Monday, October 16, 2017

Army Of The Undead!

At the end of the previous Tomb Of Dracula story that saw our brave band of vampire-hunters under attack from a group of children that Dracula had enslaved into his service, you would think its follow-up in the next issue would have Quincy Harker and his group taking center stage. Instead, we would find that Dracula has already moved on, leaving Harker and his annoying pack in his rear-view mirror (if he could actually look in a mirror, that is) and engaging in a new scheme that would raise from the ground armies of vampires that would finally make it possible for him to bring the Earth under his rule.

In these early stories, Dracula is obviously still thinking big in terms of conquest, instead of finding more subtle ways to rule the masses (such as his satanic church). Initially, he limited his activities to subverting the wills of key personnel stationed in various government positions throughout Europe, but only as precautionary measures to be used on an as-needed basis; yet it's never occurred to him to establish such control in greater numbers, and in more advantageous seats of power that would allow him to advance his agenda with impunity. At this point in time, his ambition and ruthlessness still override his innate sense of planning; and, just as with the Chimera, he prefers to seize any device or artifact that would provide him with a fast track toward world conquest.

In this story we'll be witness to another such grab for power. But, on the heels of the previous tale, Dracula must first eradicate a deadly poison delivered by a projectile courtesy of Harker before he and his group became trapped. As we touch base with both Dracula and Harker, we'll see that both the story and Dracula himself do a fair job of multitasking.

(Insufferable fools notwithstanding.)

Dracula would make a quick stop to cover his bases with Harker's group before tending to his own needs--and leaving his slave, Clifton Graves, to keep an eye on the situation, he's done what he can to see that his plan for Harker and the rest will proceed to the ending he wishes for it. As we'll discover, Dracula's priorities will change once he seeks out the means to alleviate his injury.

But since the last issue's cliffhanger left Harker, Rachel Van Helsing, her servant, Taj, and Dracula's descendant, Frank Drake, in dire straits from Dracula's enslaved and armed hellions, we can't let Dracula's disinterest keep us from learning how they're getting out of that scrape. The sequence of events that writer Marv Wolfman cobbles together probably wouldn't work in an actual confined space with onrushing, knife-wielding kids just a few steps away from you, so it's not recommended that you take the same steps if you find yourself in a similar predicament.

At first, the situation is expectantly grim, with Harker and his crew quickly running out of options.

And then, well... someone thinks it's a good idea to plunge the room into total darkness, presumably to hide their movements while investigating escape. And even though the lack of light isn't going to stop mindless children from moving toward their targets--especially when you're making enough noise with your escape attempt to be pinpointed--there's nevertheless plenty of time to not only pry open iron bars, but to hoist one of your own to freedom.

Frank, Frank... always the pessimist. Anyone who can bend iron bars with his bare hands likely won't have a problem lifting both an elderly man and his wheelchair, probably even at the same time.

Even making enough noise to wake the dead (you'll excuse the expression) and identify where in the room her group is located, there's still plenty of time for Rachel to jump down from this fortress (I don't even want to know how high up we're talking about), race around to the entrance, and deal with Mr. Graves before her friends are shish kebabed. And voilĂ , the dash for freedom succeeds.

(Y'know, between the two of them, I'm guessing Rachel and Taj could have dealt with our mesmerized kiddie brigade on their own. Bonus points for tossing Frank into their midst as a distraction.)

Meanwhile, Dracula--literally, due to his agony--drops in on Heinrich Mortte, M.D., who appears to be an old acquaintance and one of those in Dracula's thrall. But unknown to Mortte's patients, there is more to his servitude that, upon closer inspection, explains why he must comply with Dracula's demands.

(What doctor leaves a poisonous dart embedded in the patient's skin?)

Elsewhere, while Harker's group is out of the fortress they were trapped in, they're not yet out of the woods--because that little stop that Dracula made on his way to Mortte's made sure that they wouldn't escape their pursuers even if Graves dropped the ball.

