Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Rise Of The Vampire!

It would be five years to the month (by our calendars) before Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, would meet again with Dracula, Lord of Vampires, after having narrowly avoided a living death at the hands (er, fangs) of Dracula in their first encounter. But just as Strange then had need of Dracula in order to save his servant, Wong, from the curse of the undead, their next meeting has their roles reversed, as this time it is Dracula who will need the skills of the Sorcerer Supreme as well as the might of his associates, the Defenders, in order to defeat the plans of the Six-Fingered Hand--a collective demonic entity whose goal is ultimately to merge Earth and Hell.

To that end, in order to remove the Defenders from possible interference, one of those demons, Puishannt, has empowered Gordski, one of Dracula's minor vampires, to be the new Lord of Vampires--even as no less than a dozen demons take possession of Dracula and drive him to physically attack Strange and the Defenders in the sorcerer's sanctum with the intent of slaying them. With the assistance of the Son of Satan in deciphering the truth, the attack fails--and Dracula is forced to depend on Strange to clear up the mystery of who had taken control of him, and why.

Having "eavesdropped" on the conversation between Gordski and Puishannt which reveals their complicity, Dracula and Strange realize that foiling this scheme is in all of their best interests, and reluctantly form a temporary alliance--though clearly, none of the Defenders are any happier with the decision than Dracula, an alliance made for the sake of expediency and, as Strange notes, common cause.

Clearly, Strange has brushed aside any surprise he might have felt at seeing Dracula among the living again (so to speak)--as well as, in light of the present danger from the Hand, any sense of responsibility he might have otherwise felt for finishing the task of dealing with Dracula's threat. It could be argued that the Defenders have no need to strike up an agreement with Dracula in order to battle one of the Hand (a point which, indeed, would be validated in the story's conclusion); but Dracula means to act no matter which way the pendulum swings here, and Strange and Hellstrom perhaps feel that choosing to meet one threat would allow the other to act unchecked.

In the end, the conflict demands that Hellstrom uphold his end of their agreement by conveying to Dracula valuable information that saves him from perishing with the rest of their foes. Yet, a little over two years later, Dracula and Strange would cross paths again, when Dracula's plans for ultimate power lead him on a quest to locate the Darkhold, a bound collection of parchments left on Earth by the demon Chthon--a demon the Avengers would encounter through the demon's possession of the Scarlet Witch, a woman who Strange now seeks out to help him reach the book first and thereby keep it out of Dracula's hands.

But how did Dracula learn of the Darkhold--and what's his interest in it?

For the answer, we'll have to flip the pages to yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

What's the official explanation for how vampires came to inhabit the Marvel universe?

Strange's first step, of course, is to verify the location of the Darkhold in the vault in Avengers Mansion, and to attempt to glean why Dracula would want to take possession of it. But only one piece of that puzzle will fall into our hands just now.

Meanwhile, Dracula marshals the members of the Darkholder cult--mystics he's already enthralled to not only carry out his will, but to begin to mystically remove any vulnerabilities that are part and parcel of the curse of the vampire (e.g., the inability to withstand the rays of the sun, or intolerance to religious icons, or susceptibility to death from wooden stakes or silver-pointed objects). With their arrival at the mansion, they now act as his army to penetrate the building, which he uses as a diversion to gain entry from the underground tunnel which leads to the Avengers' submarine bay.

Inside the mansion, the only Avenger on duty, Captain Marvel, deals with those who have breached the mansion's security; while above, Strange arrives with his friend, Hannibal King, a private investigator who has lived with the curse of vampirism himself for a number of years but with the distinction of not having taken a life because of it. While King uses his strength to take on some of the mob of Darkholders, the Scarlet Witch gives Strange the opening he needs to remove their threat en masse.

Once explanations are made, the group splits up, with Wanda, King, and Captain Marvel--each mystically disguised as Dr. Strange--attempt to distract and delay Dracula from reaching the Darkhold. But he breaks away in a frenzy once he realizes that the real Strange must be with the book already--yet for what Strange intends for the book for the time being, Dracula will be seconds too late to prevent it.

