Welcome, dear readers, to yet another new Mini-Blog of Darkness. Last week we introduced you to Fridays in the Crypt, but this time around, we invite you to satiate your weekly lust for comic book horror in the pages of one of Marvel’s greatest mags – The Tomb of Dracula! Therefore, we welcome you all to Tuesdays in the Tomb!
That’s right! Every Tuesday, LOD will release a post discussing an issue of TOD. Sounds gnarly, right? Well, it’s going to be more than that! The word ‘epic’ comes to mind, but I don’t want to get too excited here. After all, I haven’t even completed the introduction to this very first post! And this post will be different than the rest. I’ll give a brief overview of how Dracula came to Marvel Comics and then cover the first SIX issues of the series. Why? Because that was before the dream team of Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, and Tom Palmer was complete (Marv only came on as writer after issue #6).
Naturally, my foray into these first half dozen stories will be a bit perfunctory, but I’ll still do my best to give them an honest summary and critique. They were by no means bad and introduced most of the main cast admirably.
So, are you ready, Tomb-dwellers? We’re about to set off on a dark adventure that might take us years to complete! But what are years… to the Undead?
But first, a history of how Dracula came to Marvel. Read on, True Believers!
How Dracula Came to Marvel
In the early 1970s, something unusual was stirring within the hallowed halls of Marvel Comics. Under the visionary eye of legendary editor Stan Lee and his associate editor, Roy Thomas, the company was making strides to re-enter the horror-comics business, drawing inspiration from the eerie tales of the past. This move materialized in the form of the iconic ‘Tomb of Dracula,’ a groundbreaking series that left an indelible mark on the comic book industry.
Stan and Roy, despite their enthusiasm for the project, didn’t initially envision themselves as the primary scriptwriters for ‘Tomb of Dracula.’ Their admiration for the genre, along with commercial considerations, prompted them to tap into the burgeoning talent within the Marvel bullpen. They turned to Gerry Conway, a fresh-faced eighteen-year-old who had recently joined the Marvel ranks. Despite his age, Conway crafted an impressive dialogue for the initial issues, but like a nomadic spirit, he soon drifted to other assignments within the Marvel universe.
The creative process behind ‘Tomb of Dracula’ was akin to a revolving door of talent. After Conway’s departure, Archie Goodwin, known for his stellar work on the black-and-white Warren comics magazines ‘Creepy’ and ‘Eerie,’ took over the reins. Goodwin made significant contributions, including the introduction of Rachel Van Helsing, a character tied to the lore of Bram Stoker’s original Dracula novel.
Sadly, Goodwin’s tenure was as fleeting as his predecessor’s, and he left after just two issues. Gardner Fox, a luminary writer from the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, stepped into his shoes. Fox gave the series a spirited try, adding intriguing elements like the ‘Moorlands Monster.’ Yet, he too moved on after a pair of issues.
The constantly shifting roster of writers led to an interesting pattern, where no writer seemed to stay longer than two issues. It was as if the series was jinxed or, more appropriately, cursed. But the tide was about to turn with the arrival of Marv Wolfman.
Wolfman, a former DC writer, had found a new home at Marvel. He initially cut his teeth on ‘Tower of Shadows’ and ‘Chamber of Darkness,’ and slowly but steadily found his footing in the superhero genre. When ‘Tomb of Dracula’ needed a new writer, Wolfman, a fan of the original Dracula novel, was a natural choice. His appointment marked the end of the ‘two-issue curse,’ setting the stage for a new era of TOD. But we’ll talk more about Marv in our next post. Let’s return to the turbulent times of the first six issues!
*Side note: In addition to the main comic line, Marvel decided to branch out and launch ‘Dracula Lives!,’ a black-and-white comics magazine dedicated solely to Dracula. This offshoot, long-desired by Stan Lee, provided a platform for other writers and artists to contribute to the rich tapestry of Dracula lore.
As I was saying, the early days of ‘Tomb of Dracula’ were a time of trial and error. While the artwork was remarkably consistent, thanks to the exquisite inking by Tom Palmer over Gene Colan’s pencils, the stories soon caught up, becoming equally compelling and engaging, regardless of the frequent change in scribes.
Though each writer introduced their unique take on the world of the Count of Transylvania, they all had one common element: a profound respect for Bram Stoker’s original creation. As mentioned above, Goodwin’s introduction of Rachel Van Helsing, the granddaughter of Dracula’s famous adversary and arguably the best character of the entire series, is a shining example of the comic’s loyalty to its literary roots.
