The Small Lebowski:
Tomb of Dracula #31-35
Issue(s): Tomb of Dracula #31, Tomb of Dracula #32, Tomb of Dracula #33, Tomb of Dracula #34, Tomb of Dracula #35
I had always seen the critical acclaim for the Wolfman/Colan/Palmer Tomb of Dracula series, but i was a bit wary. The comics i've read by Wolfman have ranged from average to poor, in my opinion. I know that other people disagree with that; one learning experience for me in putting up all these posts is the degree to which a certain segment of people really liked his Amazing Spider-Man run. But i didn't think much of that, or of his Fantastic Four run, and while i liked Nova at first it loses focus quickly. And the scattered other things he's done for Marvel never really stood out for me. I know he has an acclaimed run on DC's Teen Titans, but i've attributed that in part to George Perez and in part to a change in style influenced by the popularity of X-Men.
So it was with all of those preconceptions that i purchased the first Essential Tomb of Dracula trade, quite some time ago compared to the time of my writing of this entry. But that trade didn't leave a huge impression on me at the time, either. Looking back, i think it may be because Wolfman really is writing for the long game on this title. Wolfman didn't start on the title until issue #7, and the first Essential trade only went until issue #25, and you have to give some leeway for him getting used to the cast (and introducing new members, like Quincy Harker and Blade). So my initial impression was that it was good for Wolfman but not exceptional. At the time i was more interested in the elements that expanded beyond the Dracula corner of the Marvel universe: a lackluster battle with Werewolf By Night, the introduction of Blade (who didn't get much spotlight in those issues), and the introduction of the seemingly silly Dr. Sun who will later appear in (Wolfman's) FF. So i didn't think enough of the series to continue with the rest of the Essential trades, and instead focused on acquiring issues that seemed like they would be "important" to my project, i.e. guest appearances, the issues where Blade seemed like he would be more prominent, and the final issues of the series.
But in reading those issues i found that there were a lot of subplots and other elements that i was interested in seeing more of. So that plus my general completionist nature has resulted in my now working through the remaining Essentials trades, and i'm not at all disappointed. It was with the issues in this entry that it really clicked for me, that i got confirmation (as i said, i had suspicions already) that Wolfman was doing the sort of long term plotting that was generally not seen at this time in comics, and which is generally attributed to Chris Claremont on X-Men.
Since i'm doing a kind of general overview (right smack in the middle of a long series, which i know is a little weird), let me also mention the Gene Colan / Tom Palmer art. I don't talk about it much in these reviews. That's mostly because i'm sort of jaded at this point. When i first saw Gene Colan appear at Marvel during my review of its history, beginning with Sub-Mariner and then on Iron Man, it was amazing how vastly different it was from the Kirby/Ditko era, and it's always remained apart even as Kirby/Ditko evolved into Romita/Buscema and through all of the Steranko influenced stuff. The initial positive reaction wore off for me as i realized how Colan's big, moody panels weren't well suited for superhero action, and by the time Colan was the regular artist on Daredevil i was more concerned about how his art, which was great on a panel by panel basis, was limiting the action and instead highlighting the often overly melodramatic soap opera elements in that series. It's also worth considering, generally, how prolific Gene Colan was at Marvel in the 60s and 70s. So by the time i got to Tomb of Dracula, my initial reaction is "yep, there's more Gene Colan art". But not only is this horror series so much more appropriate a place for Gene Colan's art, i think Colan is at his best here, whether it's because he was just hitting his stride or because he was inspired by the subject matter and long term partnership with Wolfman. On top of that, Tom Palmer's inks bring out the best of Colan's art, as they did on their short-lived Doctor Strange run (which deserves mention as a similarly well suited place for their art style).
Ok, enough overview. Let's get into these issues. We begin with Quincy Harker, who has just invented the speaker phone...
...comparing notes with Inspector Chelm and concluding that Dracula is indeed still alive.
The events in question leading to this conclusion are vampiric attacks on the family of a Lord Singleton. This follows the death of Lord Henry in Tomb of Dracula #23, and we learn that Dracula indeed has gained control of ten members of British parliament. Lord Singleton has learned of Dracula's plans from "a source unknown" (we'll learn soon that it is Dr. Sun), and he's working with the police to stop them. Inspector Chelm at this point has fought against Dracula enough that he's wise to his ways. So Singleton is first attacked by Dracula's parlimentary thralls...
...but Chelm has men stationed to take care of that.
That's the easy part. Dracula waits until after the police sting is over, and then goes to kill Singleton himself. But Chelm knows how Dracula operates, so he's waited around for that.
Chelm and his men are armed with silver bullets adorned with crosses, and they are able to repel Dracula.