Fortunately, the others arrive in time to keep Dracula from attempting to force any information from Strange as to the book's new location; and once he's been informed that other Avengers are on the way (including possibly Thor, whom Dracula is wary of battling in light of his prior dealings with him), Dracula contacts the inner circle of the Darkholders to mystically transport him away.  Only then does Strange reveal where the book now resides.

And so it becomes a race against time, with Strange and his "posse" of vampire hunters heading to Mordo's castle as quickly as possible* while avoiding the attempts by the Darkholders to track them. And in their preparations, we learn of the Montesi formula, by which Strange hopes to eliminate the specter of vampirism from the world forever.

*Using conventional air travel? Taking time to make flight reservations, packing luggage, check-in and boarding, as well as waiting for an evening flight in order to protect King? This really wasn't the best time to shelve Strange's teleportational spells for the duration.

Meanwhile, Dracula has returned to Boston, and the deconsecrated church where he'd once hoped to establish a cult of his own but which now serves as the location where he and the Darkholders make their plans. Yet with the sunrise, we learn that even had the structure remained consecrated it would likely no longer present any danger to Dracula, given the heightened power and resistance that the spells of the Darkholders have conveyed upon him; and as Dracula relishes in his new state, he reflects on the irony of the Darkhold's history in regard to its ancient parchments and the fatal mistake that not only opened the door to the global threat of vampirism but also paved the way for Dracula to seize ultimate power.

While over the Atlantic, in a truck bound for Transylvania, a similar discussion on the Darkhold is taking place with Strange and the others, one which gives us more details on the monk named Montesi and his discovery of an extraordinary passage of the Darkhold which Strange now hopes to make use of.

But even as the men approach Castle Mordo, Dracula has used the Darkholders to make telepathic contact with his thralls, wherever they may be, to report on any sightings of Strange--a tactic which bears fruit when a tavern-goer in Romania gives positive verification of Strange and his party heading into the mountains in the past few hours. Consequently, Dracula wastes no time in commandeering first a U.S. Navy jet, followed by a Soviet jetliner to reach the area before Strange is able to recover the Darkhold.

As for his foes, they face considerable delay at Mordo's castle thanks in part to its former resident's spells designed to keep intruders away. But the more deadly threat comes from the Darkhold itself, which reacts to the approach of Strange by making use of any tools of death at hand. And while Strange and his friends attempt to make headway, their main enemy's arrival is imminent.

In his haste to reach his goal, Dracula has obviously given no thought whatsoever to either the Navy pilot he killed or the lives of the passengers and crew of the jetliner. You can imagine how little value he places on those who might soon be making Castle Mordo their last stand.



Big Murr said...

"To most of the people gathered here, this towering creature has always been a myth; a child's nightmare. It is to their credit that they leap so readily into the fray."

Lines like that in comics (usually when vampires are in the story) always give me a severe sprain from eye-rolling. In that panel, Nighthawk and Hellcat are the only two that might take the name "Dracula" seriously. To the Sorcerer Supreme, the Son of Satan, a demon-created gargoyle, a Norse demi-goddess and a sorceress from another dimension...well, "Dracula" means absolutely nothing or at most an intriguing surprise twist.

None of the characters here really apply, but there are the smartass skeptical heroes who don't believe Hercules or Thor are anything but strong guys using the names. A dude comes in claiming to be "Dracula" will just as likely provoke jeers and laughter with those guys.

Generally, any veteran superhero has seen some sh*t. A vampire ranks no more than another dangerous villain that needs their full attention.

Comicsfan said...

A fair point, Murray, though the Valkyrie might differ with you thanks to a scene from that Defenders issue not pictured here. Let's just say that Dracula educated her as to why his brand of deadliness is like no other.

Anonymous said...

Good luck getting a bunch of wooden stakes through Customs these days.

That was a great arc on Doc Strange, though. But I wondered why Marvel decided it didn't need vampires anymore? Why throw away potential stories?
Maybe it wasn't really meant to permanent. It wasn't!


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