Hey, horror fans! The Longbox of Darkness is back with another Tuesdays in the Tomb, our weekly jaunt into the world of vampires, where we pore over an issue from Marvel Comics’ legendary horror series The Tomb of Dracula! This week we’re sinking our teeth into the clammy flesh of issue #8, and a story aptly titled “The Hell-Crawlers.” It delivers a chilling cocktail of hypnotized children, poison-tipped darts, medical vampires, and a sinister machine capable of raising the dead. Sounds thrilling? Well then, read on!
This is a huge improvement over the last cover! Big John Buscema really sells the horror here, while Tom Palmer excels on inks, as usual. My man Gaspar Saladino (I’ve always loved his name!) also delivers some appropriately eerie lettering that sets the mood nicely.
What makes this cover work is that, unlike the cover to issue 7, Dracula appears in motion here, swirling around and menacing his would-be victims in a cemetery while zombies are exhuming themselves. The fear on the face of the female victim is palpable, while Drac looks suitably evil, with a leering expression on his face. John also homages interior penciler Gene Colan a bit with the swirling mists filling up the graveyard. A truly chilling cover worthy of five tombstones! (That’s right, we’re using the tombstone rating this week, fear fans).
And now, on to the main event!
Written by Marv Wolfman, interior art by Gene Colan; Inks by Ernie Chan; Colors by Glynis Wein; Lettered by Charlotte Jetter; Edited by Roy Thomas.
Our tale starts with Dracula, our dreaded Count, still pursued by the Vampire Hunting Cadre led by the wheelchair-bound Quincy Harker. Dismissing his fawning servant Clifton Graves with a swipe of his clawed hand, Dracula takes to the skies in bat form, leaving the vampire hunters to face a nightmarish horde of child-rejects from ‘Village of the Damned.’ (you may remember that Drac placed them under his hypnotic sway during the last issue, with orders to carve up the humans! While our heroes stave off the assaults of the murderous pint-sized killers, the Lord of Vampires is dealing with his own catastrophe – he’s been struck with a poison-tipped dart (possibly filled with holy water and all manner of Vampire banes), courtesy of Quincy Harker’s weaponized wheelchair. This isn’t fatal but promises an eternity of suffering unless Drac can somehow purge it from his system.
So the Lord of Vampires, weakened by poison, crashes into the office of a certain Dr. Heinrich Mortte, an old acquaintance. Dracula demands a complete blood transfusion to rid him of the poison. Dr. Mortte initially resists until Dracula blackmails him with a spine-chilling secret – Mortte is a vampire himself, a fact he doesn’t want his beloved daughter Adrian to discover. Left with no other choice, Mortte agrees to perform the transfusion.
Meanwhile, our brave vampire hunters aren’t standing idle. Quincy, along with Frank Drake, Rachel van Helsing, and Taj, strategizes an escape from the onslaught of the hypnotized children. They manage to confine the kids with Quincy’s patented net-spewing tube, and race to their car, only to discover it won’t start. To their horror, the children break free and descend upon them, but salvation arrives in the nick of time in the form of Edith Harker, Quincy’s daughter. She swoops in with a helicopter, armed with a sonic device that incapacitates the children. This might seem far-fetched, but remember, Quincy basically has James Bond Q-level tech at his beck and call.
While our heroes regroup, the action shifts back to Dracula, now free from the poison thanks to Doctor Death… er, Mortte. The Count coerces Mortte to reveal to him a clandestine device the doctor had created, a device simply called ‘the Projector.’ Its function? To raise an army of zombie vampires from their graves!
This grim technology is tucked away in a hidden lab in a cemetery mausoleum. As Dracula and Mortte are about to use the Projector, Mortte’s daughter, Adrian, stumbles upon them. Forced to reveal his dark secret and obedience to Dracula, Mortte watches in terror as Dracula orders his newly raised undead army to tear Adrian apart.
What follows is a jaw-dropping aerial battle between two powerful vampires, both vying for possession of the Projector. Mortte, in bat form, initially snatches up the device and tries to escape, but Dracula intercepts him. In the ensuing melee, the Projector crashes to the ground, shattering into a million pieces and turning Dracula’s new army of bloodsucking zombies to dust.
Mortte, torn between horror and remorse, decides he can’t bear his vampire existence any longer. In a dramatic act, he impales himself on the cemetery fence, leaving Dracula’s plot foiled and Adrian to grieve over her father’s tragic end.
