Tomb of Dracula #1-4
Issue(s): Tomb of Dracula #1, Tomb of Dracula #2, Tomb of Dracula #3, Tomb of Dracula #4
On that front, though, we have some continuity concerns, which, for me at least, take away from the enjoyment of seeing Frank Drake and the like again, since i'm too busy trying to figure out when this is supposed to take place. This series plays directly off of the end of the original color Tomb of Dracula series, as if the black and white Tomb of Dracula series that followed didn't revive Dracula, and as if all of Dracula's subsequent appearances in other Marvel comics after that resurrection didn't happen. As Michael notes in the comments, there is a bit of in-story text, which almost feels separate from the story, explaining why Dracula is back where he was, but it's unclear why Wolfman (and/or the demon Asmodeus) chose to do that, and there are still problems with that explanation regarding Dracula's memory and the memory of other characters. Additionally, there are some oblique references to events in the Marvel universe, but they are designed to be ignored and are almost contradicted. Overall, this reads almost like the "Forever" series (X-Men, X-Factor) in the 2000s where older creators were invited to return to the books they were known for and continue their stories as if subsequent events never happened. Except for one thing: it was Marv Wolfman who wrote those black and white Tomb of Draculas. So it's kind of a head scratcher.
We begin with Frank Drake (Dracula's descendant, for those who didn't follow the original book) and his new wife Marlene McKenna. Frank has told Marlene about his experiences fighting Dracula, and it's caused her to have nightmares about the vampire returning (and she also can't stop herself from looking through Drake's old scrapbooks and the like). Drake is having trouble coping after the experiences with Dracula as well, and both are being treated by a Dr. Gregor Smirnoff, a professor specializing in dream phenomena.
In fact, Frank met Marlene through Smirnoff, so Marlene must have been having problems before hearing about Frank's nightmares.
We're also shown a scene where one of Smirnoff's students kills herself trying to replicate an occult ritual that she and other students had with Smirnoff's class.
The girl's girlfriend, Lila, will become important to the plot later.
We soon learn that Smirnoff is not on the up-and-up. He's been studying Marlene because she has latent psychic abilities. He also is obsessed with Dracula, and we learn that he met Rachel Van Helsing after Dracula was dead, and he tried to learn from her where Dracula was killed.
But Rachel, apparently in a terrible state after Dracula's death, was never able to recall where Dracula's body was left. So Smirnoff moved on to Frank after Rachel's death.
A few things to digest in the above scan. First of all, this is all from Smirnoff, and we can certainly say that he's an unreliable narrator. But note that Smirnoff has heard that Van Helsing was killed by "vampires". In actual continuity, she was killed and turned into a vampire by Dracula himself, some time prior to Uncanny X-Men annual #6, and then she was re-killed in that annual. So Smirnoff must have met Van Helsing after Tomb of Dracula #70 but before Dracula found her prior to Uncanny X-Men annual #6, and Smirnoff's information about Van Helsing's death is incomplete. That's all fine in and of itself, but there's more to come that will say that this flashback is meant to be accurate. Also note the reference to vampires seeming to have ceased to exist for many years. That's a vague reference to Dr. Strange having destroyed all vampires (including Dracula!) in Doctor Strange #60-62. Strange's spell was reversed in Doctor Strange #14-18, but to be clear, that reversal just made it possible for there to be vampires again; it didn't automatically bring back all the ones that were killed.
Smirnoff's plan is to have Rachel's soul possess Marlene's body.
And then take her to Transylvania so that she can show him where Dracula's body is.
And they locate him exactly where he was left in Tomb of Dracula #70, buried under his castle with the silver spoke from Quincy Harker's wheelchair still in his chest.
Smirnoff removes the spoke, reviving Dracula.
This is pretty much exactly how Dracula was revived in Tomb of Dracula Magazine #1. As noted above, the explanation is that a demon called Asmodeus decided that Dracula's body belonged in that spot, so after the spell blocking vampires was negated, Asmodeus put Dracula back there.
But that doesn't explain why Dracula's last memories are of the TOD #70 ending, and he isn't surprised to see Rachel Van Helsing alive when he initially mistakes Marlene for her. So i guess we have to assume that not only did Asmodeus move Dracula, but he also wiped his memories.
One thing that is for sure is that Dracula is still a class act.
One thing that's been bugging me is that Gregor Smirnoff looks like Quincy Harker's identical twin, even in choice of clothing. Dracula even notices.
It almost makes me wonder if Gene Colan was originally told to draw Quincy, but the story got changed.
Anyway, after Frank Drake tries and fails to stab Dracula with the silver spoke again, Smirnoff convinces Dracula to go back to America with him.
The story then jumps ahead (kind of abruptly), with Frank having contacted Blade for help.
