Monday, October 8, 2012
BAB Frightfest: Tomb of Dracula 1
Tomb of Dracula #1 (Apr 1972)
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artist: Gene Colan
Karen: Dracula was indisputably the most successful of Marvel's monsters. The series lasted far longer than any of its counterparts, running 70 issues, and Marvel's version of Dracula showed up in many of their magazines as well as other comics. I came late to the TOD fold; as I have mentioned in previous posts, I really hadn't read many issues of the title until I picked up the TOD trades, volumes 1-3. The series definitely improved as time went on. The early issues featured a parade of writers, until Marv Wolfman came along in issue #7, and began to forge his long and highly acclaimed run. Of course, any discussion of Dracula would be incomplete without praising the efforts of artist Gene Colan, who truly owned the character. Colan was the penciller for the entire run! His style, making great use of lighting and shadows, fit the book perfectly.
Doug: Well you have much more of a history with all of our ghouls this month than do I -- I am lame-o supreme-o when it comes to the monsters. I don't know why I never got into them, because as I read this stuff now in the Marvel Firsts, the Essentials, etc. I love them! So I'm going to be positive about making up for lost time rather than dwelling on my lack of taste as a Marvel Superhero Zombie in days of yore.
Doug: I'll echo your sentiments toward Gentleman Gene Colan -- I've always loved him on Daredevil and already get the feeling I'm going to like him on just about any Tomb of Dracula I'll encounter.
Karen: This first issue would introduce us to the supporting cast, who in many ways were just as popular as the title character. Dracula was never portrayed as "the hero" in the series -- complicated, intriguing, yes, but the vampire was always shown to be at his core, evil. The heroic vampire hunters who took him on were given as much face time as the Count.
Doug: And I'll ask everyone to pardon my ignorance, as I'm not trying to be coy -- I really did read this for the first time for this review. But it was pretty obvious that the young folks were going to be the protagonists with the Count the antagonist. They're a little formulaic, as we'll describe, but that seemed to fit well into the tale.
Karen: Our story opens, and it is a dark and stormy night. No, really. Three travelers are driving to an ominous castle, when their jeep goes off the road. Frank Drake, his girlfriend Jeanie, and their companion, Clifton (Jeanie's ex-boyfriend -- that won't be a problem, will it?) scramble out of the vehicle unscathed and walk back to the last village. The villagers, who would all fit in nicely in any Hammer horror film, are sitting in the local inn, speculating about these newcomers, with an old man named Burgeister saying that the castle will bring them only sorrow. The door pops open and the three bedraggled travelers enter, and Burgeister welcomes them to Transylvania! At this point I do have to note that I found it odd that the villagers seem to be Germanic, calling everyone 'Herr' -- wouldn't Transylvanians speak Romanian? Another thing -- this whole scene plays a bit odd for me, as I had the impression that the threesome had already stopped in this village, and yet they introduce themselves as if no one knew them. Did you find that odd?
Doug: You know, I read it and re-read it, and to be honest I'm not certain. Clifton does remark that they passed the village, but it's sort of ambiguous as to whether or not they'd actually stopped. And how about the period costumes on the denizens of said village? Clifton reminded me somewhat of Sir William Cecil Clayton from Tarzan of the Apes -- you just know that down the road he's going to become a major pain-in-the-butt.
Karen: Frank and the others try to get someone to take them to the castle, but most of the villagers are afraid, but one, Otto, says he'll give them a lift in his carriage if they pay him well enough. On their way there, the three young people question Otto about the rumors of Dracula. Otto says its superstition -- and yet, he won't drive all the way up to the castle. The travelers dismount and begin their long walk. Clifton notes that they're almost out of money. They better hope the castle is a real tourist attraction.
Doug: The carriage was the perfect touch, wasn't it? Who needs a car in a yarn like this? I thought Gerry Conway did a nice job of building suspense in these early parts of the story. Certainly we know where this is all headed, but there's still a sense of wariness.
Karen: As they approach the castle, Frank muses about how they got here. He had inherited a million dollars from his father, and blown through it in three years. He'd also wound up falling in love with his best friend's girl -- but oddly enough, Clifton took it pretty well. In fact, Clifton was the only one who stood by Frank after he lost his money. Frank realized his only hope to make some money was to sell the castle he'd inherited. "Castle?" Clifton asked. It turns out Frank is a direct descendant of Count Dracula -- yes, the real Dracula. Clifton tells him that this is huge, that it could make a ton of money. Frank reads back through the centuries-old diary he's been carrying around, one that was written by Dracula's daughter, grandson, and a man named Van Helsing. It describes how Dracula became a vampire and also how he was killed. Frank keeps thinking about the body of Dracula, lying staked in the depths of the castle. He can't get it out of his head. Clifton tells him that they could turn it into a museum and make a ton of money. And so the three of them are off.
