Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Deadly Thirst of... Baron Blood!

It's reasonable to wonder why the notorious Baron Blood never made an appearance in the Tomb Of Dracula book, as an antagonist or otherwise. Though it can be fun to imagine how such a confrontation might play out:

"Gaze into my eyes, fool..."
"Gaze into my eyes, fool..."
"No, fool, YOU gaze into MY..."

Yet there's no reason to believe that Blood wouldn't be subservient to Dracula, and willingly, since he's often prided himself at being "a scion of Dracula" and seems to have no qualms about doing his master's bidding.

We know of the original Baron Blood's exploits primarily through stories featured in The Invaders and the more contemporary Captain America, the latter book being where the Baron finally met his end.

From what I understand, Blood was a frequent and formidable adversary in The Invaders, as well as other mags that featured wartime exploits. Thanks to artist Frank Robbins, he certainly has one of the more interesting villain costumes out there, with his hood resembling the head and ears of a bat--and the rest of the outfit completing the look, clinging to a bony frame and accentuated by a large "winged" membrane. It's unclear how Blood can actually take to the air and fly without changing his shape to a bat; perhaps he weighs next to nothing and can simply glide for short distances. Regardless, he remains one of the most eye-catching and striking villains around.

To fast-track the character's origin, the creature who became known as "Baron Blood" is the result of family bitterness combined with leanings toward Nazi Germany. After their father passed away in the early 1900s, the elder of the two Falsworth sons, Montgomery, became Lord Falsworth, while the younger and embittered John struck out on his own and wandered Europe. It's during this time that he ended up in Transylvania--and his ambition led to a fatal underestimation of the being he sought to bring under his control.

It was never quite clear to me how the title "Baron" was attached to this vampire; perhaps the Germans gave it to him when Blood began working with them. My understanding of British titles is that "Baron" has the same meaning as the preferred "Lord," so perhaps Blood felt it was a way to deride his brother's status and claim a bit of his own.

With Montgomery becoming the British iconic hero known as Union Jack and fighting in World Wars I and II, John's resentment of his brother brought Blood into conflict with the Invaders, who met him in final battle at the Falsworth estate, where he kidnapped Montgomery's daughter, Jacqueline, and prepared to slay her. During the conflict, he also revealed how the Nazis helped to condition him to resist the harmful effects of the sun.

But the filthy fiend is prevented from claiming his prize as Union Jack confronts him in caverns beneath the estate and, in a heated battle, is severely injured when hit with a large boulder which crushes his legs. But when the Invaders converge on them, an accident ends the reign of terror of Baron Blood, at least for now.

Since Blood's remains aren't properly disposed of, he would rise again to battle the Invaders, with his menace finally ended by the Sub-Mariner's use of a wooden stake. At that point, his remains are sealed in the Tower of London, and there they stayed for over thirty years--or so it was thought. When a series of grisly murders take place in the area, Falsworth, now old and infirm, calls for Captain America's assistance in tracking down the one who Falsworth feels certain is responsible, against all evidence to the contrary. Consequently, Cap's first stop is to verify that Blood is indeed still present in his sealed coffin, a visit which leads to a horrifying discovery.

Not only is Blood free and at large--he's apparently been so for over a decade. The mystery is why he's kept such a low profile for so long. It's a question that Cap may not live long enough to answer, as Blood makes a preemptive strike by coming to Falsworth Manor in the dead of night and attempting to catch Cap by surprise. Cap, of course, expected this sort of reaction to his presence, and engages Blood in a hard-fought battle--but Blood has the full abilities of a vampire, and Cap is eventually undone, standing helpless as his foe prepares to take his life.

Unfortunately, Blood may well go down as the only vampire to come close to needing dentures, thanks to the unexpected resilience of Cap's uniform. And despite Blood's advantage of strength, Cap manages to drive him off with the approaching dawn.

After a thorough search for Blood the next day and some investigative work, Cap, with the help of "Union Jack," lays a trap for Blood that evening, as Blood again confronts his now bed-ridden brother who appears to have readopted his distinctive uniform from the war. And as the man lies helpless, we learn of how Blood was revived, and why he's stayed under the radar for so long.

But Falsworth isn't as helpless as Blood may think; in fact, it's not Falsworth in costume at all, but a friend of Falsworth's great-nephew who has suited up in order to help Cap spring a well-laid trap for Blood.

However, Blood is able to hold his ground, counting on the setting sun to see his full power restored; and when Union Jack is out of the fight and Captain America is on the ropes, Cap makes the only decision he can make, one which clearly costs him in mind and spirit.

It's the only part of writer Roger Stern's story that doesn't really add up; after all, a man such as Cap who battled through a bloody and relentless world war can be no stranger to death. How many lives was he forced to take on the battlefield? None? Really? Captain America, the country's super-soldier, battling to preserve the lives of the men he fought with yet drawing the line at killing enemy soldiers? It seems unlikely in the extreme, even if we swallow the notion that Bucky was given the dirty work in the partnership. So while it would make sense for a man like Cap to hesitate at the crucial moment, it makes little to no sense to see him balk at killing Blood, a creature whose mortal life was already ended decades past.

Lord Falsworth passed away peacefully while his brother's pyres did their work at last and assured the vampire's final death. But in one form or another, "Baron Blood" would return to seek out new victims and make sure the outline of that feared and ghastly costume would continue to fall across the silhouette of the moon on a still night.


Anonymous said...

The idea of a Nazi vampire is kind of inevitable, if you think about it. I know the Invaders fought some kind of a Frankenstein monster at one point.
I think, given time, Roy Thomas would have come up with a story where Rommel's Afrika Korps discovered an Egyptian mummy and sicced it on the Invaders. Hey, that wouldn't have been any weirder than when Hitler summoned Thor.
What was Dracula's timeline during this period? I know he got staked by the Frankenstein monster in the late 1800's in The Monster of Frankenstein comic (not a bad idea for a post). Did he sleep out the period of the two world wars?
I don't blame him if he did. Sometimes it doesn't pay to get outta bed, or the coffin.

Comicsfan said...

I believe the entries in Dracula's journal would probably account for some of his time during that period, M.P. We know at least that, given the nature of Falsworth's plans for him, Dracula was active around WWI--and certainly the distractions of weapons fire and the mounting casualties of both wars would have provided Dracula with the freedom and resources to feast. A timeline of his wartime existence would be a fascinating trail to explore.