You're probably not alone if you're growing tired of Drake's incessant complaining that lacks any helpful input whatsoever. If he wants to really make himself useful, how about hotwiring the ignition, since Dracula's already taken care of clipping the wires for him? By the way, if you're taking guesses as to who Harker's mysterious contact is, you can omit Blade from your list, as it would be a couple of issues before he's introduced in the title. Obviously our trapped group doesn't have that kind of time.

Also running out of time is Mortte, who is ordered by the recovering Dracula to dismiss his patients but also takes the precaution of having his daughter, Adrian, leave as well. For Dracula wishes to discuss another matter with Mortte, one that fills the doctor with dread--with good reason.

Keep in mind Dracula's expectations for this device, since they appear to be quite different from what we see in its execution.

And speaking of execution, Harker and his friends now find themselves trapped in much closer quarters than their former accommodations--with far fewer options for escape. Fortunately, Harker's contact comes through in the nick of time--and by air express, at that.

But there is a more intense drama taking place at the cemetery where we left Dracula with Mortte, the one who has given him the means to take countless lives in the mad quest to achieve his goal. Thanks to the arrival of Adrian, we not only learn more about Mortte's background, but we're also witness to the return of his conscience, which could bring an end to his tormentor's mad plans. Yet, contrary to Wolfman's script, Mortte's rebellion seems more the result of Dracula stepping too far over the line and threatening his daughter's life.

Wolfman's scene would have played just as well if he hadn't tipped his hand by having Mortte refuse to cooperate even after Dracula had seized the projector, since Mortte wasn't then in any position to interfere--his refusal meant nothing at that point. Artist Gene Colan's panels had handled the arrival and intervention of Adrian well enough to transition smoothly into Dracula's threat on her life becoming the catalyst to have Mortte act on his conscience--and, scripted accordingly, the danger of the moment would have felt more palpable. What point was there to Mortte picking that time to describe in detail to Adrian the years that he and his wife kept their existence as vampires a secret? Adrian doesn't looked shocked at all by this revelation; in fact, the first time her shock appears evident is at the point where Mortte transforms into a bat before her eyes. If we're to go by Wolfman's script, her reaction seems anticlimactic; she's already learned that her father is a vampire, so instead she picks the point when her father takes to the air to react to that news.

On a separate technical note, the story has provided an opportunity to see the work of Ernie Chua, one of the different inkers to step in during Tom Palmer's brief absence--but while Chua does the job adequately here, his style provides little in the way of a sense of atmosphere and mood which is so important for a book featuring this sort of subject matter. For instance, the scenes in the fortress (even those in a supposedly pitch-black room), vs. Mortte's office, vs. Harker's parked car carry few indications of transition, with even the cemetery appearing as if it were late afternoon and lacking any measure of suspense.

As for Adrian, her evening goes from bad to worse, when Dracula's nascent army begins pursuing her.

We're told this is an army of vampires, but... how can that be? Was this cemetery full of nothing but buried vampires? Why would they all be lying dormant under the ground, when they should have been out satisfying their blood lust? Why use Mortte's device on them, when they're already undead? Does this projector make these corpses into vampires? It seems unlikely, since Mortte originally designed the device to help his patients. (And you just know how they'd express their gratitude--come on, say it with me--"Fangs for nothing!") Why not just do this the old-fashioned way, and raise the cemetery residents as zombies/zuvembies/whatever, with the projector giving Dracula power over them?

However, this will all be moot, as Mortte fights a losing battle--but in defeat he ensures that Dracula is deprived of the prize he sought.

Chin up, Adrian--removed from those fence posts, your father should be reviving at any moment. (Though with all the discrepancies I've been chalking up in this story, don't bet on it.)

Tomb of Dracula #8

Script: Marv Wolfman
Pencils: Gene Colan
Inks: Ernie Chua
Letterer: Charlotte Jetter

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Ernie Chua after Tom Palmer is like a hot dog after sirloin steak.

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