Monday, April 12, 2010

Tomb of Dracula

As the Silver Age of Comics ca to a close, Marvel and DC were looking for a new hook to bring the readers back. The recent changes to the Comics Code gave them an opportunity - horror comics. Marvel in particular launched a full line of horror comics. They started comic books staring vampires, werewolves, mummies, swamp monsters, zombies, and mummies. Vampires were given the star treatment beginning with Count Dracula himself.

Gerry Conway wrote the first couple of issues. Gene Colon was the artist for the entire run. They took advantage of the more adult setting.

The first issue began with Frank Drake, his best friend, Cliff, and his lover (who had been Cliff's lover) on their way to Drake's castle in Transylvania. Drake's original family name was Dracula. He had run through the family fortune and all he had left was the ancestral Castle Dracula. Cliff suggested opening it to tourists.

It was a dark and stormy night and their car got stuck. A peasant gave them a lift in his carriage. As soon as they arrived, Cliff separated from the group, fell through a rotted floor, and found Dracula's skeletal remains. He removed the stake from Dracula's ribs (of course) and Dracula came back to life. He attacked Cliff then moved on to Frank's girlfriend. Frank used a silver compact to keep Dracula at bay for a while so he flew off and killed a barmaid. The villagers formed a mob, Dracula killed Frank's girlfriend and the villagers set the castle on fire. Frank escaped with his girlfriend's corpse but she came back to life as a vampire.

In the second issue Frank Drake searched the burned-out castle for Dracula. He didn't find him but he did find his friend Cliff, imprisoned a pit. Drake rescues Cliff and steals Dracula's empty coffin and takes it to London. Dracula follows along with Jeanie, Frank's newly vampirized girlfriend. Jeanie tries to seduce Frank but he takes her prisoner and ties her to a chair. She manages to seduce Cliff.

Dracula forced a Transylvanian doctor to treat his pale skin so that he could pass as a human (a point that the colorist missed until issue #4). He traveled to England, picked up a girl in a bar and killed her then attacked Frank and Cliff. Jeanie hypnotizes Cliff who attacks Frank. During the fight, Jeanie is staked and the rising sun forced Dracula to flee.

The issues were poorly written, especially the first one. I remember wondering at the time how much research went into it. Looking back on it - none. Transylvania has not existed in decades. It was part of Romania which was a communist country at the time. Conway and Colon's version of Transylvania was straight from a Universal Picture - full of peasants in 19th century clothing. The plots were trite.

Still, the strip was a huge success. Soon Dracula was staring in a monthly comic, a quarterly double-sized comic, and a monthly, oversized black-and-white magazine.

In issue #3, Archie Goodwin took over for a short time. He introduced a supporting cast - Rachel Van Helsing (the great-granddaughter of that Van Helsing), Quincy Harker (from the novel), and Taj - a mute giant from India. Goodwin had been writing Vampirella where he also introduced Van Helsing descendants. Goodwin answered the question of why Dracula followed his coffin across Europe - it had a bunch of gold coins concealed in the bottom.

Goodwin's writing was better than Conway's. The inking changed from Vince Tom Palmer. At the time Palmer was becoming one of the premier inkers and colorists. The Colon/Palmer team quickly became fan favorites.

More as Marvel posts the digital versions.

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