However, they fail to kill him, and when Dracula hears Quincy listening in over speaker phone, Dracula decides to depart and get the info he wants from his old arch enemy instead.
I think the fact that the panels are of uneven size is partially why i don't think it's a great device. Do you read down the columns, or across the page so you're getting both subplots at once? We're trained to read across, but that results in very disjointed reading, and since the panels don't line up it's not really possible anyway. And this happens for the subplot scenes only across a couple of issues, so you have to keep readjusting. Not a huge deal; i just don't think it was a successful way to deal with subplots, and i guess people agreed since it's not something that became widespread.
It's also worth noting that the Taj subplot is exactly the opposite of what's shown on the cover of issue #31. It's Taj that needs convincing that the son needs to be staked. Taj did seem ready to do it eventually, so the fact that the villagers want to kill the child also makes it just a question of timing and giving Taj and his wife a sense of closure; no one is fighting to keep the vampire boy alive.
As for Frank, the fact that Danny is aware that Frank has been following Rachel Van Helsing "and her crazy ideas" is Frank's first clue that there's something wrong with the job offer.
Issue #32 opens with Quincy waiting for Dracula to arrive.
And it's now that we learn that the Taj and Frank subplots are part of Dracula's master plan.
Dracula was aware of Taj's vampire child, so he sent one of his minions to the area to stir up trouble, knowing that it would cause the villagers to blame Taj's son and force Taj to return to the area. And Danny Summers is in thrall to Dracula, so the job offer was indeed to lure him away (and kill him with zuvembies, if possible). On top of that, in issue #31 we saw Rachel Van Helsing brooding over Frank's departure and investigating an open window, and we now find that she's been kidnapped by Dracula's minions. So all of these subplots, interesting in their own right, turn out to be part of a plan to get all of Quincy's allies out of the way for an epic battle between him and Dracula.
Of course Quincy isn't entirely alone. He's got his dog Saint, who is apparently a faithful Christian since the silver crosses on his collars cause Dracula pain.
And Quincy also has a mansion filled with tricks and traps.
It comes out during the course of the battle that the reason Quincy wears those sunglasses is that he's been bitten by Dracula so many times that he's beginning to take on some aspects of vampirism, specifically a sensitivity to light.
In the end, Quincy's traps work and Dracula is at his mercy.
But Dracula (as always) has an ace in the hole, and so it's at that point that Dracula's minions force Rachel to call to say that she's being held prisoner.
Rachel tells Quincy to kill Dracula anyway, but issue #33 has a series of flashbacks as Quincy internally weighs killing Dracula against saving Rachel.
On the surface level, anyway, that's the debate. But on a deeper level, there's a sense that Quincy, whose life has been defined by hunting Dracula, would be at a loss once his foe was defeated. The thought of that caused him to hesitate once during the big battle, and it's definitely on display in the scene above. We'll see this surface again in a future arc as well. With that in mind, the scenes in the flashbacks, showing Dracula crippling Quincy, terrorizing his wife enough to drive her to suicide, and showing a young Edith Harker saying that she never wants to become a vampire (which we know will happen), take on a different meaning.
All these horrible things that Dracula caused, and yet Quincy decides to let him live. Is that a sign of his humanity, that he hasn't let his quest for vengeance cause him to forget the value of human life (i.e. Rachel)? Or does it show that Quincy doesn't really have anything to live for except an endless pursuit of Dracula? Certainly Rachel disagrees with Quincy's decision (and not just because Dracula's minions "did things" to her), but Rachel's character arc specifically does involve her suppressing her emotions in the quest for vengeance.
On the other hand, Quincy's decision is partially influenced by the Dr. Sun papers, which show that Dracula only has two more weeks before Dracula will become too weak to defend himself. There's a "bird in the hand" argument to be made there - Dracula is too crafty to guarantee that he'll die at some point in the future - but i guess between that and Rachel's safety the decision makes a sort of sense. Who knows how many people Dracula will kill in the meantime, though.
Dracula is of course satisfied with the decision, though, enough so that he's willing to compare Quincy favorably to his past enemies.
Dracula withdraws and begins his preparations to deal with his loss of powers. He eventually figures out that Dr. Sun must be behind it.
And it turns out that he has one final stooge in the British government, which he uses to get the full report on him that Dr. Sun delivered. However, Inspector Chelm was waiting for him and is ready for Dracula.
Meanwhile, another vampire is stalking Dracula. We'll learn that it's Deacon Frost, the vampire that killed Blade's mother.
Frost observes the battle between Chelm and Dracula.
Dracula is forced to withdraw when reinforcements show up.
Afterwards, Harker goes to meet Chelm at Scotland Yard. We're also introduced to a Dr. Scott, a psychologist who is putting together a profile of Dracula.
Rachel Van Helsing joins them as well.
