Monday, February 17, 2020

Howl Of The Werewolf! Rage Of The Vampire!

During 1944-45, Universal Pictures sated demand for the Wolfman, Dracula, and the Frankenstein monster by giving us The House of Frankenstein and, just a week short of one year later, House of Dracula, the only two films up to that point where all three horror figures appear together--though, astonishingly, never on screen in the same scene at the same time. That honor was reserved for the 1948 film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein--and while it was only a momentary glimpse, one of my favorite still shots at least gives us an idea of how things might look had our three horror figures actually joined forces (if only against two hapless comedians).

Interestingly enough, if you take Bud Abbott and Lou Costello out of the mix, that film would have made for compelling viewing--well directed by Charles Barton, and excellent acting by Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. (who both played it wonderfully straight despite the antics of Abbott and Costello).

In the comics world, these monsters of old would also meet on occasion, often with no love lost between them. We've seen such an example with a clash in 1973 between Dracula and the Frankenstein monster--and in the following year, a crossover story with double the fangs (and hopefully double the fun) would be presented featuring the very pairing of monsters which in the A&C film engaged in a battle that led to their mutual end. Neither of these fearsome characters is likely to perish here, with each having their own title--nevertheless, there will be enough bloodshed to go around.

Once again, artist Gene Colan delivers on a symbolic splash page, eh?

The premise for this story has each character ending up in Transylvania* for different reasons. Jack Russell (our furry protagonist), with his lady, the mysterious Topaz, is investigating how his father fell victim to the curse of the werewolf, which might offer a clue as to a cure for himself--while Dracula is seeing to provisions for himself in regard to shipping new coffins filled with the soil of his homeland.

*A far cry from the more dramatic cityscape of New York, where cover artist Gil Kane would have us believe this story took place.

Granted, it's difficult to have more than a modicum of anticipation for the eventual meeting of these two; Dracula, after all, has several times the strength of a werewolf, in addition to a number of abilities he could bring to bear in a battle--whereas the werewolf provides mostly a feral aspect to the clash which we don't often see Dracula engaged in. That leaves Russell's mission as the foundation to hopefully support a two-part story, with both titles scripted by Marv *ahem* Wolfman.

The characters' first dust-up occurs following Russell's altercation with a sleazy pub patron--while Dracula, who as we've seen considers Transylvania and its populace to be at his beck and call, feels obliged to take sustenance from Topaz while paying no mind to her "creature." Yet he'll have his share of trouble from both this evening.

The next night, at Russoff Manor, Jack's family estate, he and Topaz come across the locked diary of his father--and more, a secret passageway which leads to a compelling discovery that sets up the more extended struggle we've been waiting for.

As captioned, the cliffhanger picks up in the Werewolf By Night title, pencilled by Mike Ploog--where Dracula finds the tables are turned, as he is again taken aback by the strange power of Topaz.

It's in this story that Russell learns of how his father, Baron Russoff, took revenge on Dracula for the slaying of his wife and in turn drove a stake through her murderer--and then subsequently encountering a woman named Lydia, whom Dracula had kept prisoner but was in actuality a werewolf herself, attacking Russoff in an unguarded moment and bringing her curse to him.

As for Dracula, it turns out that he is also interested in Russoff's diary, the possession of which is now a matter of life and death--his own.

Eventually, the struggle for the diary leads to the final confrontation between the werewolf and Dracula. It's frankly nothing to write home about; even with Topaz enabling Russell's mind to be in control of the beast, Dracula is a force to be reckoned with by any foe.

The only thing that saves the Werewolf and Topaz comes in the arrival of Rachel Van Helsing, who, seeing the importance of the diary to Dracula, steals it and flees by helicopter, with Dracula quickly leaving the scene and following.

This story's unintentional takeaway might be in giving one a sense of how popular the monster genre must have been in the 1970s if the werewolf, whose snarls and clawing in this two-part tale essentially amounted to nothing and who owes his life on more than one occasion to Topaz, was nevertheless considered capable of sustaining his own title. There's also the character's handicap to consider, having to depend on narrative to convey the nature of his actions or, in some manner, allowing Russell's thoughts to enter the picture--while Russell himself could be Johnny Blaze, or Frank Drake, or any number of Marvel characters spinning their wheels while the main draw of the book waits in the wings.

As for Dracula, who never leaves any doubt that he's the driving force of his title, he would have further dealings with Topaz, who is destined to have a confrontation with a far greater evil--while Dracula's pursuit of Rachel results in both of them being stranded in the Transylvanian alps, where Rachel attempts to outmaneuver her captor in a contest of wills which might eventually mean her death.


Big Murr said...

My younger self of the 70's and 80's surely enjoyed werewolves over vampires. (Still the case, to a certain extent, since The Howling remains in my video library, but no vampire movie has ever survived various cullings)

Within the realm of the Marvel Universe, Jack Russell was just a very feeble and (with the full moon requirement) contrived Hulk. "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when (checks calendar) February 17th comes. Oh, and mind you, that's the night of the 17th." It was only the art of Mike Ploog inking himself that sustained me thru the first few issues of Marvel Spotlight before regretfully giving up. If Ploog was the penciller on the sample panels here, he was just phoning it in and/or the inker sucked.

Comicsfan said...

Murray, Mr. Ploog was inked by Frank Chiarmonte in this issue.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, when I was a kid I was nuts about monsters too. Werewolves, Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, golems, Bigfoot, you name it. Even Greek mythology. Still am, I guess.
Some classic Marvel '70's horror stuff here. A real pleasure to unwind and enjoy it after a real long day.
Thanks, C.F.!


Comicsfan said...

My pleasure, M.P.--it was great to have another look at the A&C film. Cool effects in the final battle, and well before CGI! :)

Colin Jones said...

That photograph is crying out for a caption:

Abbott & Costello realised their comedy tour of Transylvania was a bad idea...


Abbott & Costello weren't impressed by Transylvania's answer to the Three Stooges...

By the way, here in Britain a "Jack Russell" is a breed of dog!

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