Saturday, September 21, 2013

Through A Mirror Darkly!

The cover of Tomb of Dracula #4 gets a bit ahead of itself, with its image of the "bride of Dracula" joining the Count on his nightly hunting rounds. The woman in question actually doesn't appear until the next issue--and even so, the graphic takes a bit of dramatic license. The female vampire, Lenore, is hardly Dracula's bride--in fact, until now, she had been kept preserved in a bottle of blood in Dracula's castle until he might have need of her. We never find out what prompted Dracula to imprison her thus--but I doubt it was in celebration of nuptials. Also, the attacks pictured take place while the two are hunting separately, nor is Lenore the female vampire involved. Instead, it was an old woman--and though a former model, I don't suppose Marvel thought that she would pass as Dracula's bride at her present age.

Still, it's a Neal Adams cover--I'm not going to complain, are you?

It was probably just miscommunication--which is understandable, since the series was still floating writers at this point, until Marv Wolfman would finally take the reins for good three issues later. There's also the possibility that the hook of meeting "The Bride Of Dracula!"--particularly for a new comic trying to find its audience--was too valuable a selling tool to quibble about the cover's accuracy.

But while this story is shared by a supernatural element--a dark mirror which transports one to a different time or, otherwise, to their doom--the horror aspect can be found in Ilsa Strangway's story, an aging beauty who risks her life to strike a bargain with the master of the undead.

Ilsa has drawn the vampire's attention by purchasing his castle in Transylvania from Dracula's descendant, Frank Drake--all to discover the truth or falsehood in a work of fiction:

For Ilsa, now twenty years older than her modelling days, aging has brought neither grace nor wisdom. Through science and then the occult, she has sought to recapture her faded beauty, to no avail--and, grasping at straws, she now seeks to do so by investigating the link between vampirism and rejuvenation. And to secure Dracula's cooperation, she intrigues him with her knowledge of the properties of a dark mirror in her possession. Thus, once she has the information she sought, the deadly bargain is struck.

You may have already guessed that, despite his confirmation of Stoker's passage, Dracula has indeed made a lie of omission in his response to Ilsa. But time enough for that revelation once this tale unfolds further. For now, let's skip ahead a bit and find Dracula and his mortal servant, Clifton Graves, being witness to Ilsa's first night as one of the living dead.

Fortunately for Graves, Dracula is more interested in the so-called dark mirror that Ilsa bargained her life away with. The mirror was a demonic gift to a 16th century sorceress, but it was no mere object of reflection:

Ilsa saw the advantages such a mirror would have to a man in Dracula's position. Though the good Count might beg to differ:

And so both go their separate ways to begin the night's hunt. Yet one of them hunts for more than blood--Ilsa, who also seeks to end the curse born of her vanity.

Meanwhile, Dracula's usual pursuers--Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, and Taj (as well as men from Scotland Yard)--are closing in on both Dracula and Ilsa. Dracula has returned to the Strangway manor, only to find himself trapped by images of the crucifix attached to flashlights and spotlights; while Ilsa, her thirst slaked, returns to her coffin in a bittersweet mood. Despite the cost, she has her beauty restored, or so she thinks. When Rachel and Graves confront her at the site, Ilsa discovers the cruel trick Dracula has played on her.

Now just what the heck does Ilsa mean by that? To find out, first we have to catch up with Dracula, who in his current predicament discovers that a mirror-doorway out of this technologically-daunting century may not be such a bad idea after all.

But Dracula, too, will discover that Ilsa can also play the game of omitting certain important details from the truth:

And the circle of lies closes. Ilsa finds that her aged appearance is now irrevocably tied to immortality--while Dracula unknowingly prepares to doom himself by escaping through the dark mirror. Himself, and one other:

As for Ilsa, she sees a way out of her own hell. The only way out:

And Dracula? He definitely has a fight ahead of him--one demon against a horde of other demons. But that's a story for another time. We still have to cover one more item which has been omitted in this story's web of lies, though this time by the story's writer (Archie Goodwin)--the "trap door" of this dark mirror that necessitates there being another such mirror at the traveller's destination, otherwise the trap kicks in and the traveller is instead dropped off in the demon dimension. One way out of Dracula's apparent doom is that neither he nor Ilsa have any way of knowing that a similar mirror doesn't exist where Dracula is headed to--and so he and Taj could simply find themselves in the 19th century. After all, since this mirror came into existence in the past--specifically, in the 16th century--there must be another mirror in the 19th century, since we know it survived intact to reach the 20th. So why should we have any apprehension that Dracula is going to his doom--and why should Ilsa be so certain of it?

Which is perhaps why Goodwin has also thrown in the caveat that the mirror must also exist at the exact location the traveller arrives at--say, Dracula's castle, for instance. We don't discover until the next issue (under a different writer, I might add) that there is another incantation for the mirror, one which lets the traveller arrive wherever the destination mirror is located. As is, though, Dracula's incantation would make it virtually impossible to wind up at the exact spot where a mirror was standing.

I did like the concept of the dark mirror in this story--but honestly, Goodwin could have avoided all the fuss by just saying that Ilsa left out a few key words in the incantation in order to redirect Dracula's trip through the mirror and thereby be rid of him, rather than giving the mirror such gaps in logic.  The artwork even meshes with the simplified version.  All it would take is a minor adjustment to one panel:

Looks like this poor man was as misinformed as Dracula.


Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of TOD but I've never seen this. Was Dracula out of commission for a hundred years because of what happened in the Frankenstein comic? I'm not clear of the timeline here.
Ilsa's arrangement with Dracula seems like a Faustian bargain if I ever heard of one. And that mirror seems like something straight out of Clive Barker. (Maybe he read this when he was a kid!)
I think one of the things about TOD was that often Dracula was often almost a protagonist, a heroic figure fighting against entities worse than himself.

Comicsfan said...

Anon, yes, the story with Ilsa Strangway contradicts later stories which clearly show Dracula present in the 20th century--for instance, his meeting Blade in China in 1968, as well as the battle in his castle in 1969 where he was slain, and where he would remain until Clifton Graves removed his stake three years later. Ilsa, with her preoccupation with Stoker's fiction of the Count, can be excused for presuming that Dracula was asleep for 100 years and would be "a man out of his time," as she put it; but Tomb Of Dracula itself begins with that same premise, especially considering Frank Drake's inheritance of Castle Dracula from his father, giving the impression to readers that a century has gone by without Dracula being active.

For these early issues, we obviously have to set aside the discrepancies of the foundation which writers Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, and Gardner Fox were laying, in light of Marv Wolfman's later efforts to give historical context to Dracula. Clearly, Wolfman's Dracula would have little to no need of the Dark Mirror, given how familiar and acclimated we know him to be with the 20th century. That said, Frank Drake--and even Rachel Van Helsing, to an extent--are living reminders that the modern-day Dracula we know would have had to have been quite adept at living on the down-low following his fatal encounter with Abraham Van Helsing.

Steve Does Comics said...

John Romita really went to town on that cover didn't he? I'd love to see Neal Adams' original version to see what it looked like before John got his hands on it and just why it was felt it needed so much redrawing.

Comicsfan said...

I wonder if fellow blogger Rip Jagger might be able to follow up on that? He's so proficient at digging up those old original art covers.