Thursday, January 1, 2015

Suddenly Human

With only four issues to go until its coffin lid would be shut for good, Tomb of Dracula #66 contributed to a curious plot that had been taking shape for the past twenty issues, featuring Dracula's association with a satanic church cult--a budding power base for the vampire lord, which led to his increased exposure to concepts of a holy nature which directly involved him. Soon after cementing his position with the cultists, he took a wife, Domini--later followed by the birth of his son, Janus, a child he had already encountered in adult form and whose allusions to a higher power grated on Dracula. And last but not least came Dracula's ill-fated meeting with Satan, which resulted in Dracula being returned to Earth as fully human as punishment for his transgressions.

We know that Dracula has dealt with setbacks before, but this development takes the word to a new level. Dracula now wanders the streets as a human--yet not quite human, as writer Marv Wolfman lets him retain his mega-strength. It's an important distinction, since it prevents Dracula from being at anyone's mercy, nor does he have much reason to dial back his usual haughtiness. Instead of walking among equals and learning from human weaknesses and vulnerabilities like the rest of us, he can fight his way past them, still able to mete out punishment to those who get on his bad side. In essence, Dracula doesn't need to cope with his new condition and thereby find himself open to different ways of dealing with people--he just has to endure it while he adapts and devises a new course of action.

That said, the story is still an interesting diversion as far as seeing Dracula once again learn to function as a human after hundreds of years of operating as a vampire--and in a 20th century world. Before, he always had the luxury of keeping human customs and interactions at arm's length--but now, particularly with his need to consume blood no longer a factor, he's become dependent on humans in an entirely new way. Naturally, old habits die hard--and Dracula's first instinct is to take what he wants, when he wants it. But before now, his station let him avoid the burden of a loss of self-esteem.

Dracula may have a mugger's technique down--but he hasn't yet cultivated a mugger's instinct for sizing up affluent pedestrians. So he's forced to take his paltry haul to pursue his next priority: food, his first solid meal in centuries.

Ann Keats strikes up a conversation with Dracula, and the two leave, with Dracula ignorant of this *ahem* particular custom, as well. But they don't get very far before the tables are turned on Dracula, and he meets muggers who have a few more robberies under their belts. For all the good it does them:

Yet, even though Dracula and Ann depart with their wallets intact, Chino and his gang were well-paid for this encounter by Francis Brown, who's been stalking Dracula for the past few issues--a man who, thanks to what he's just seen of Dracula's fighting style, makes ready to strike.

Returning with Ann to her apartment to mend his wound, Dracula qualifies his earlier admittance of his identity by giving her a highly condensed version of his life's story--when it was still a life, that is.

After a telephone call to Domini to ease her worry as to Dracula's whereabouts, all hell breaks loose, as Brown makes his move. And Dracula finds that bullets are no longer a laughing matter.

Since Brown has been built up by Wolfman for the past few issues, and since this is the climax of his vendetta against Dracula (albeit due to an error in judgment), Wolfman cranks up this story's action and lets him make a fight of it--which he now can against this all-too-human target. Wounded even more severely now, Dracula is forced to hit and run withdraw, seeking room to better position himself. Unfortunately, his foe is also taking position:

Brown, perhaps jumping the gun (sorry), then leaps to grapple with Dracula, apparently having expected to already be finished with this devil. Were Dracula truly human in every sense, that might well have been the case. Brown seems to have come full circle, from his daughter's death to a fear that her supposed murderer will survive his own assault. And, combined with Dracula's tenacious blows, his moment of doubt has all but signed his death warrant.

Ann sees that Dracula gets to a hospital--and later, he'll attempt to locate his vampire-daughter, Lilith, in a futile plan to persuade her to make him a vampire again. Humanity, it seems, is the real curse for this more-than-man.

Tomb of Dracula #66

Script: Marv Wolfman
Pencils: Gene Colan
Inks: Tom Palmer
Letterer: John Costanza

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