Doug: This section of the story was great -- Conway did a nice job getting the casual reader up to speed on the mythos of the Count. One really begins to get the sense, too, that Clifton deserves to "get it"... and soon. He's just smarmy, isn't he? Frank, on the other hand, is somewhat of a dubious hero isn't he? He's certainly not virtuous in regard to heisting Clifton's girl and his financial lack-of-prowess. Yet at this point he's all we've got.
Karen: You're right, Clifton may be a creep, but Frank's no paragon of virtue either. By the time they reach the castle though, Frank is sick of Clifton.He doesn't trust him. Frank blows up at Clifton, but once they enter the castle, he gets caught up in a feeling of deja vu. It's like he knows this castle. Suddenly a gaggle (flock?) of bats fly past them. Startled, the three separate. Clifton falls through some rotted floorboards and winds up beneath the castle. He goes down a set of winding stairs and finds Dracula's coffin. Clifton is filled with excitement. Turns out he's been planning to take the castle, steal Jeannie back, and kill Frank. He approaches the coffin and pulls it open to reveal a staked corpse. Clifton chuckles about what idiots people were to think Dracula was a vampire. He pulls the stake out and leaves, thinking about how he'll arrange Frank's 'accident'. Now maybe I am asking too much, but isn't it convenient that he decides to pull the stake out for no reason?
Doug: Actually, bats travel in a colony. Or a cloud. Not that I knew that... Yep, ol' Clifton's got everyone in a pickle now, doesn't he? And how about him falling through the floorboards? Didn't you find it odd that no one heard the ruckus and came to his aid? Surely, too, he would have cried out. Colan is not called a master of shadows for nothing, and he certainly shows it throughout these pages. The coloring, full of grays and browns, is aptly moody, but Gene the Dean's blacks are fantastic.
Karen: As soon as Clifton leaves, the skeleton in the coffin begins to change. Flesh forms on the bones and suddenly, Dracula is back. The Count stops Clifton, who shoots him, but to no effect. Dracula tosses him down a hole, "with the Others," and pauses -- he hears voices above, including a woman. Dracula flies up as a bat and turns back into his human form to confront Frank and Jeannie. He mesmerizes Jeannie and she tries to go to him. Frank knocks Jeannie out and drives Dracula away with her silver compact. Now that just seemed silly. Dracula flies off to the village and slakes his thirst with the blood of a local barmaid. Her body is soon discovered and the enraged villagers head off with torches in hand to the castle. Torches? It's 1972!
Doug: Sort of B&W magazine fare with Jeannie's blouse flying open, ya think? Loved the scene with the villagers -- just goes to show you that these scary stories are timeless! Everyone has a part to play, I guess. Colan's scratchy style really lends itself to the turmoil brewing as Dracula comes back from the dead and begins to do his thing.
Karen: Dracula goes back to the castle and creeps towards the unconscious Jeannie, but draws back when he encounters the golden crucifix around her neck. Frank leaps out and tells Dracula that he is his descendant. Dracula says he'll wind up a vampire too, but Frank comes towards him with the compact again. Worse, he throws the compact at him. Oh come on! Dracula, annoyed, grabs Frank and slams his head against the wall. As Frank slips from consciousness, Jeannie awakens, and Dracula commands her to remove her cross.
Doug: The thrown compact was pretty dumb. C'mon -- when it's your only weapon, you've got to at least use it to buy some time, huh? Dracula does exude power, and the scene where he gets Frank around the neck just feels like it would hurt (a lot!). Dracula has about as many powers as Ultra Boy, ya think?
Karen: The villagers reach the castle and set it on fire (a stone castle??) just as Dracula begins to leave with the girl. But Frank wakes up, and armed once again with his trusty silver compact, he drives Dracula off. Frank grabs Jeannie and carries her outside. He fears she's dead, but she rises and turns to him. He sees her fangs and she tells him that once one is bitten by a vampire, one can never die. Frank covers his face and cries as the girl disappears into the night.
Doug: I wish I had the following issues -- Conway and Colan wove an interesting tale; certainly not without some bumps, but compelling nonetheless. I'd be curious to see how Wolfman settled in and started to steer this in his own direction, past this introductory tale that served mostly as set-up.
Karen: I have to say that the whole silver compact thing drove me a bit crazy. The story had a lot of atmosphere, but this was - -I thought -- a fairly weak start.The art was really the saving grace. As a bonus, I'm including a pin-up from the Tomb of Dracula TPB, which is apparently the piece Colan did to convince Stan Lee he should be the artist for the book. Pretty nice, huh?