It's repeatedly mentioned in this series that Frank Drake is kind of a weak, whiny guy. Dracula commented on it, and so does Blade (who calls him "wussy" and "wimp"). Blade, meanwhile, is on a hair trigger, and he continues to be depicted as being irrational throughout the series.
I mentioned how the long term storylines were a big part of the appeal of the original Tomb of Dracula series, and how that obviously isn't possible to replicate in a four issue series. Dracula does not have time to play the long game, and so we have a much more aggressive and impulsive Dracula in this story. That's seen pretty much right away, when he goes to a strip club in DC and makes no attempt to disguise the fact that he's a vampire that is killing people.
And yes, he tears a guy's head off his skull. Did i mention this was not a Code book?
There's always been a little bit of cognitive dissonance about Dracula. He's powerful enough that he really shouldn't mind attracting attention. Especially if we're ignoring the fact that he shares a world with super-heroes, there is not much that can kill him. And that is how he acts in this scene, like he's invincible. But the myths and themes of vampires are all about horrors lurking in the shadows, using stealth and seduction instead of overt violence. So even though Dracula is powerful enough to publicly murder a room full of people and wage war against the police, that sort of thing should be done sparingly.
But Marv Wolfman does give us an explanation for Dracula's different behavior in this series. Wolfman is ignoring the Sliding Timescale (and, as mentioned, the fact that Dracula was active after the color TOD series) and acting like it has been 10 years since Dracula was killed. So he's now woken up in a world of technology that he can't understand, and for the first time in his (un)life, he is afraid.
Skateboards, Arnold, and video games: the bane of Dracula's existence.
By the way, the above narration, with the dese and dats, is by a new character called Katrika.
I don't know what the accent is supposed to be, but she's an albino, and has researched vampires in part because of the similar problems that albinos and vampires have with sunlight. Despite that very... specific focus, she seems to know a lot about vampires generally. She's working with Drake and Blade, although it's not said how they knew her.
It takes a while for Smirnoff to get to the next part of his plan. In the meantime, Dracula is introduced to Lila, the girlfriend of the student who died in the occult ritual earlier. And then we learn that Smirnoff has been going around the country on his book lectures and has secretly been convincing students to sign away their souls. He wants to offer those souls to Dracula in return for Dracula making him a vampire. Smirnoff has a weird, uh, skin condition that he wants cured.
Meanwhile, Drake and Blade locate where Dracula is keeping his coffin, and they burn the place down. This is tied in with Dracula's fear of technology, the fact that records about what properties he owns and purchases that he's made are easy to track down. Enraged and irrational over this, Dracula kills Smirnoff.
The gore in this book is like a Troma film.
Dracula later acknowledges that killing off Smirnoff while he's so out of sorts in the modern world might have been a mistake. So after another very public rampage, he returns to Lila, who knows a lot about her professor's research. She is a lesbian, remember, but Dracula is able to seduce her (by the way, there never was a Universal Wolfman Meets The Mummy movie, and i'm sad about that).
Despite Dracula saying that he's not a man, he's a force of nature, he's very clearly male, and a big part of the vampire metaphor is about sexual seduction (and you'd never see Dracula in scenes like the ones above with a dude), so it's very problematic for him to have this effect on Lila.
Katrika, meanwhile, performs a blood transfusion on Marlene, which is meant to exorcise the soul of Van Helsing ("if" she is really in there to begin with, something that everyone seems to question), and remove Dracula's hold on her. During that scene, Marlene tries to resist the process, and Blade completely flips out.
Drake is able to restrain him, but it's another example that Blade is literally crazy. Wolfman always had other characters (especially Dracula) call Blade a "maniac" and the like, but he's always seemed relatively rational despite being willing to take risks and being obsessed with killing vampires (and not really to any more of a degree that the other TOD vampire hunters). Something more than that is going on in this series.
While that's happening, Lila provides Dracula with Smirnoff's notes, but they're on CD-ROM, prompting an admission from Dracula that the modern world is confusing.
Dracula then attacks Katrika's lab, trying to take back Marlene. But Drake musters up the strength to stab Dracula...
...and then Katrika melts his face off with a cross.
It looks like Dracula is fleeing into another dimension, but he winds up back in Lila's dorm room.
To heal himself, Dracula enacts Smirnoff's plan, and begins absorbing the souls that Smirnoff got students to signed away. The students have to die, and there are exactly 666 deaths.
The deaths attract the attention of an Inspector Judiah Golem, who is introduced rather late in issue #4...
...and who never actually does anything in this story. But he's sure being built up to be someone impressive.
We're also introduced to exotic weapons dealer Gossamer Jones, who provides Drake with a shotgun that shoots exploding wooden bullets (which is ultimately not very effective).