The dramatic changes in the series weren’t confined to the narrative alone. The cover of issue #3, inked by Palmer, was notable for providing Marvel’s readers with their first glimpse of Dracula as illustrated by him. It was this collaboration between Colan and Palmer that came to define the visual language of ‘Tomb of Dracula.’
As the series evolved, Palmer’s intricate linework, achieved through painstaking efforts with India ink and Zip-a-Tone screentone patterns, became a distinguishing feature of the comic. His approach, despite the challenges posed by Colan’s gray and black penciling, resulted in some of the most visually stunning depictions of the fearsome Count.
To wrap up this short history of TOD, it’s probably fair to say that even though the series experienced a significant amount of upheaval in its early days, it was always buoyed by a talented team and a steadfast belief in the character’s potential. Marvel’s unwavering commitment to Dracula resulted in one of the most iconic comic series of the horror genre.
Alright! Our brief overview of the early days of TOD is done, so let’s leap headlong into the comics!
Tomb of Dracula #1-6
April, 1972 – January, 1973
Issue #1: “Dracula!”
In the inaugural issue of ‘Tomb of Dracula,’ we meet Frank Drake, a modern-day descendant of Count Dracula, embarking on a journey with his girlfriend, Jeanie, and his friend Clifton Graves to Transylvania. Frank, the inheritor of the Count’s former castle, has intentions of turning it into a tourist hotspot. They arrive in a village steeped in vampire superstitions, but unperturbed, they press on, reaching the castle with their last ten dollars. Frank, reminiscing about his past, is determined to turn the castle into a profitable venture, despite the strange behavior of his companion, Clifton.
Once inside the Castle Dracula, things take a suspenseful turn. While Frank and Jeanie are unnerved by the bats inhabiting the place, Clifton, scheming to take over the castle, stumbles upon the tomb of Count Dracula. In a move that would spell disaster, Clifton removes a stake from the vampire’s skeletal remains, triggering a horrifying transformation. As Clifton finds himself overpowered by the now-resurrected Count Dracula, the vampire king ascends to the upper levels, where he encounters Frank and Jeanie. A shocking transformation from bat to vampire leaves them horrified, and Jeanie falls under Dracula’s hypnotic spell.
The final act is filled with chilling moments. Dracula, forced to retreat by Frank wielding Jeanie’s silver compact, finds a fresh victim in the nearby village, and leaves his mark on a lone girl. Upon his return, a trap set by Frank awaits him, but Dracula prevails, prompting an enraged mob to set the castle ablaze. Frank fights valiantly, using the silver compact once more to drive Dracula away, but the cost is high. Jeanie, transformed into a vampire by Dracula, leaves with him, abandoning a mourning Frank to face his loss alone. Thus, the stage is set for an intense and ominous saga to unfold.
Assessment: Gerry Conway and Gene Colan set up the return of Dracula nicely and bring him into the modern age with horrifying aplomb. An enjoyable issue, even though the supporting players are lackluster at best.
Issue #2: “The Fear Within!”
As the story opens we find Frank Drake at the charred remains of Castle Dracula, accompanied by his valet Gort, in pursuit of revenge against his vampire ancestor, Count Dracula. Frank narrates the tragic tale of Dracula’s resurrection, Jeanie’s transformation into a vampire, and the burning of Castle Dracula to Gort. Rescuing Clifton Graves from a pit in the castle’s ruins, Frank discloses his revenge plan – to steal Dracula’s coffin! Meanwhile, Dracula feeds on another village girl and visits Carl Von Harbou, an old servant who once betrayed him.
Arriving in London days later, Frank and Clifton are prepared for the anticipated confrontation with Dracula. One night, Jeanie makes an appearance, attempting to prey on Frank. A drunken Clifton interrupts, oblivious to Jeanie’s vampire nature until Frank wields a crucifix. Dracula, who had been eavesdropping, remains confident about Jeanie’s mission. Lured into a pub, he effortlessly seduces a woman, feeds on her in a dark alley, and transforms into a bat to make his escape. He dismisses Frank’s plan to leverage his coffin, as it’s not the coffin but the earth within it that he needs for rest.
In a tense final act, a drugged Frank, a duplicitous Clifton, and a bound Jeanie find themselves face-to-face with Dracula. Frank’s crucifix initially holds Dracula at bay, but in the ensuing struggle, Jeanie turns against Clifton. In a desperate move, Frank impales Jeanie with a broken table leg. Recognizing the impending dawn, Dracula retreats, leaving behind a disintegrating Jeanie, whose pleas for mercy echo as she’s consumed by the sunlight. Left alone with the ashes of his once-lover, a mournful Frank finds himself further entangled in this grim tale.
