Monday, December 5, 2016

Hell Hath No Fury...

Nothing starts off the mirthful and joyous Christmas season like a couple of back-to-back thrillers featuring the Lord of Vampires quenching his deadly thirst on hapless victims, I always say. And for those of us in the States, the timing couldn't be better, since Dracula is soon to be forced to travel to America in order to put a halt to the plan of the twisted Doctor Sun. It's only recently, in a near-fatal confrontation with his old enemy, Quincy Harker, that Dracula has received information that an as-yet unnamed foe has been draining him of his powers, and that he has just two weeks before he dies a final death; and thanks to an enthralled member of Parliament, Dracula receives papers detailing a Scotland Yard investigation that confirms his suspicions that it's Sun who is responsible.

And now, Dracula must race against time to find the current location of Sun, so that he may stop the process and carry out his vengeance on the floating brain. Which brings us to Daphne von Wilkinson, a fashion industry cutthroat who makes Miranda Priestly look tame by comparison.

Miranda... er, Daphne is a ruthless businesswoman by any measure, her attitude and practices born of her many dealings with similarly ruthless men who have stolen her designs or otherwise dealt her an unscrupulous hand in their own pursuits of power and profit. It's probably not surprising to discover that the men in her employ can at times expect from her a brutal amount of harsh candor.

Daphne is no less curt with her bank's loan officer, Jackson Hardy, whose superiors have reached the end of their patience with Daphne, having fallen behind six months on her notes and subsequently began dodging the bank's inquiries. During Hardy's visit, Daphne insists that her business is turning around--but after a blunt review of her records, and in the face of her obstinance, Hardy is forced to take drastic measures to gain her compliance.

Like Dracula, Daphne now also finds herself living on borrowed time, professionally speaking--and given how consumed she is with success, for her the stakes are just as high as they are for Dracula. Which makes her next meeting as coincidental as it will be fortuitous.

Writer Marv Wolfman does quite an excellent job with the various characters we'll encounter in Daphne's story--giving them such rich dimensions and background even though, for many of them, their moments in the story are numbered. Yet there are certain compromises he makes for this story to proceed on the path he sets; for one, setting aside the condition that Dracula may never enter a structure unbidden, a condition which apparently now makes allowances for weakness and an inability to control your flight.

Daphne, it goes without saying, has no scruples about reviewing the papers she's found on Dracula, and discovers not only that he is the "lord of vampires" as he claims but also why he has such need for blood (beyond that of a typical vampire, that is). When we encounter her next, she's again receiving Mr. Hardy, and in quite a different frame of mind.

To say that Daphne comes on to Hardy is an understatement, as she proceeds to cozy up to him and dole out a truckload of flattery, clearly switching to a carrot vs. a stick approach in her attempts to coerce him to change his mind about her company's dissolution. And Hardy might well have acquiesced, had he known who--what--was waiting in the wings.

Letterer John Costanza makes a curious choice with these panels, appearing to disregard how Colan likely intended the sequence to play out following Dracula's entrance. Costanza's choice depends on an arrow being inserted to follow Wolfman's dialog, though it might have made more sense to simply reverse the dialog balloons to coincide with the progression of Dracula's attack:

Clearly Daphne and Dracula have made some sort of agreement to cooperate with each other--but on what terms? Dracula has no reason to spare Daphne's life, especially in light of his need for sustenance--and as for Daphne, she hasn't gone to so much trouble to bring Dracula into her corner, at such personal risk to herself, if she didn't need his assistance for something crucial (or more accurately, something crucial to Daphne).

And so the pact is made, and we have most of its details. Daphne is gathering information on Sun's whereabouts from a *ahem* reliable source in Scotland Yard--and as for her needs, it seems that she's interested in settling old scores with a number of men whom we can presume have double-crossed her in some way, accounts which she intends to be squared with their deaths. It's an incredible development, considering we are, after all, talking about nothing more than the fashion industry, a mercenary profession in name only; yet Daphne has been trodden on often enough to hold a number of grudges for those who went on to enjoy the fruits of her labors without a thought for her compensation. And now, with her business in free fall, she puts it to Dracula thus: "Even a 'simple' fashion designer has use for vengeance."

Also, you may have noticed that Wolfman has dropped another subtle nugget into place in order for this plan of Daphne's to continue gaining momentum: the fact that for some reason it will take three days for her "friend," Anita, to procure the information about Sun from the agent in Scotland Yard. Why the lag? Let's say for the sake of argument that Daphne has thought ahead and believes it would be too suspicious to have all of the men on her list killed on the same night. Yet we also must assume that Scotland Yard would put the pieces of this puzzle together and discover that Daphne is the one person these men (as well as Hardy) have in common, a fact that would surface regardless of the interval in which they were all killed. So if we disregard that factor, there appears to be no reason to conspicuously choose a three-day delay for retrieving the information about Sun. More on this train of thought in a moment.

