Greetings, tomb dwellers! It’s time once again for another Tuesdays in the Tomb, where The Longbox of Darkness unpacks an issue of the greatest horror comic Marvel ever produced – The Tomb of Dracula. In our last post, we looked at the first seven issues of the series, but from this post onwards, we’ll be going issue by issue. The reason? Why, because the gang’s all here, folks! Just like the events in this comic, where Quincy Harker and his faithful mutt Saint are revealed as the final members of our intrepid band of vampire-hunting heroes, so too does writer Marv Wolfman finally make his debut, completing the legendary trio – alongside artists supreme Gene Colan (pencils) and Tom Palmer (inks) – that would stay on the title for a whopping 62 issues! And that’s not even counting the Giant-Size Specials or the stories they did for “Dracula Lives!”, the Marvel black & white horror magazine.
So let’s set the stage, shall we? We’ll kick things off with our cover analysis before launching into our sadistically sweet synopsis. After that we’ll discuss what we call our “Draculogue” segment, where we focus on Drac’s verbosity and epic smack talk! Finally, we’ll round things off with favorite bloody bits and a rating.
Ready, monstrous Marvelites? Here we go!
The cover is definitely not one of Big John Buscema’s best. He’s just not a natural horror artist, unless it comes to drawing monstrous beasties for Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian comics.
While this image does an adequate job of conveying hints of the story contained within the issue, Dracula’s grin is too comedic for my liking. The composition is also not that great, as there is no central image to focus on. Dracula stands off to the side, and the use of the wordy dialogue boxes mars the overall image for me. A vampire leading a group of children into battle comes off as silly rather than terrifying in this.
The inking by Tom Palmer is, as always, superb, while the lettering by Gaspar Saladino is nothing short of terrific.
Our tale starts on a chilly night draped in snow, as the ever-fashionable Lord of Vampires is prowling the streets of London in bat form. His aim? A quick bite to eat.
He eventually zeroes in on a young girl, one Edith Harker (does the surname sound familiar?), employing his power over base animals (in this case, rats) to cut off her escape. However, Drac’s dinner plans are thwarted by a pesky crucifix dangling from the girl’s neck. Repulsed, he manages to knock out Edith with one of his trademark slaps before fleeing. However, as he departs, he sets the London rats on his victim, who is now lying defenseless in the snow.
Luckily, Edith’s wheelchair-bound dad, Quincy Harker, and his loyal pooch Saint come to the rescue, fending off the rat attack and dragging Edith’s limp form to safety. Quincy then rings up the vampire hunters Rachel van Helsing and the hulking Indian Taj, whom we met in the previous issues, and who are now accompanied by Frank Drake, the descendant of Dracula who caused this whole mess by resurrecting the dreaded Count in the first place. They are informed by Quincy that Dracula has been spotted in London, and that they should rendezvous with him as soon as possible.
Elsewhere, Dracula returns to his current lair (a mortuary – very fitting!) where his human lapdog, Clifton Graves, was holding down the fort. Dracula, offended by Clifton’s fawning, swats him aside and prepares for a coffin nap, as the daylight fast approaches.
Meanwhile, Rachel and her crew hop a train to meet Quincy in London. Frank is drafted into the vampire killing club by Quincy, which Rachel and Taj are already a part of. Playing the Q to Frank Drake’s James Bond, (Q)uincy reveals his remarkable inventions – scientific traps and weapons to combat the undead. Galvanized, the vampire killers start making plans to trap and kill Dracula.
Back in his hideout, the Lord of Vampires also sets some events into motion that would make life unlivable for his pursuers.
Phase 1: He strolls into town and promptly hypnotizes a bunch of kids playing soccer, forcing them to become his pint-sized army of assassins – talk about being a bad influence.
Phase 2: A drunkard (who was celebrating his imminent nuptials in a nearby pub, sadly) is herded to Dracula’s dinner table by an army of rats. His final screams catch the vampire hunters’ attention, who rally to find Dracula.