As for our other vampire hunter characters, we do get back to them. As mentioned above, there's no real conflict in the situation with Taj's vampire kid, and the kid is eventually killed. The big news is that these events have caused Taj to reconcile with his wife, and so Taj decides to stay in India.
It's the last we'll see of Taj in this series. Bye Taj! Enjoy your happiness while you can; you won't like what happens to you when you come back in Nightstalkers in the 90s.
As for Frank Drake, he's attacked by zuvembies...
...which of course attracts the attention of Brother Voodoo.
Despite the guest appearance and the fact that it's featured on the cover of issue #35, the Frank Drake/Brother Voodoo story really is relegated to subplot.
Instead, the main story, which begins in #34, involves a Miss Daphne von Wilkinson, the head of a fashion company that is behind in its debts, in part (at least according to the loan officer) because she refuses to put males in prominent places in her company.
She has a kind of windfall when Dracula crashes through her window after his battle with Inspector Chelm...
...and enters an alliance with him, providing him victims and getting the attractive models in her employee to seduce members of Scotland Yard into getting information on Dr. Sun in return for Dracula killing off the people in her life that have slighted her, beginning with the loan officer.
After that, he's sent to kill former lovers, men that stole designs from her, wouldn't partner with her, etc.. One guy that Dracula kills is pretty much a Captain America in training (but of course he fares no better than the others).
Another victim, a Ken Mitchell, seems to know Frank Drake.
But Dracula resents being ordered around by Miss Wilkinson, so instead of just killing the victims, he turns them all into vampires and has them attack Wilkinson after she gives him the info on Dr. Sun (who is in Boston).
In the meantime Brother Voodoo does help Frank Drake fight the zuvembies...
...and then they decide to go after Danny Summers.
And that's a place to stop since the main plot takes a break and we can assume that it's a bit of a drive back from Summers' work camp to where he is headquartered. It's definitely an involved arc. The battle with Harker, which very much feels like a climax, is nonetheless right in the middle of this set of issues and things run from there directly into the beginning of Dracula's search for Dr. Sun. I could have done without the anti-feminist backlash in Miss Wilkinson's story, but the basic plot does serve as a more traditional horror story that serves as a nice break from the epic while still fitting in nicely with the larger plot.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: While Quincy and Rachel are visiting Chelm and Dr. Scott at Scotland Yard, it's said that Blade is wanted for Murder. The footntote is for Blade's series in Vampire Tales...
...but this is actually a reference to the plot of Marvel Preview #3. As Michael confirms in the Comments, the Marvel Preview story was originally intended for Vampire Tales #10; see the cover of that issue. This is also confirmed in the lettercol in issue #37. So i am placing this near the Marvel Preview issue with the idea that the events of that issue are occurring concurrently with this arc. Also give Dracula another point for keeping Blade busy during his fight with Quincy along with all the other vampire hunters.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Essential Tomb of Dracula vol. 2
Inbound References (3): showAdri Nital, Brother Voodoo, Danny Summers, Deacon Frost, Dr. Scott, Dracula, Frank Drake, Inspector Chelm, Jyota Nital, Quincy Harker, Rachel Van Helsing, Saint (dog), Taj Nital
I'm guessing the "things" the vampire women did to Rachel were rape-y in nature.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 1, 2015 3:22 PM
The Blade story in Marvel Preview 3 WAS originally supposed to appear in Vampire Tales but eventually wound up in Marvel Preview. Hilariously, the cover of Vampire Tales 10 said Blade: Wanted for Murder but no Blade story appeared.
Posted by: Michael | February 1, 2015 3:28 PM
Let me just say how much I appreciate your overviews/mini-essays. With your recent back issue add, I'd missed your more critical entries, so this one was very welcome.
Posted by: gfsdf gfbd | February 1, 2015 4:56 PM
Posted by: fnord12 | February 1, 2015 6:01 PM
Looks like you need to add Taj as a character appearing here.
Posted by: Rick | June 29, 2016 11:50 AM
Added Taj. Thanks.
Posted by: fnord12 | June 29, 2016 1:01 PM
Dr Scott is an odd duck. His name reminds me of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which came out around this time, but would only slowly acquire cult status. With his glasses he reminds me a bit of Clark Kent ("Great Scott!"). But the way Colan draws him, he looks more like Rod Serling than anyone else.
Posted by: Andrew | December 27, 2016 10:35 PM
@Fnord- Guess Ol' Quincy took the saying (later movie) "All dogs go to Heaven" seriously when outfitting Saint with those crosses. The poor canine would also need someone/something to give him strength when sitting through those "vampire hunter knitting sessions" yet to come. :)
Posted by: Brian Coffey | September 13, 2017 10:13 PM
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