his life from this point on, and this may well be his last outing as a "vampire slayer."
Finally, we arrive at our fifth story in our pentad of selected TOD tales, an issue which is the culmination of Dracula's association with his dark church as well as with his new family--the conclusion of a story plot which has played out for over a year. We find that Lupeski has again joined forces with Harker's group, this time even arming them with rifles and the silver bullets he's prepared--and he convinces them to strike during Dracula's presence at a feast being given to honor the birth of his son.
For Dracula's part, he has his own reasons for attending the feast, an event he has planned himself--to further solidify his power base as both Janus's father and his standing with the cultists, and making sure the reins of power are in no way grasped by Lupeski. When the event finally arrives, Lupeski, of course, has other ideas on the subject--his audacity fortified by the knowledge that the chanting of the cultists acts as a signal for his armed accomplices to make their entrance.
Clearly the fusillade of silver bullets is having the desired effect, even as Dracula lashes out at his enemies. A final tactic allows him a chance to salvage victory from defeat; but in a moment of arrogance, Dracula makes a fatal miscalculation, and a bullet from Lupeski's rifle brings an end to not only the battle, but also to Dracula's hopes for the future, as the night turns to one of gruesome, grotesque horror.
By the time Dracula's rage has taken its toll, Lupeski is little more than (as Wolfman puts it) "blood and bone and shattered cartilage, and the splattered remains of forty some odd years of life staining the marble floor." Colan avoids the image itself, thankfully--allowing Wolfman's description to speak for itself, as it surely does.
Only Domini, still holding her dead infant son, turns to seek out greater meaning of the night's events--turns toward the painting of Christ hanging in the church, the same painting that has chafed at Dracula since he first arrived. Indirectly, her scene serves not only to preserve the lives of Dracula's remaining attackers, but to offer Dracula an almost... dare we say it? ... heartbreaking choice, one that he finds impossible to make.
For all intents and purposes, Dracula's plans for this cult of Satanists--now bereft of both their leaders as well as the child that was to symbolize their rise to prominence--are left in shattered ruins, the same ruins where he returns to consign the church itself to in a final fit of rage. But the book hasn't seen the last of Domini, or even of Janus--and Dracula's spiritual turmoil has only begun.
(This post covers events from The Tomb of Dracula #s 55-59.)