Issue(s): Nightstalkers #16, Nightstalkers #17, Nightstalkers #18
Steven Grant's short run as writer is over and these issues are written by Frank Lovece, who previously did work published in Marvel's Epic and Hellrazor lines. Lovece concludes the story developed in Grant's subplots about what turns out to be Hydra creating a clone of Dracula. Actually the Dracula subplot goes back to D.G. Chichester's run.
The Nightstalkers are attacked by a Dreadnought sent by Hydra's Spooky Lieutenant Belial. Belial risks insubordination by complaining that the Dreadnought model provided to him is not top of the line, but it does fairly well.
The Dreadnought gets away with Frank Drake's Exorcist gun, and the Nightstalkers's headquarters and the rest of their equipment are all destroyed in the fight.
The team gets into its characteristic dysfunctional bickering in the aftermath of the fight.
Later Dr. Strange, in astral projection form, is investigating Hydra's occult division independently of the Nightstalkers. Hydra has acquired some of Strange's magical items. But while he's there, he notices Drake's gun and then learns about the Dracula clone that Hydra is working on. The Dreadnought is able to detect Strange's form (Strange attributes that to his own weakened powers), and Strange is forced to flee.
Meanwhile, Hannibal King is getting drunk and feeling sorry for himself. He's approached by a childhood friend.
I've always assumed that King was from like the 1940s or earlier given his pulp detective affect, but judging by the age of his friend that doesn't seem to be the case.
Dr. Strange goes to Frank Drake, and Drake agrees to help Strange despite it being the last straw in Frank's relationship with his wife Marlene. And also despite Frank having gone to the ruins of Strange's house earlier in the day, seeking help, and Strange admitting now that he ignored Frank at the time.
The rest of the Nightstalkers are gathered, even though they all agree that the team is finished. Strange tells them about the stolen magical items and the fact that Hydra has cloned Dracula.
Strange then says that it's time to tell the Nightstalkers why he formed them.
Meanwhile, the Dracula clone, named Bloodstorm One, escapes from its tube and kills the surrounding Hydra agents, starting with Belial. Bloodstorm is said to be acting on the hypnotic instructions of "his newly risen master - the one-time Lord of Vampires" (it's not who you think it is).
Bloodstorm also acquires Drake's Exorcist gun.
Back where the Nightstalkers have gathered, Dracula's former wife Domini arrives saying that her son, Janus, has been kidnapped.
While the Nightstalkers fight with each other for the first third of issue #17 over whether or not to help Domini, we see Salome, the sorceress who took the title of "Sorcerer Supreme" from Doctor Strange (much more poorly drawn here), also making non-specific references to a "Lord of Vampires".
Later we get to Strange's confession about how he manipulated the Nightstalkers into forming.
The confession seems incomplete to me, as it doesn't acknowledge that Strange psychologically manipulated Blade into hating all supernatural creatures instead of just vampires. It's also interesting that the Nightstalkers don't seem aware that Rachel Van Helsing was killed after getting turned into a vampire by Dracula. He just describes her as being "long gone" in the same sentence as Taj Nital. Note also that even now Strange won't name which Lord of the Vampires is the threat.
Despite anger all around, Frank and Hannibal agree to help Dr. Strange. Blade, on the other hand, prioritizes the search for Janus. Strange returns to the Hydra base where Salome is surveying the wreckage.
Meanwhile, in Blade's investigation he learns that an "Indian guy" was responsible for the kidnapping. Blade forces an informant to call in a bomb threat at the airport to prevent the guy from leaving the country. The kidnapper turns out to be Taj Nital, and Taj turns out to be a vampire (i guess lumping Rachel Van Helsing in with him was more accurate than we knew).
Taj bites Blade in the neck, and Blade realizes that Taj should know he's immune to vampire bites, leading him to conclude that Taj is under the control of a more powerful vampire. Blade lets Taj capture him and take him to his master.
Even during the fight with Taj the possibility that the real Dracula had returned was being teased, but we finally learn that the Vampire Lord in question is Varnae.
Varnae does imply that the real Dracula will return.
Meanwhile, Hannibal and Frank are on the trail of Bloodstorm and talking about what they'll do after the Nightstalkers disband.
Salome shows up to suggest a "partnership" with Varnae, but she's not much of a diplomat...
...and Varnae orders Bloodstorm to attack her.
Salome has seemingly deliberately led the other Nightstalkers to Varnae, so she departs to let them fight amongst themselves.
The former Tomb of Dracula-ers take the turning of Taj hard, but Blade kills him.
Varnae takes control of Hannibal. Frank gets his Exorcist gun back and sets it to overload, causing an explosion that (seemingly) kills everyone except Blade. The series ends with Janus still missing and Blade wondering if Dracula is coming back.
Despite being by a relatively unknown writer, these issues felt a little stronger than much of the series. I don't think the Dracula "resurrection" story went in the direction that Chichester and/or Grant intended it to, considering how quickly the Hydra occult unit is wiped out and how small a role Bloodstorm pays. And i kind of miss not seeing DOA again. But Varnae is a character i don't mind seeing. I have mixed feelings about the use of Taj Nital. I like seeing him but hate that he was turned into a vampire grunt. The use of Salome is also kind of weird; it's just an odd place for her to appear even with Dr. Strange's astral form floating around. But even though i don't care about the character i applaud the continuity. Strange's confession to the Nightstalkers is also a mixed bag. And with a different artist on each issue, ranging from terrible to ok (Doug Wheatley's final issue is not bad, Ed Murr's middle issue is terrible), we're all over the place. So i don't think these issues are "good", but honestly for the Nightstalkers series to end with me feeling ambivalent is a kind of achievement.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: For the reason Dr. Strange is only appearing in astral form, see "current issues of Doctor Strange".
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showBelial, Blade, Bloodstorm, Domini, Dr. Strange, Frank Drake, Hannibal King, Janus (Golden Angel), Marlene McKenna-Drake, Salome, Taj Nital, Varnae
"I've always assumed that King was from like the 1940s or earlier given his pulp detective affect, but judging by the age of his friend that doesn't seem to be the case."
Posted by: Michael | October 10, 2017 8:44 PM
Is this the first time anyone ever attempted an in-story explanation for the question "Why didn't anyone ever call up the Avengers to help fight Dracula?" I realize that the *real* reason is that back in the day Marv Wolfman just wanted to keep the Tomb of Dracula series as isolated from the rest of the Marvel universe as he possibly could so that he could tell his own stories and not have to worry about what was going on in other titles. But it actually does make a certain amount of sense that you might not want to send the Avengers or FF or whoever against Dracula, because if they lost then you'd end up with super-powered vampires.
Posted by: Ben Herman | October 12, 2017 10:51 AM
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