Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Legacy Of Futility

It's hard to imagine this man, Quincy Harker, as a credible threat to Dracula, the Lord of Vampires--for this appears to be a beaten man, one who seems to have acknowledged both his limitations and his impotence where Dracula is concerned. Indeed, we see him here having lost not just a physical struggle with Dracula, but also one of spirit--and in his '70s, infirm and robbed of all he's loved by the vengeance of this sadistic vampire, his spirit which gave him the fortitude to see him through the years of bringing about Dracula's final end was all he could cling to. This night, Dracula has put an end to even that.

Writer Marv Wolfman, who has carefully developed the characters of Harker and his cadre of vampire hunters, has already given some focus to both Rachel Van Helsing as well as her close comrade, Taj, showing their (you'll forgive the word) stake in this life-or-death hunt for a man/demon literally as elusive as the mist. Here, he finally arrives at bringing dimension to Harker, who picked up this gauntlet of hounding Dracula even before the fight became personal--before he would lose so much. Even though Harker is basically a man, little different in essence from others that Dracula has humbled in his long (again, pardon the word) life, the fact that he's lived (lasted?) so long pursuing a vampire--one who makes it a point to eliminate any opposition that exhibits such audacity--perhaps elevates Harker above the other less fortunate enemies of Dracula whose contempt for the vampire cost them dearly. That's either due to Harker's resourcefulness as well as his network of allies that allow him to stay a step or two ahead of Dracula and remain the pursuer rather than the pursued--or due to, rather, Dracula's contempt, for a man whom he will eventually outlast in this one-sided fight.

In this story, Harker learns he will be confronting Dracula directly, as Dracula has learned that Harker possesses valuable information that he needs to have in order to survive. And in his home, among the memories of those whom Dracula has taken from him through the years, Harker contemplates what may at last be the end of his long battle with this vampire.

Though for Dracula, his only anticipation is removing Harker's annoyance once and for all.

To backtrack a little, and gain some understanding as to why Harker began this long fight in the first place, we learn fairly early in the series (in Wolfman's first scripted issue, as it turns out) that he picked up the mantle at the age of 16 from the group which first formed to battle Dracula after the events set in motion by his father, Jonathan Harker.

But the battle became infinitely more personal to Harker around the time it also did to Dracula, when the vampire tired of Harker's constant hunting of him and decided to turn the tables in that respect.

Wherein we discover just how Harker lost the use of his legs:

As you can see, Harker is recalling these events when Dracula is seemingly at his mercy. Yet the words are not spoken in victory, as we'll soon learn.

Which brings us to the deadly confrontation between these two foes, one which Harker is prepared for in this old mansion of his which has been booby-trapped to the hilt in anticipation of this fight. Dracula would be a fool to assume he wasn't walking into a trap, of course--and when he arrives, he and Harker cordially but guardedly feel each other out, both coiling before the inevitable strike.

Finally, Dracula bluntly demands the documents he has come for--and Harker realizes the "game" is over, setting his loyal dog on the vampire, whose special cross-studded collar inflicts pain on Dracula before being dealt with. When Dracula looks around, Harker is gone. And another act begins.

And so it goes, with Harker's traps and gadgets assisting him in a delaying action while he baits Dracula into one last, all-or-nothing trap:

The gambit succeeds, though only barely--Dracula is only slowly dying, the arrows coming close to his heart but not on target. But close enough for Harker to allow his decades-old anguish to finally be released.

Wolfman has given Harker his due--but in tragic fashion, he snatches away this hard-fought victory when Dracula informs Harker of his ace in the hole:  the captured Rachel Van Helsing, who will be killed by vampires unless Dracula is freed. And even though Rachel pleads with Harker to end Dracula's existence no matter what happens to her, Harker has seen so much death laid as his doorstep that he can only give one response.

And Dracula, seemingly at no surpirse to himself, rises in triumph. Harker's efforts to stop him, all culminating in this one confrontation, have been in vain. But as crushed as Harker's spirit is, Dracula--a master of rubbing salt in the wound--isn't through yet. The vampire sees to Rachel's release, and obtains the information from Harker that he came for; but, in this brilliant coda which Wolfman provides to their macabre evening, Dracula drives home Harker's humiliation in full.

And though Harker is no stranger to adversity in this lifelong duel with Dracula, clearly this encounter has deeply wounded him--so much so that he begins to put his affairs in order, as if finally closing the door on this abhorrent struggle. It's interesting to see how skillfully Wolfman has portrayed the differences in these two men in that respect. Harker has built his entire life into a commitment toward one goal, the end of Dracula.  But to Dracula--for all intents and purposes, immortal--Harker has been mostly a thorn in his side, more of a niggling annoyance than a direct threat, given the perspective he has of a life lived over the span of hundreds of years and filled with a myriad of conflicts and dangers to his life. In fact, during their fight when Harker has succeeded in bringing him down, Dracula makes it very clear why Harker is just another in the pack of cretins he's dealt with: "We will both die together, Harker. We'll both draw our last breaths at the same time. But remember this--I will return... I will be brought back from the grave... while you lie cold and decaying beneath the earth." In effect, Harker has battled this demon for a lifetime and has virtually nothing to show for it. It's difficult not to feel disheartened in the face of that.

Yet we know that Harker's battle with Dracula will continue, and readers of this series know that his moment is yet to come. Though to Dracula, who has overcome men like Harker for generations, Harker's legacy may well amount to no more than a contemplated entry in Dracula's journal.

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