Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fangs For The Memories

Horror comics come and go--and most certainly those featuring Count Dracula, undisputedly the main draw for vampire-related fiction. Given the vast number of Dracula stories, with their many interpretations of him, there is no one "standard" for his portrayal (though purists would surely point to Bram Stoker's novel of the same name).

But if there were, the 70-issue comic book series Tomb of Dracula would have to be in the top five. Its creative team--Marv Wolfman, writer; Gene Colan, artist; and Tom Palmer, inker--were with it through almost its entire run (with Colan the sole member to work on all of its issues), creating one of Marvel's finest classics. In the evolution of the book, the title character struck a balance between cultured and cruel, noble and sadistic, driven by ruthless ambition as well as an unending bloodlust.

If I had a quibble, it would be that Wolfman's Dracula (how odd that sounds) seldom strayed from his status as a "villain." His schemes were many, sometimes aspiring to nothing less than world conquest. He regarded humans strictly as cattle, with few exceptions. And his rages were manic and boastful. If anything, his cast of characters (those who weren't his antagonists, that is) tempered him, at least in the short term. Usually, they were drawn into his web--but on rare occasion he would be drawn into theirs, which made for fascinating reading.

When the book began, Dracula was rather one-dimensional--a clear and present danger, but not really spearheading the book yet. The book at that time belonged to the small group pursuing him--Rachel Van Helsing, Quincy Harker, and Frank Drake, all with ties to him. But their pursuit, and many missed chances at killing him, could only go on so long before it became tedious to the reader; and so, while they still maintained something of a presence in the stories, it was Dracula who rose (ha ha) to be the driving force of the stories. He was given more depth, more history; and we were more privy to his thoughts and motivations. This was finally a man with a story to tell--and luckily, he was already in a book of his own to tell it.

Now that the bumblers pursuing him were relegated to a supporting cast (if that), Wolfman and Colan were free to indulge themselves on Dracula. Along with the many good story arcs in the book, there were also many notable self-contained stories, any one of which could have been written at any time to be used when a "filler" story was needed. I can't say if that was ever the purpose of any of them, because they all were written so splendidly, and fit smoothly into the book. Dracula's journal entries were a particular treat--giving us several stories within one, and offering glimpses of both Dracula's past and his character.

Sales for Tomb of Dracula were consistent, for the most part, but not stellar. So there were times when Marvel's mainstream characters made appearances which looked as awkward on the cover as they read to the reader. Dracula battling the Silver Surfer is a scenario I never would have thought would cross Marv Wolfman's mind--yet here was the Silver Surfer, menaced by rats. That said, Dracula battling Dr. Strange worked on all levels, even crossing over to conclude in the other's book, with Colan and Palmer doing the artwork for both.

Should you feel tempted to check out the book, the first thirty-one issues (including a few related titles) are available in the Tomb of Dracula Volume 1 Omnibus, which you can get from Amazon at a reduced price. The second volume, containing the remaining issues of the series, is something you'll want to sit proudly alongside it. Volume 3 bookends the prior two by including Dracula's appearances in Dracula Lives!, Tomb of Dracula magazine, and his battles with the Frankenstein monster.  The series is an amazing read, and a must for any comics library.

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