Dracula's soul absorbing ritual - and he's also raising an army of zombies - takes place in Arlington Cemetery.
You'd think being surrounded by all those cross shaped graves would be a problem. Ironically, the real Arlington Cemetery has strict rules about the way religious symbols are depicted. All the gravestones are all the same (non-cross) shape, and the religious symbol of choice is carved into the stone. I guess it's different in the Marvel universe.
The vampire hunters confront Dracula in the cemetery. And continuing my "is this story even canon?" concerns, Blade says that it's Dracula that killed his mom. What happened to Deacon Frost?
Since Blade is already crazy at this point, maybe he's just confused or saying "you" to mean "all vampires". But Dracula later confirms it was him.
Maybe Dracula is just saying these things to get Blade's goat.
Eventually, it turns out that the soul absorbing ritual is flawed. Dracula absorbs more souls than he can handle, and he can't stop it.
It causes him to explode.
The story ends with Frank and Marlene going back to their normal life. But Blade is locked up in a mental institution.
Wolfman almost seems to be shelving Blade here. He's also clearly anticipating a new series with Katrika and Judiah Golem (and maybe Gossamer Jones?)...
...but nothing will come of that and these characters are not seen again.
Plotwise, here's what's weird. At one point (after the getting the CD-ROM) Dracula is researching Smirnoff's notes on the soul ritual and you could imagine the story going right from there to him enacting the ritual. But suddenly he decides to fly over and attack the vampire hunters, and that's when he gets his face melted. And that makes it so that he feels like he has to enact the ritual, to heal himself. If it wasn't a mini-series, Dracula could easily have just waited things out and healed on his own. But more importantly, the attack on the vampire hunters seems only to provide the vampire hunters with some degree of relevance to the story. Without that, Dracula would have enacted the ritual and died without any involvement from the hunters. And that's basically what happened anyway, except that we can say that he was forced into the ritual because his face was melted. That's the only reason i can think of as to why Dracula's detour attack was included; it really makes no sense for him to attack, storywise. And even so it leaves us with a plot where the good guys are mostly irrelevant, and where Dracula's resurrection is basically a temporary blip that resolves itself (after, granted, a lot of death).
So the basic plot is kind of off. Some characters, like Blade and Dracula himself, don't really seem like themselves. Gene Colan's art generally evokes his classic style, but sometimes looks overly cartoony and is often cartoonishly gory. We have the weird lesbian vampire 'cure'. And a character, Judiah Golem, who is introduced for no reason. And then of course there's my biggest complaint, that the continuity seems way wrong (and that's even IF - and it is a big "if" - we allowed Wolfman the luxury of only referring to his own past works).
There's still some fun stuff in here. One thing i definitely advise is putting yourself in the frame of mind for a low budget horror film instead of the detailed nuance of the old Tomb of Dracula run. With that, if you're not concerned about past characterization or continuity, it's a fun little gorefest. Which is not really what the Epic line was aiming for, but i guess it's worth it to allow Wolfman and Colan to come together again.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: I haven't listed Rachel Van Helsing as a Character Appearing, although the MCP does. Wolfman has multiple characters speculate that Marlene was merely hypnotized into thinking that she is Rachel, or having them add qualifiers ("if she's Rachel") whenever they talk about her. Marlene could have learned Dracula's resting place by studying Frank's scrapbooks and listening to his stories. On the other hand, Smirnoff definitely was doing something legitimately magical with souls, so he could have really captured Rachel's, but since it's unconfirmed i prefer not to list it.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
As I understand it, Marv Wolfman (or his editors) published this in the Epic line in part to justify playing pick and choose with past continuity. Somewhat understandable in hindsight.
Going by the strange choice of editorial of this time to largely stop using footnotes, one gets the sense that continuity was perceived as something of a burden and a potential discourager of new readers. A four-issue mini-series published by Epic would hopefully be perceived as its own thing, at a time when many regular books were accessories of other books.
While there are other ways to explain the inconsistencies of continuity (mostly variation of the unreliable narrator, which goes a long way with Blade nearly disfunctional and other characters under various forms of very unusual circunstances that may well affect their memories and rational capabilities), the cummulative effect strongly suggests that a conscious decision was made to make the series "continuity-optional".
My impression is reinforced by the continuity impact of this series in the later Nightstalkers series. Marlene, introduced in this series, is still Frank Drake's wife, for instance, and Blade is still in that institution at the start of Nightstalkers.
Speaking of Blade, I like that Marv Wolfman seems to be keeping the idea that the vampire hunters have been a bit too dedicated for their own good, which, as you sometimes indicated, was a subtle yet powerful subtext of the 1970s ToD series. There has always been a question of what they would do if they succeeded, and it is at least possible to assume that Blade, specifically, is having a hard time readjusting to a vampire-less world.
