Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Snowbound In Hell!

If you ever had the pleasure to read Tomb of Dracula, there might have been times when you wondered if Dracula's main cast of pursuers had little more than recurring roles, as ineffective as they usually were in their hunt. Frank Drake, a descendant of Dracula who changed his name for obvious reasons; Quincy Harker and Rachel Van Helsing, whose surnames need little explanation; and Taj, the mute muscle in the group. On those occasions where they cornered Dracula as a group, the stories were generally well-done and heightened with drama; but often the group seemed to sit around, following Dracula's movements and discussing possible clues to his plans gleaned from his behavior.

And if you think about it, they're probably lucky to have done that, given how long they avoided being on Dracula's to-do list of people to eliminate. Dracula mostly regarded this group with contempt, willing to fight them without mercy in direct confrontations but otherwise not bothering to keep them under surveillance in regard to their proximity to him. Let's face it--realistically, Dracula could have overwhelmed these people, individually or collectively, at any time, given his powers and level of strength. Rachel rarely if ever deviated from attacking him with a crossbow; Taj, with his bulk; and Drake with mostly his fists, treating Dracula like they were going at it in a barroom brawl. Of them all, only Harker made an effort to use technology to combat Dracula's abilities--though I dare say relying on your wheelchair to counter a vampire may not be the brightest of strategies.

It's usually when we got to know these people separately through individual conflicts with Dracula that they made for intriguing reading. And when Rachel and Dracula are stranded in the Transylvanian Alps, we have a deadly game of life and death play out where survival will depend on how canny each of these mortal enemies is with the other. In that sense, they're well-matched, indeed.

As for how this pair ended up trudging through the Alps, Rachel has made off with a powerful tome which threatens Dracula and all other vampires, and Dracula makes his way into her getaway helicopter to retrieve it and deal with her. Yet his incursion has thrown the 'copter off-course and out of control, and sent it crashing into a mountain. Dracula is unhurt, but is a realist as far as his chances for survival:

And so the game begins. Parry... thrust... parry. And not just in the ways in which Rachel seeks to sabotage Dracula's progress through the Alps. It's very much a war of wills between these two, with Dracula almost enjoying the subjugation of this foe who constantly probes his psyche for weakness or vulnerability:

Nor does their grappling end with implied threats in conversation, but continues on in the stormy winds. Rachel has made it clear to the vampire that she has no fear of dying in the mountains if, by doing so, it will mean his death, as well. But "stumbling" off a cliff has other advantages to her:

Yet Dracula parries... thrusts...

But, finally, the moment that Dracula has no control over arrives, as he is forced to initiate his time of sleep during daylight. And Rachel knows that the moment has come to end both her personal horror and the nightmare of this monster turned loose in the world. And she approaches the moment with the resolve she has shown throughout this long hunt:

Finally, though, Frank Drake locates both of them in another helicopter, and lowers a rope for Rachel to lunge for. But Dracula decides to do some lunging of his own, having seen Rachel's usefulness to him come to an end:

The conditions we've seen here have probably allowed Rachel to "hold her own" in a contest with Dracula where she otherwise might not have. Her pursuit of Dracula has been single-minded and determined, and she might well have continued her hunt for him even had she not been able to find allies. But, while resourceful, she is a match for Dracula only up to a point, and perhaps that's one of the things this story illustrates.

Dracula, as we've seen in this game of cat-and-mouse, clearly views himself as the former, and that is a perspective he'll hold for most of this series. The vampire will one day finally make good on his threat to Rachel (albeit in another title), and her struggle to resist death will not be nearly as compelling as her encounter with Dracula in the Alps.  And even Dracula might well admit that.


Longbox Graveyard said...

I LOVE Tomb of Dracula, and this is one of the best of the early issues. It is a bit of a contrivance that Drac doesn't just feast on Rachel straight away, but it is all in the service of a good story (and easier to accept than when Frank and Rachel just happen to stumble on Doctor Sun's secret cave in the following issue).

Anonymous said...

I'm also a big fan of TOD, although I'm not really crazy about this story in particular. But if you want to a good story about a vampire in a blizzard, I'd suggest "Nona", by Stephen King. Or even Robert E. Howard's "The Ice Giant's Daughter." A different kind of vampire, but..Brrrr. M.P.

Anonymous said...

A couple quick notes about my statement up there..I left the word "read" out in the first sentence and the name of the story in question is "The Frost Giant's Daughter." My bad. In retrospect, I'm not sure the second story qualifies as a "vampire" story, but it's still pretty good. If we're all in the mood for snow and blizzards and flat-out horror, we could watch "The Thing"(1980)...