Assessment: Gerry Conway writes a compelling story, but the inking of Vince Coletta over the pencils of Gene Colan ruins the atmospheric feel of the comic, which was introduced in the first issue. Definitely not one of my favorite TOD issues.
Issue #3: “Who Stalks The Vampire?”
In this issue, we find Frank Drake, devastated by his lover Jeanie’s transformation into a vampire and her subsequent demise, contemplating suicide. He’s saved at the last minute by Rachel Van Helsing and her assistant Taj Natal. Rachel, a direct descendant of the infamous vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing, seeks Drake’s help to end the menace of Dracula, whom Drake and Clifton Graves, his former friend, have inadvertently unleashed on London.
In another part of the city, a drunken Clifton Graves comes face-to-face with Dracula himself. Rather than destroy Graves, Dracula uses his hypnotic powers to enslave him, charging him with the retrieval of his coffin from Frank’s hotel. Simultaneously, upon discovering Drake’s possession of Dracula’s coffin, Rachel senses an opportunity to destroy Dracula. Armed with crucifixes and wooden stakes, they proceed to the hotel, only to find the coffin’s treasure spilled by a greedy helper, who becomes Dracula’s next victim.
Upon entering the storage room, the trio of Drake, Van Helsing, and Natal find the deceased porter in Dracula’s coffin. They are then ambushed by Dracula and Graves, leading to a fierce confrontation. Just as the tide seems to turn in Dracula’s favor, Rachel’s crossbow forces him to retreat in his bat form, with Graves lagging behind. Escaping, Graves traps the heroes inside. Their story of vampires meets disbelief at Scotland Yard until a newly transformed porter vampire is staked by Rachel, convincing Inspector Chelm. Meanwhile, Dracula reaches Ilsa Strangeway, the new owner of his castle. As she dreams of eternal youth, she invites Dracula in, completely unaware of the terror she’s welcoming into her home.
Assessment: This issue has an intriguing set-up by sixties horror scribe and editor supreme Archie Goodwin. Sadly, the payoff in the next issue does not live up to the story’s potential.
Issue #4: “Through a Mirror Darkly”
As the story opens we see Dracula at the home of Ilsa Strangeway, the new owner of Castle Dracula. Longing for eternal youth, the once-beautiful Ilsa strikes a deal with Dracula, asking him to turn her into a vampire. In return, she promises to give him a mysterious dark mirror with powerful occult properties. She speculates the mirror could provide salvation for Dracula. Seizing the opportunity, Dracula accepts, feeding on Ilsa and transforming her into a vampire.
In a nearby abandoned bunker, Clifton Graves, Dracula’s thrall, watches over the sleeping bodies of Dracula and the newly-transformed Ilsa. Upon awakening, Ilsa’s initial vampire hunger is diverted by Dracula, who demands to know the secrets of the mirror. It transpires that the mirror has the power to transport people through time, a feature that intrigues Dracula. As night falls, they leave Clifton and head out to feast. Meanwhile, Ilsa’s mansion becomes the focus of an investigation by Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, and Taj. After learning of Ilsa’s disappearance, they track her down and set a trap in the bunker.
In her new form, Ilsa hunts for humans, believing their blood will restore her youth. Concurrently, Dracula and Frank have a face-off which results in Dracula retreating toward the mirror in the mansion. Unaware of the trap at the bunker, Ilsa returns, discovering that her transformation into a vampire has not restored her youth. She admits to Clifton that she tricked Dracula about the mirror – it can’t transport anyone to a time before its existence and would, instead, transport the traveler to a world of demons. Overwhelmed by her vampire existence, Ilsa requests Van Helsing to end her life, to which she obliges. The issue concludes with a dramatic twist, as Rachel and Frank rush into the mansion, witnessing a deadly struggle between Taj and Dracula near the mirror.
Assessment: Archie Goodwin made do here, but the Demon Mirror seems more of a page filler than a MacGuffin. Even so, the desperate Ilsa needed a bargaining chip, and the Mirror, ill-conceived though it might be, did the trick, drawing Dracula’s brief interest.