Come to think of it, it is possible that Marv Wolfman and/or the Editors wanted to keep their options open, by both featuring the known quantities of Blade and Frank Drake and introducing the new characters. That way they could follow up in several different ways, depending on sales and reception, even retaining the choice of making this series part of Earth-616 continuity, an entirely divergent reality, or making it "softly" connected (as it ended up being, by my reading).
Again, that makes sense. Dracula hasn't really been a regular character in Marvel books for twelve years at this point, and what few appearances he had were arguably lampshades of how little challenge he offers to a world where he draws the attention of the likes of Doctor Strange, the Avengers and the X-Men.
For him to become a regular character again it is necessary to deeemphasize recent continuity and open space for the genre at which he works best - which is not that of superheroes that form numerous teams with powerful defenses against his powers and the means to annihilate him for good. You could give him the Cosmic Cube, perhaps, or make him a cyborg or a supernatural avatar of some sort - but that is really letting go of the character's differential and refusing to play to his strengths so that he can be welded to the main continuity. At first glance that is just not a good choice.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | November 4, 2015 7:59 PM
Fnord, if you read issue 1 VERY carefully, there's a reference to a demon called Asmodeus putting Dracula's body back where Quincy killed him. It's not clear if it's the same demon from Tomb of Dracula Magazine 2, or the Ghost Rider Asmodeus. It's still odd that Wolfman chose to open the story this way (Did Asmodeus also erase Drake's memory? If not shouldn't he be wondering how Dracula is there?) but it's not explained further in Nightstalkers. This book is definitely in continuity though, since Drake is married and Blade is crazy at the start of Nightstalkers. Don't ask me about Rachel's death and Blade's mom.
Posted by: Michael | November 4, 2015 8:43 PM
You know, i tried to read that opening text about Asmodeus twice and my eyes glazed over both times. Thanks for pointing that out. As you say, there are still problems with that and there are other continuity problems, but that was what i thought was the biggest.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 4, 2015 9:01 PM
Wow, this seems really weird. I have only read a handful of issues of the original Tomb of Dracula series, so I'm not especially familiar with it. I certainly have never seen this miniseries before. The artwork by Gene Colan is especially odd. Obviously he always had an unconventional style to his work. But here it seems cartoony and exaggerated. Perhaps he was experimenting?
I can certainly understand why Marv Wolfman wanted to keep Dracula in his own little corner of continuity. Despite the fact that Dracula is a legendary monster, he really pales in comparison to most of the super-powered denizens of Earth in the Marvel universe. It's pretty obvious that on those few occasions when Wolfman did have Dracula face off against super-heroes he had to come up with rationales for how the lord of the vampire could possibly survive. This he had Dracula deceiving Doctor Strange into thinking he had been killed, thus throwing him off his trail, or having Dracula fight a significantly-depowered Silver Surfer.
Posted by: Ben Herman | November 4, 2015 9:54 PM
I think Katrika was supposed to be a Black Albino with a New Orleans accent.
Actually, Wolfman only wrote a few b&w ToD stories before quitting Marvel in 1980.
I really tried to get into this series back then, but stuff like the cover showing Dracula with an enormous tongue hanging out like a dog didn't help at all.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | November 6, 2015 4:47 PM
I know it's sacreligious (the irony in me using that word, LOL!) but I gotta say I don't "get" Gene Colan, especially his later work. I think the bad outweighs the good in his career and I think this 90s' mini-series looks so sketchy I have to wonder if his shortcuts are part of what sabotaged his career here... just being honest...
Posted by: Brimstone | December 29, 2015 7:36 PM
Brimstone. I agree with you. His layouts and storytelling are quite good, but I've always found his work ugly. The Palmer inks in his original Tomb of Dracula run showcases his strengths. I never thought his work fit standard superheroes that well. But by the mid-eighties, Colan was clearly past his prime, and these issues just look awful to me too.
Posted by: Chris | December 29, 2015 7:57 PM
yeah Chris I don't mean to slag the guy or show him any disrespect because it's nothing personal but it's like, ok, I read what Shooter said about his storytelling short cuts and I SEE IT, I think Colan was a lazy storyteller, even Roy Thomas talks about how in the 60s' he would stretch things out with half splashes and stuff then need to rush in the last few pages, and I SEE IT, and I just think Colan is kinda overrated and Palmer really strengthened his work... just my two cents...
Posted by: Brimstone | December 30, 2015 9:39 AM
Judiah Golem seems like a Dr. Occult knockoff with Jay Leno's chin and, IMHO, a very poor substitute for Hannibal King.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | October 9, 2017 11:22 PM
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