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The Wolfman/Colan Dracula returns. And disappoints. – The Tomb of Dracula (Epic)

June 25, 2013

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It’s said that you can’t go home again. It’s also said that you can’t raise the dead. Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan tried to do both in 1991.

One of the definitive titles of the 1970s was Marvel’s The Tomb of Dracula, which rode the great benefit of a consistent creative team to great success. Not only did the book become a horror comic standard-bearer, but it also blazed an anti-hero trail. Long before the Tony Sopranos and Walter Whites of the world came to dominate American TVs, Dracula was, not a character that you loved to hate, but one you hated that you loved — if that makes sense. He was unquestionably evil, a monster who killed and reveled in blood, but he was just so debonair, so delightfully disdainful of the humans that were his prey, you always hoped he’d get away from the ill-matched group of wounded souls who hunted him. He was Hannibal Lecter without the fava beans.

But like all good (bad) things, it all had to come to an end. ToD was cancelled, and Dracula was finally done in by a silver wheelchair spoke from Quincy Harker (it wasn’t the darts that did it, after all). And the resident Lord of the Vampires largely disappeared from the Marvel Universe.

That is, until ten years after the original series’ cancellation, when the band got back together to roll out a prestige, square-bound Epic Comics reprise. Wolfman and Colan (along with Al Williamson, subbing for old inker Tom Palmer), who had forged one of the finest sustained multi-year runs on any title in any Age, crafted a four issue coda to their vampire masterpiece. And not only did “Day of Blood! Night of Redemption!” reunite their talents, it also brought back together much of the cast from that old book — at least, the characters that were still alive. Harker, the elderly, wheelchair-bound nemesis of the titular bloodsucker, had perished in his death struggle with Dracula, but old castmates Frank Drake (Dracula’s only living descendent), Blade (pre-Snipes) and the hellish reincarnated spirit of Rachel Van Helsing all returned.

And Dracula. Yeah, he was back too.

Sadly, all the efforts and all the curtain calls were largely for naught, because the story around it all collapsed under its own weight. Don’t read that the wrong way. This isn’t a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull style letdown. Dracula doesn’t suddenly have a Shia LaBoeuf son out of nowhere. And it starts out promising enough, taking its time to resurrect Dracula in a new decade. Colan’s art is at its ethereal, dreamy best. But by the time you get to the fourth and final installment, it all becomes somewhat clichéd, with odd tangents that sever whatever narrative thread had been carried that far.

It goes something like this: Dracula is resurrected by a somewhat nefarious Soviet émigré doctor, Gregor “Don’t Call Me Yakov” Smirnoff, an investigator of the occult and current Georgetown University professor who also happens — surprise, surprise — to be treating Frank Drake’s new wife, Marlene, for the Dracula-centric nightmares she’s been having. Nightmares like this:

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As it turns out, the prof has hatched a secret plot to resurrect Dracula (for his own bizarre reasons — read the series to discover them for yourself), and Marlene, now possessed by the spirit of Rachel Van Helsing (who died off-panel between the end of the first series and the start of this mini), is his guide to the body. Up, up he spouts from the grave, and he’s the same vile, disdainful, terrifying, but oddly delicious Drac we know (knew) and love. Here he is taunting Drake, his sole descendant, with all the liberties he’s going to take with Drake’s wife:

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Oh, Dracula, you are a delight!

Off Dracula goes (at the Smirnoff’s urging) to America, where he establishes himself in one of his old mansions, which is located just outside Washington, D.C. Indeed, in a move surely designed to attract me personally, the rest of the story is largely set in my home environs here in the Washington metropolitan region. The professor has started up a cross-country collegiate cult (what everyone who fears left-wing intelligentsia thinks is going on anyway) which has stored up psychic energy for Dracula’s second coming — or something. It gets a little bit haphazard here. But, while he’s inside the beltway, Dracula does spend an evening hobnobbing with various D.C. worthies at a party. That leads to this panel, which made me chuckle:

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Suggested caption: Up yours, Marx.

(At one point Dracula goes to feed at a D.C. strip club. I’ve never seen Dracula at a D.C. strip club. I did see Kevin Pollack get the cold shoulder from a stripper at one once, though. So there’s that.)

The plot is a mess by the third book, as Drake tries to recoup his possessed wife, Blade, brought in to help, is no help at all and berates him for being a wuss, and Dracula acts like, well, Dracula. One of the better elements, though, is a recurring suggestion that Drac, an immortal (hey, he died, but he came back, okay?), is now more afraid of death than any ordinary human. Not because of any overt threat, but because of the new decade of the 1990s, which is stranger than all the social upheavals he’s lived through in his previous centuries. Take this page, complete with Christopher Lee cameo (narrated by Katinka, a new character assisting Drake and Blade in their anti-Dracula fight):

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So apparently you can forget the crosses, stakes and garlic. Slang, the Terminator, video games and skateboards are Dracula’s new banes. He should just be thankful he wasn’t resurrected in the next century. What would he have made of iPhones and the Kardashians?

As I said, the story being set in D.C. was tailor-made to appeal to an Arlingtonian like myself. Then came the following panel, in the fourth issue, just before Dracula awakes from a slumber for his final onslaught of evil. This was the final nail in the coffin — or the final stake in the heart, as it were. It’s like one of those “Find what’s wrong with this picture” games:

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Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington National Cemetery, with row upon row of — crosses. If you don’t see the problem with this, one second of internet research should fix it. Maybe Colan made a slip. Maybe Wolfman captioned the above scene as a place it wasn’t originally meant to be. Maybe row upon row of stone tablets are hard to render in silhouette. Whatever the case, this is wrong. Distractingly wrong. (I know Colan didn’t have internet pics for convenient reference in 1991, but…)

This screw-up is in some ways emblematic of how the story disintegrates (much like a sun-exposed vampire). There’s even an inexplicable subplot in the final issue, as a Georgetown police detective with a Jay Leno face, improbably named Judiah Golem, appears out of nowhere and investigates some of the Dracula-caused deaths. He and the aforementioned Katinka are left standing at issues end, and it appears that their inclusion was perhaps a backdoor pilot for a new supernatural series that never got off the ground. Which makes them even more useless here.

Thanks to being released under the direct market Epic imprint, this last Tomb of Dracula hurrah is largely forgotten. That might be for the best. The monthly rigors of the old title perhaps kept the creative trio in fighting trim, lean and mean and ready for action. Tomb was spectacular, something new and fairly daring in those days, with stories fueled by its insurgent energy. Despite the reunion tour nostalgia of this decade-later project, it’s best left sealed in its coffin. It’s not up to the old par. Which is a shame. A bloodsucking shame.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2013 7:57 pm

    You may be thinking of Williamson’s Marvel work on Daredevil or Spider-Man rather than inks on the original TOD series which were handled instead by Tom Palmer (who if memory serves became the regular finisher about ten issues into the run). But it was nice to see Williamson’s work on this new effort by Wolfman and Colan, though I agree the series fell short of what was accomplished with the original. It’s possible that with the graphic novel format, this creative team felt free to give Dracula a more horror-based aspect; but as you point out, Dracula’s aristocratic and cultured characteristics were a large part of what made his character so interesting, despite his bloodthirsty and sadistic nature.

    • June 26, 2013 10:57 pm

      Of course, you’re right about Palmer. I got carried away with the Wolfman/Colan continuum and swept the inkers in with them. I’ve corrected the post so that I look like less of an idiot for posterity. Thanks for putting the necessary egg on my face.

  2. Danny M permalink
    January 10, 2015 10:16 pm

    What does Blade look like in this series?

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