Friday, September 21, 2018

Father Be Damned--The Vengeance Of Dracula's Daughter!

To say that the relationship between Dracula, Lord of the Undead, and his equally undead daughter, Lilith, is a contentious one may be a (heh) grave understatement. "Contentious" describes the behavior of individuals you'd find squaring off at protests (or at practically any Thanksgiving table). What these two share is more along the lines of a blood feud, going back five generations to virtually the moment of Lilith's birth--which makes it fair to say that Dracula himself instigated their mutual enmity, through no fault of Lilith's. Dracula, however, has a different persepective on the circumstances of their relationship, which he doesn't hesitate to recount to her during one of their rare meetings, taking place this time at a sports arena in London.

In essence, Dracula's intention at the time was to wash his hands of both wife and daughter, the latter entirely due to the fact that Lilith served to be a perpetual reminder of the woman he so hated.

But at this meeting where Lilith seeks to re-establish ties, she appears to be seeking not to bury the hatchet but to set it aside. Yet while the history between herself and her father has been sparse, it's never been even close to amiable, or even cooperative--nor is there any possibility that it ever will be. And of the two of them, only Dracula is prepared to bluntly admit it.

Consequently, there's been little to no contact to speak of between the pair in the Tomb Of Dracula title--which is probably just as well, since Dracula's brief reminiscences of Lilith are reflective of an unchanging status quo between them that Dracula has never demonstrated any signs of wishing to alter. And frankly, given Lilith's bitterness toward her father, it's clear why Dracula doesn't even entertain any thoughts of meeting her halfway.

But in late 1978, with the TOD title counting down to its final issues, writer Marv Wolfman gives Lilith her final shot at satisfying her hatred toward her father when, in a twist to their respective positions toward each other, Dracula finds himself in need of Lilith's help. The question is: Will she give it?

At first glance, it doesn't look like it.

For Dracula to consider seeking out his daughter, we'd have to assume the circumstances for him would be desperate, and they are. Having received harsh judgment by Satan, Dracula is no longer Lord of the Undead, nor undead himself--returned to the world a human being, perhaps the ultimate humility for one such as himself. Fortunately, he knows of a way to reverse that setback, though there is only one whom he would allow to deliver the bite of a vampire that would restore him to what he was.

Lilith, as we've seen in her profile, is no ordinary vampire--having the power to merge her essence with a human host body, which means she could be anyone, anywhere. But if she holds to her pattern, Dracula probably surmises that she's keeping track of him, though supposedly how closely she's doing so depends on her whim. What Dracula doesn't know is that Lilith has merged herself with a host who is in a state of pregnancy--and so when Dracula believes he's identified her, he almost discounts the possibility.

With Dracula this time in the position of a suppliant (though it's highly doubtful he would put it that way), it would seem that Lilith is for once in a position of strength in the two of them coming to terms in regard to an alliance, or perhaps even the father/daughter acknowledgement that Lilith has sought in the past. But it seems evident that she isn't amenable to whatever entreaty Dracula has come to make--perhaps because, in vampire circles, news travels fast, and Lilith knows all too well that Dracula is at long last vulnerable, and ripe for the vengeance that she's prepared to exact. But not before she's seized the moment completely.

Curiously, we seldom if ever see the ramifications of Lilith's unveiling before whatever husband her host, Angel O'Hara, has made a life with. When Lilith appears, it seems that Angel disappears, completely submerged within Lilith until such time as Lilith shifts back; yet Wolfman never revisits the husband to give the reader any glimpse of his undoubtedly shocked and possibly horrified expression at what's become of the woman carrying their child. (A moot point with the first husband, since he was murdered before Lilith took Angel's form.) From the point Lilith makes her move, he becomes a nonentity--his purpose fulfilled by the complete disruption of two lives that has been caused by Lilith without any concern whatsoever on her part. And as for the child her host was carrying, who knows? That, too, has apparently served its purpose and is set aside.

As for Lilith, Wolfman basically gives us one last romp between the two characters before TOD ceases publication, thanks in part to Lilith's desire to toy with the bane of her existence who is now at her mercy; but we can assume that Dracula will survive Lilith's wrath, since Wolfman has him on a set course for three more issues. In the meantime, we see a somewhat different take on their struggle that has flared up in one form or another for the past five centuries, as Lilith exercises her vampiric abilities to the fullest against her now-helpless father.