For now, Dracula is willing to play along, considering that Daphne raises a valid point: it's win-win for Dracula, considering that in addition to obtaining Sun's whereabouts, he'll be compensated on his kills with the blood he needs. Perhaps it's that reason that keeps him from simply hypnotizing Daphne and orchestrating the retrieval of the information himself, though Wolfman will choose only to later raise that point in passing.

On the whole, there is much to enjoy about Wolfman's style, so well does it blend with artist Gene Colan's interpretation of the plot. Wolfman and Chris Claremont often seem to be two sides of the same coin--both taking great pains to have their incidental characters make memorable impressions, but with each bringing those characters to life in different ways. In Tomb Of Dracula, Wolfman is helped by the fact that he's often dealing with characters who are fated to die, thus rendering their backgrounds and personality traits all the more tragic for their loss--examples we'll see in each of the men that Daphne has targeted for death, even if they're hardly the sort that you and I would call sympathetic figures.

First on the list is a man who didn't profit from the ideas he stole from others--far from it--and who now doesn't mind exchanging his white collar for blue, in spite of what his acerbic wife would wish for him.

We can see that Wolfman is making a point to clarify the odd three-day condition that Daphne specified, though still with no inkling as to the reason behind it. We can only presume that Dracula and Daphne have established the reason(s) off-panel; unfortunately, Wolfman nearly spoils his own ending by having Dracula all but spell out why the condition was dropped as a "placeholder" for the reader in the first place.

That should clear it up for most of you--and if so, that leaves only Daphne in the dark, though we can all probably agree that she has it coming.

Which brings us to Daphne's second victim, another designer who all but shrugs his shoulders at admitting that he stole her designs. Accordingly, Dracula can play him like a violin, appealing to his baser instincts in order to maneuver him into a most undignified death.

We never learn what connection Mitchell has with Frank Drake, Dracula's ancestor who now works against him with Rachel Van Helsing and Quincy Harker. How was the subject even broached between Mitchell and Dracula? One of them would have needed a reason to bring Frank's name up in conversation; perhaps Mitchell assumed that Dracula... that is, "Mr. Drake" might have been related to Frank, and Dracula played along and used it as a way to ingratiate himself with the man.

Third up on our list is Jack Bolt, who once employed Daphne but often disregarded her input because he has a rather narrow-minded opinion of women. He doesn't have a high opinion of visitors who threaten him, either--until they toss aside a weighted barbell like a breadstick.

Three down, one to go--this one almost 500 miles away in Scotland, a financier and industrialist who is used to having people at his beck and call. We never do learn what his connection was with Daphne; perhaps he'd invested in her company only to retaliate in some way when her business went south. At any rate, he doesn't have to worry about any more late nights--Dracula has a way of clearing a person's schedule.

It's unclear what Dracula does with his time in the interim before he's set to meet with Daphne; when they do meet, for all Daphne knows Dracula has just killed his fourth victim that evening. Regardless, the terms of their agreement have been fulfilled, and Daphne holds up her part of the bargain.

Normally, that would settle accounts between these two parties, hmm? Daphne has gone to considerable lengths to accommodate Dracula's needs, while Dracula has fed well and obtained the information he desired. Yet Dracula has nevertheless done another's bidding, having had to accept Daphne's terms when his normal instinct would be to take what he wanted without permission or apology. Is it in Dracula's character to part with this human on equal terms?

For what it's worth to Daphne, she can take some small comfort in the fact that Dracula would likely have felt compelled to take the same action if she had been a man, instead.

As gruesome as this scene is, perhaps it might have been more dramatic had Daphne's attackers been limited to the four men she had targeted; instead, this group likely includes Hardy as well as the first victim's wife (along with Daphne's ill-fated model, Angie, who takes point). Nevertheless, business, as they say, seems to have taken a turn for the worse.

We segue to our second thriller, as Dracula sets his sights on America!

Tomb of Dracula #s 34-35

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


Unknown said...

i love that the first splash/image looks so much like sophia loren circa 1966 w/red hair.

Anonymous said...

I was going to say thank heavens Dracula went to America so we Brits could walk the streets in safety once more - but that terrifying final panel reminds me that he left plenty of vampires behind him...I really must get a crucifix and wooden stake. And if only it really snowed in Britain like it does in these panels but thanks to the Gulf Stream and climate change it'll be a miracle if I see a single snowflake in the next couple of months...sigh.

Comicsfan said...

Kitty, that's probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said about Daphne in a long while. ;)

Colin, the Montesi formula took care of the vampire problem for you, but that's another story. Come to think of it, it was supposed to eradicate them forever, and I notice they're still here... we may have to resort to a Marvel Trivia Question to address this one in detail.