Story Assessment: This was yet another fantastic issue, in spite of the fact that Wolfman does not yet flesh out the characters of the supporting cast yet. His focus is mainly on Dracula here, as well as keeping the action flowing. The threat of the malevolent killer kids is slightly humorous but becomes sinister once they trap our heroes in a car and start breaking the windows, seeking entry. I also really enjoy seeing Dracula interact with vampires he has corresponded with, like Doctor Mortte, whom Drac has secretly been encouraging to invent the Resurrection Projector. It was just dumb luck that Mortte was nearby and able to give Dracula a transfusion. Then again, maybe Drac was in the vicinity because the next stage of his plan was always to utilize the Projector. Whatever the case, Wolfman’s plot is economical and perhaps rushed, but it leads to a kinetic story that never lets up on the action. In fact, the only rest we as readers receive is when Dracula is lying on a hospital bed for a single panel.
The issue ends in tragedy for Edith and her beloved father. Mortte was essentially a kindly man who refused to take life. He was, however, running a scam blood donation clinic, where he extracted blood from his patients for later consumption, while subtly reinvigorating them with his own vampire blood, making them willing to return again and again. This sustained him, but the arrival of Dracula threw his world into chaos, and it was inevitable from that point onwards that Mortte’s human daughter would discover his vampiric nature. Still, her love for her father remained undiminished until the very end. So yeah, there was a knot in my throat when he perished at the end.
Strangely Mortte did not turn to dust when impaled, nor did he return to life once his body was freed from the spike. This goes against Marvel Vampire lore, which had been established by the previous seven issues. Maybe Marv missed these little details, but this doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment factor.
The Art: Gene Colan can do no wrong! But for this issue, Tom Palmer was not available for inking, a rare occurrence for the series. Instead, we have Ernie Chan (or Chua) assisting, and he does a bang-up job. I’ve loved Chan’s inks ever since seeing them in Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian series and select stories in Savage Sword of Conan. He also inked Sal Buscema’s art on The Incredible Hulk in the late 1970s and 80s, and even a few issues of Doctor Strange. Sometimes his inking overpowers a penciller’s style, but this is not the case here. Highly detailed, Chan did wonders with scenes of the clinic, as well as the interiors of Dr. Mortte’s lab. So what’s not to like? Though Tom Palmer cannot be equalled, in this issue, Chan was the man!
Now let’s focus on Dracula’s grandiose dialogue and ridiculously colorful smack-talk! Here are a few gems from this issue:
Clifton Graves: Can I help, Master?
Dracula: Help ME, Graves?? Why, you INSUFFERABLE fool! You couldn’t help a WOUNDED WORM, much less DRACULA!
Mortte: I… I can’t! It’s an instrument of the damned! I should have destroyed it years ago!
Dracula: But you didn’t… which is all that saves your worthless hide. You are a VAMPIRE, Mortte, and I am DRACULA, lord of ALL Vampires. Now, where is it? Tell me… or suffer my ETERNAL WRATH!
Mortte (Speaking to Edith): I’m a sham, daughter. A lecherous symbiot living off the blood of others. And I can’t stand it any longer!
Dracula: How nauseatingly touching, old friend. But now, if you are finished with your tearful tale, there is work to be done, a war to be won — a war that claims as its first victim… YOUR DAUGHTER!*
*Marv Wolfman must have had a lot of fun writing Dracula’s dialogue. I know I would have.
The Best Bloody Bits
- Rachel Van Helsing versus Clifton Graves! It’s vampire might against Judo. Needless to say, Rach tosses the toady around like a rag doll.
2. High-speed Quincy! Seeing a gap in the ranks of the murderous children, Taj wheels Quincy through it to safety, at what appears to be super-speed! Love this panel 🙂
3. Assaulted by blood-crazed knife-wielding kids from all sides, Frank Drake resorts to karate-chopping their wrists to disarm them. And it works — once!
4. Rachel Van Helsing snuffing out a candle the lazy way… with a crossbow bolt! What a show-off.
5. Finally, the gruesome and tragic death of Doctor Heinrich Mortte, as he impales himself on a spiked fence to end his damnable existence. He does this in full view of his daughter, scarring her for life. You’d have thought he could have flown two towns over and impaled himself on a steeple without breaking his child’s heart, at the very least.
Yet another stellar issue by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, and Ernie Chan. It was heavy on the action, with crazy child attacks, zombies rising from the earth, a desperate Dracula crashing into a clinic as a bat, then changing into a man in front of half a dozen patients who ask no questions, weird science projectors, and an epic battle between two giant vampire bats at the end. Despite the lack of character development (trust me, this will come in later issues in spades), I have to give this issue a perfect score! So that’s 5 out of 5 tombstones!
Let me know in the comments below what you thought, bloodsuckers. Was my rating too generous? Did Tom Palmer’s absence prove too jarring? Seriously, any and all opinions are welcome.
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Until next we rendezvous in the Tomb, keep it creepy, and keep those stakes and garlic handy.
LOD recommends the following terrorific tomes, if you want to read along with the blog:
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