Issue #5: “Death to a Vampire Slayer”
In an unexpected turn of events, Issue 5 of the ‘Tomb of Dracula’ sees the notorious Count Dracula whisking away Taj through the enigmatic black mirror. As they traverse through the mirror’s timeless void, they find themselves in the picturesque landscapes of 19th-century Transylvania. Anticipating a scarce supply of sustenance in this historic setting, Dracula takes a precautionary measure. He encapsulates Taj within a Marble Sarcophagus, conserving him for future consumption, a chilling prospect that underlines the perpetual menace of the vampire lord.
However, unbowed by their adversary’s retreat, Frank Drake and Rachel Van Helsing valiantly pursue them through the mirror’s mystical portal. On arrival in the distant past, they launch a daring rescue operation, liberating Taj from his cold stone prison. Their whirlwind journey through time culminates at the iconic Van Helsing manor, where they manage a timely intervention, saving Rachel’s forefather from imminent peril. Yet, amidst the high-stakes confrontation, Dracula and his accomplice, the scheming Lenore, seize an opportunity to slip away. They disappear into the mirror’s depths, leaving a trail of uncertainty and danger in their wake.
Assessment: The plot here was all over the place. Gardner Fox, legendary Golden and Silver Age great though he may be, clearly had a difficult time juggling all the characters and sub-plots at play, as set up by Archie Goodwin in the previous issue. Still, an enjoyable Bronze Age romp.
Issue #6: “The Moorlands Monster”
In the misty English Moors of the modern era, Count Dracula and his companion Lenore emerge from the timeless expanse of the Demon Mirror. Succumbing to their eternal hunger, the vampires set out to hunt, unbeknownst to them, under the watchful eyes of a mysterious creature lurking nearby. Dracula claims the life of a young girl lost in the fog, while Lenore sets her sights on an unsuspecting man returning home from the pub. Meanwhile, at the home of the late Ilsa Strangeway, Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, and Taj make their return from the 19th Century, only to find that Dracula had not used the same mirror. Inspector Chelm shares chilling tales of a shaggy creature and drained bodies in the Moors, prompting the trio to investigate.
The trio’s search leads them to Lord and Lady Dering, who have disturbingly stumbled upon the lifeless bodies. Determined, Rachel, Frank, and Taj split up to cover more ground, leading Rachel to a hidden chapel, the gathering place for swarming bats. Inside, she is assaulted by Lenore, her distress echoing through the Moors, spurring Frank and Taj into action. They find Lenore and Dracula ready to feast upon Rachel, but Frank’s quick reflexes save the day. Firing a stake, Frank kills Lenore, who Dracula had cunningly used as a shield, enabling the vampire lord to flee in the ensuing confusion.
Retreating to the Derings’ manor, the trio recounts the horrific events, only to learn of a family curse that has caused the transformation of Lord Dering’s son, Randolph, into the shaggy creature haunting the Moors. Prompted by a suggestion from Lord Dering, they set out to the abandoned Hagscroft Castle, the likely refuge of Dracula. However, Dracula has already nestled in the castle, anticipating their arrival and plotting a deadly ambush. The ensuing conflict sees Taj knocked out, and both Frank and Rachel overpowered and cast into a pit. Saved by the timely arrival of the Moors monster, the trio find themselves questioning their future, particularly Frank, who broods over Dracula’s insinuation about his possible fate as a vampire.
Assessment: Gardner Fox does an admirable job scripting this tale. It’s filled with action and suspense, accentuated by Colan and Palmer’s stunning visuals.
I hope you enjoyed those six brief glimpses of the innovative and the horrific. Trust me; it gets even better when issue #7 hits and Marv Wolfman starts his legendary run on the title. Though it took him a few issues to find his footing, it will be worth sticking around for, never fear.
So, as our descent into the lore of ‘Tomb of Dracula’ continues, expect many more exciting twists and nerve-wracking encounters in upcoming chapters. As a side note, I should mention that LOD will also In feature future posts about the groundbreaking Marvel Horror Magazine, ‘Dracula Lives!’, which, unrestricted by the Comics Code, took black & white horror to a whole new visceral level.
Thanks for reading, Tomb-lovers. Now that our journey into the night has begun, LOD invites you to become a part of it. Don’t miss a single episode of our chronicles of TOD! Subscribe to the blog today and step into a world of vampires, monsters, and the fearless vampire hunters who dare to face them. The saga of “Tomb of Dracula” will continue! Join us, IF you dare.
If you would like to read along with us as we blog our way through the bloody Bronze Age, The Longbox of Darkness recommends the following tomes to sate your cravings!
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