During the rush to get after the Count, Quincy mentions a ‘special agent’ that he could call in times of emergency – we’ll learn more about who this mysterious ace up Quincy’s sleeve is later. Then, after a bit of a cat and mouse (or should I say bat and dog) chase, the hunters finally corner Dracula at his mortuary home. However, Dracula, ever the master of the morbidly dramatic, uses the dead body of the drunkard as a lookalike and decoy! While Quincy is staking the drunkard dressed up as Dracula in a coffin, Drac sics his own personal Village of the Damned army on them. That’s right, the creepy kids enter the fray, and boy are they armed to the teeth.
Quincy, though, scores a small victory by blasting Drac with a poison-laced dart from his weaponized wheelchair!
During the commotion, Dracula escapes, leaving the hunters to deal with a bunch of psychopathic kids intent on re-enacting Children of the Corn. And that’s where the issue leaves us, wrestling with a major cliffhanger. Nobody in their right mind would forego picking up the next issue after reading this.
Story Assessment: Overall I thought this was a fun issue and a great debut for Wolfman as writer. Not only did he introduce Quincy Harker, the son of Mina and Johnathan Harker from Bram Stoker’s novel (and arguably the most important character in the story other than Dracula himself) but he also brought home the horror with the creepy kid angle, a la Narciso Serrador’s cinematic Spanish masterpiece “Who Can Kill A Child?” The pursuit of Edith through the snow and the use of London’s rats to herd the drunken reveler into Dracula’s clutches was eerie and suspenseful, and Quincy repeatedly staking a dead body that is not Dracula’s own is macabre and disturbing. So the story worked for me.
The Art: A tour de force by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer, as usual. I particularly like the way Colan draws creepy children. Their blank stares and vapid faces evoke a feeling of terror, and the horror in the snowbound streets of London brings classic scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining or even John Carpenter’s The Thing to mind; even at times more recent fare like 30 Days of Night. Of course, these films came after this issue, which was published in 1973, but it definitely prods me to remember more ‘chilling’ memories of horror from my childhood as a budding film addict.
As in every issue of TOD written by Marv Wolfman, Dracula makes ridiculously dramatic statements that equate to the most grandiose and hyperbolic smack talk you would ever encounter.
Here are a few examples from this issue:
Clifton Graves: Did it go well, Master… did it?
Dracula: Of course, dolt! Did you expect otherwise? The children are in my power! They will do as I command! Anything… including MURDER!!!”
Dracula: Too long have I taken the defensive… such is NOT the way of Dracula! We are soldiers, warriors… not passive WOMEN*. No longer do I sit back, my mindless fool. Tonight, DRACULA STRIKES!
Dracula: Blast you, woman!* I must find another victim… you can keep your peasant blood, and LET THE RATS FEAST ON IT!
*Unfortunately, Dracula is a raving reprehensible misogynist. This will last until he meets Storm in the pages of Uncanny X-Men, I guess. Still, what else do you expect from a 15th-century Romanian warlord?
The Best Bloody Bits
- Dracula employs his trademark super-slap not once, but twice during this issue. Once against the hapless Edith, and then against Quincy’s dog Saint. Brutal!
2. When Clifton bothers Dracula with his ministrations, Dracula loses it and hurls the toady from his coffin with an ignominous dismissal. Classic!
3. When Dracula attacks his drunk victim, he retorts to the drunkard’s exclamation of “In Heaven’s Name… NO!!” with his own “In the name of Hell, YES!!” Classic Drac!
I enjoyed this issue tremendously. It’s certainly not perfect, mostly because of the disappointing cover, and there were some pacing issues, as well as the fact that London seems to be reduced to the size of a small town where only Dracula, the Vampire Hunters, and a few pedestrians exist. Still, I’m going to be generous and give this 4 out of 5 enthralled rats! (That’s right we’re using the RATS rating system today – eat your heart out, James Herbert).
And that wraps it up for this week’s Tuesdays in the Tomb! Join The Longbox of Darkness next week as we continue our coverage of TOD with issue #8, where we meet Heinrich Mortte and his PROJECTOR OF THE DAMNED!
Thanks for reading, fiendish friends. Remember to leave a comment below and to subscribe to the blog to be notified of future posts. And if you would like to read along with our Tomb of Dracula coverage but don’t have any of the material at hand, LOD recommends the following terrorific tomes to whet your appetite for vampire action in the Mighty Marvel Manner!
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