Initially, their vicious clash moves to a theater (during a performance of "The Passion of Dracula,"* no less). And, just to prove how small a world it really is, Dracula again crosses paths with budding writer Harold H. Harold, who has ended up aiding Dracula in the past but tonight would rather have ended the evening making a favorable impression on his date.

*"The Passion of Dracula" was a real-world play written in three acts by Marvel artist Bob Hall and David Richmond, and performed off-Broadway in 1977 at the Cherry Lane in New York City while receiving a decent review from The New York Times. The play also ran in London, and was telecast on Showtime in 1980.

It's an improbable battle on Lilith's part--her anger combined with her fervent desire for Dracula's death notwithstanding, Dracula continues to not only survive, but shout his defiance. (Lightning bolts aren't enough to do the job on a defenseless human? Really?) When all is said and done, Lilith's threat must end with this issue, since Wolfman's plans for Dracula's final encounters are standing by and don't include her--and despite how she basks in her superiority, she's fated to make her exit in Tomb of Dracula with only a few choice threats on her lips, throwing in the towel even when she's still well capable of delivering the death blow.

She may have been given short shrift in Tomb of Dracula, but Lilith would find more of an outlet for her exploits in both Vampire Tales and Dracula Lives! (part of Marvel's black-and-white magazine line), which both bit the dust a few years before TOD ceased publication.

Dracula and daughter, as portrayed by artist Pablo Marcos.

Tomb of Dracula #67

Script: Marv Wolfman
Pencils: Gene Colan
Inks: Tom Palmer
Letterer: John Costanza


Big Murr said...

The best aspect of Tomb of Dracula was that Gene Colan (with the superb partnership of Tom Palmer) found his perfect title. Colan's work on superhero titles like Daredevil always left me flat. Then he did Dr. Strange and I sat up straight and paid attention. When he went to Tomb of Dracula, well, bravo! Bravo, indeed!

Beyond the art, Tomb of Dracula never appealed to me. All those years ago, my younger self had great trouble coming to grips with a flat-out monster being the protagonist of a comic. I only paid attention to the character when he crossed into the regular Marvel Universe, which only frustrated me even more. The fact Dracula could walk away from tussles with the Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange (though the Master of the Mystic Arts did singe the vampire's pencil thing moustache pretty good) and eventually Thor only raised my blood pressure to dangerous levels. (What Drac did to the X-Men only came to my awareness long after the actual publication. The mutants had fallen well off my radar by then)

That early confusion of a villain being the protagonist still lingers as a reflex to this day. Seeing Venom get his own movie made me swallow my gum.

Comicsfan said...

I think it all depends on how the book and/or story is handled, Big Murr. Villain protagonists are nothing new in Marvel lore; aside from Dracula, there are a number of such examples that have succeeded because more than their villainy was explored. Dracula is admittedly of a different variety than, say, Dr. Doom, Norman Osborn, the Hellfire Club, the Thunderbolts, et al., in that he is a fiend in every sense of the word, and his first resort in dealing with any situation that could potentially become a problem will be to engage in cold-blooded murder, the more sadistic the better. Yet in TOD we've seen there is more to the character--nothing to redeem him, no, but a great deal to hold our interest and demonstrate that this is a complex individual who thrives on an existence as one of the living dead (and damned). I doubt that any TOD reader is actually rooting for Dracula--but his reasons for his actions are often fascinating to see unfold (if reprehensible), and he is a steadfast object around which the book's many other elements orbit.

Anonymous said...

I think comics about about supervillains have the potential to be as or even more compelling than ones in which the protagonist is a good guy. D.C. has done some interesting things in this regard.
I think it's because such a comic might call for a bit more moral complexity than your standard hero story. The main character might triumph, and then again, he might not. Often he's up against somebody even worse than he is.
I remember one very funny letter in ToD supposedly written by Drac himself (who actually wrote it, I don't know) where he describes having drinks with Dr. Doom. Doom snidely points out that Drac doesn't even appear all that much in his own comic sometimes. Drac says, "Funny guy. I'm glad his comic got cancelled."
Remember how great Acts of Vengeance was? I wouldn't wanna hang around those guys, for fear of getting vaporized or experimented on, but it's fun to read about 'em.


Comicsfan said...

M.P., excellent points, as usual. I think if Super-Villain Team-Up had followed the format you suggest and been a little more subtle in its pacing (which happened on occasion), it might have made for a more interesting read.

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