Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Flight of Fear!

An indeterminate amount of time has passed since Dracula, Lord of the Undead, discovered that his deadly, disembodied enemy, Doctor Sun, is striking at him from within the United States--Boston, to be exact, a distance of over 3,200 miles from Dracula's current location in London. In a prior story, we saw Dracula fly in his bat form over 500 miles to Scotland to commit a murder in fulfillment of an agreement he made with a vengeful businesswoman; but now the distance he faces is too great, and he must secure conventional means of travel overseas. And he has little time to do so--the procedure that Sun performed while Dracula was his captive has made it possible for Sun to steadily drain his enemy's vampiric powers, and Dracula now has barely two weeks before he faces what could be his final death at last.

On Dracula's trail is a group of professionals who have gathered to track his movements and assess his state of vulnerability: Inspector Chelm of Scotland Yard; psychologist Dr. Scott, who's been brought in by Chelm; and Rachel Van Helsing and Quincy Harker, professed vampire hunters who have a long history with Dracula dating back to their respective ancestors. Through them, we'll follow the trail of blood and death that Dracula has left in his efforts to reach Boston--and as this story looks backward at those events, we're given a different kind of thriller than the prior tale, where those who have crossed Dracula's path give their eyewitness accounts of the horror that seeks to make its way to America.

Dr. Scott, whose exposure to Dracula has been limited to what he's learned in Chelm's company and in interviewing Harker, perhaps treats this meeting too much like a case study, whereas Quincy and Rachel (and, to an extent, Chelm) have had first-hand experience in dealing with the vampire and are more interested in the audio tapes than preamble. As a result, Rachel and Scott get off on the wrong foot, with Rachel's impatience with Scott's step-by-step methods becoming evident.

The first account comes from a mechanic at London's Heathrow Airport, William Perry, who discovered a problem with the landing gear of a plane scheduled to depart for Boston and was obligated to report it to the airport manager, who was left no choice but to announce a three-hour delay in the flight so that the problem could be resolved. Needless to say there's one passenger booked for that flight who can brook no delay--a man accustomed to his will being obeyed without question.

With every person who makes the mistake of trying to "handle" Dracula's outburst, the body count begins to rise--and when the manager himself is drawn into the situation, the wide-eyed Perry is helpless as Dracula strikes without mercy and slays Perry's boss without a moment's hesitation.

More airport security men arrive and open fire, their shots hitting only a sudden fog which Perry can't explain. It's a rather brazen use of Dracula's power, without the benefit of the cover of darkness and within the confines of a busy airport and no doubt dozens of witnesses--to say nothing of shouting his name for all to hear. We can perhaps attribute Dracula's outburst to desperation, with the clock ticking and his options for reaching Sun in time dwindling.  As for Perry, or any other witness to the scene, his account is difficult to buy from a reader's standpoint in terms of not putting two and two together as to what Dracula is, though in all fairness if this had happened in any of our airports we would probably be just as "mist"ified at what's happened and attribute Dracula's incident as a crazy loon who's off his meds and believes he's a fictional character.

Scott pauses the tape to summarize, which elicits a virtual eye-roll from Rachel who sees his "presentation" style as unnecessary. Still, their scenes become an interesting way for writer Marv Wolfman to segue through these witnesses, with the professional sparring between the upstart Scott and the more collected Rachel taking on an almost amusing quality as the two continue to swat each other with their diplomas. In terms of assessing the activities of Dracula, Rachel has been-there-done-that, whereas this is all new to Scott; yet Scott nevertheless offers valid insight throughout these sessions, insight which serves as Wolfman's narrative in lieu of scenes where Dracula or Quincy would be making these observations (albeit in a less Power Point way than our friend Scott).

Captain Greenely's tape is a more first-hand account of an encounter with Dracula, since Greenely's jet now has the dubious distinction of being Dracula's most available mode of transportation to the States. Greenely's destination is Washington, D.C.--but once he's airborne, he finds he's taken on a most deadly stowaway, with a different itinerary in mind.

Not to make light of Greenely's impending peril, but we certainly can't say much for all the state-of-the-art hardware this jet is packing, can we. A computer that can't compensate for added weight, to the point of the plane not simply veering off-course but going out of control (good lord, what if Greenely had brought a candy bar on board?)--followed by an inexplicable malfunction that has the plane launching its entire payload of missiles. "My mission was to prove that this jet was totally self-operative--that it could take off, compute its own path, photograph certain designated objects, return and land--all by itself!" Chelm and the others who are hearing Greenely's tape must be stunned at hearing how many systems aboard have failed thus far. This mega-bucks plane has proven to be a flying disaster.

To his credit, Greenely keeps his head, which is doubly commendable since he's had to fend off Dracula in his cockpit, as well. Fortunately for him, Dracula is too distracted by his own failing systems, as well as the G-forces of Greenely's efforts to dodge the plane's missiles, to focus on killing his pilot. As for we readers, we have our own distraction in Van Helsing and Scott, who can't stop pecking at each other even as Greenely's drama plays out. But since Greenely has made this recording after the fact, it's known by everyone present that the man survives--while Dracula has reconsidered and decided to keep his pilot alive after all.

And so the moment comes when the jet makes its approach to Boston and prepares to land. We can only hope this lemon's landing gear functions; we at least know that its radio transmissions were getting through, judging by the preparations being made on the ground for Greenely's unscheduled passenger. But despite being met in force, Dracula escapes--and to borrow Greenely's exclamation, all hell has indeed broken loose, to stalk the streets of Boston.

It's an interesting way of introducing Dracula's relocation to the U.S., where he would later establish his satanic church, battle Dr. Strange and the Silver Surfer, and even sire a son. Harker and Van Helsing make immediate plans to follow and renew their fight against him--and, wonder of wonders, even Van Helsing and Scott bury the hatchet and wish each other well. It's easy enough for these professionals to put aside their minor differences and realize that they're on the same side, after all.

As for the one Dracula pursues, does he realize that the vampire has learned of his presence in Boston and is even now closing in on him? Given his resources and contacts, there's not much beyond his ability to anticipate and plan for; and thanks to one contact in particular who likely had us all hoodwinked, it appears that everything is going according to plan--the plan of Doctor Sun.

Rachel's going to really be steamed at this guy if their paths cross again.

Tomb of Dracula #36

Script: Marv Wolfman
Pencils: Gene Colan
Inks: Tom Palmer
Letterer: Joe Rosen

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I first read this story in Marvel UK's "Dracula Lives" weekly and it seemed kind of inevitable that Dracula would end up in America where all the other Marvel characters were :D