Screw Twilight. To hell with The Vampire Diaries. Lestat’s a total wuss. And True Blood blows—oh, wait, I actually like True Blood.
Anyway, I’m very pleased to see that one of my all-time favorite treatments of vampires—particularly the most famous vampire of all—is being reprinted as a series of affordable trade paperbacks, the first volume of which went on sale last week. Hopefully, a whole new audience will discover this bona fide classic.
I’m referring to The Tomb of Dracula, published by Marvel Comics from 1972 to 1979 and lasting 70 issues. It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest things ever published by that company. (As many of you know, I worked at Marvel throughout the 1990s.) In fact, I’d argue that The Tomb of Dracula is the best finite series in Marvel’s history—a series with a beginning, a middle, and definitive end. And in the case of The Tomb of Dracula, there was a clear beginning and an engrossing, disturbing, chilling, suspenseful, and ever-imaginative middle that led to a powerful and thoroughly satisfying conclusion. In that sense, the whole thing functions as a 70-chapter graphic novel, though it was produced long before the term “graphic novel” was ever coined as an alternative to the less prestigious sounding “comic book.”
The just-released first volume reprints issues 1-12, and I’ll acknowledge that it takes a few issues—in this format, they can be considered chapters—for the saga to find its footing. But it’s worth the wait, and new readers will be rewarded for their patience. The lack of a clear direction at the beginning of the series was unavoidable, really, given the fact that in its first seven issues, The Tomb of Dracula went through four different writers. Fortunately, they were among the very best comic-book writers of that era, so even though there was a lack of consistency in terms of characterizations and overall tone from issue to issue at the start, there was an undeniable craftsmanship and a quality to the writing that established a solid enough foundation for the series and a sense of momentum that kept things moving forward until a permanent writer took up residence.
But the look of the series was never anything but consistent, since one penciler—the amazing Gene Colan—was on board from start to finish. He was paired with a variety of inkers for the first 10 issues, but with #11, he began a partnership with the phenomenal Tom Palmer (also one of the nicest guys in the comic-book business) that would endure to the very end. Colan and Palmer meshed perfectly, complementing each other’s styles and producing some of the moodiest, most dramatic artwork ever produced for the comics medium.
Dracula as rendered by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer.
So… what’s the series about? Well, it’s not exactly a direct sequel to Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel—not at first. But as new characters and situations are introduced, the series does start to establish closer ties to the novel, which should please fans of Stoker’s work.
Writer Gerry Conway kicked things off in the first issue with the accidental resurrection of Count Dracula in the bowels of his Transylvanian castle, and the introduction of one of the saga’s key characters: Frank Drake, who is actually a descendant of the legendary vampire. The series as a whole depicts the efforts of Drake and his growing group of allies to stop Dracula from spreading his brand of evil around the world.
Dracula lives again: The Tomb of Dracula #1.
Conway only wrote the first two issues, just long enough to get things rolling. He was replaced by Archie Goodwin, one of the best writers and editors to ever grace the comic-book industry, and a personal hero of mine. Goodwin also wrote only two issues, but during his brief tenure, he added a major new character to the cast: Rachel Van Helsing, granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing, who was of course one of the main characters of Stoker’s novel. (It’s important to note that the introduction of Rachel was done long before it became a tired cliché to have the descendants of Stoker’s original characters serve as Dracula’s opponents in the present day.) Goodwin was followed by Gardner Fox, who stayed on just long enough to produce a two-part supernatural adventure that maintained the overall status quo.
It wasn’t until issue #7 that the series really clicked and headed in the direction that would earn it all of its acclaim. It was with that issue that Marv Wolfman came on board as the regular writer. (Yes, it’s true: a guy named “Wolfman” was the integral writer of a series about Dracula.)
The importance of Marv’s arrival on The Tomb of Dracula cannot be emphasized enough. He was bursting with ideas from the very start. With his first issue, he brought in perhaps the most important character of all, with the exception of Dracula himself: the elderly vampire hunter Quincy Harker, who was actually introduced at the very end of Stoker’s novel as the young son of Jonathan and Mina Harker. As developed by Wolfman, Quincy was a complex, three-dimensional, and fully realized character, the likes of which had not really been seen before in mainstream comics.
Soon after, Wolfman introduced one of the most popular characters of the series: Blade the vampire slayer, who would of course get his own movie trilogy (and a short-lived cable television show) several decades later.
Blade makes his memorable debut in The Tomb of Dracula #10.
Other key players, including Dracula’s hated daughter Lilith and fiction writer Harold H. Harold (a Woody Allen type who served as comic relief), would follow.
Dracula introduces readers to his daughter Lilith in a special issue.
As the series progressed, Marv went in different, unexpected directions: at one point, Dracula had to actually join forces with his pursuers in order to take on a mutual enemy; the Dracula family grew, in a most unusual fashion; and one extended storyline led to a chilling, pivotal confrontation between Dracula and his dark master. Along the way, there were even guest appearances by the sorcerer Doctor Strange and the cosmic-powered alien being known as the Silver Surfer—but rest assured, horror fans, “crossovers” into the Marvel Universe proper were kept to a bare minimum, and when they did happen, they were done in a manner that felt appropriate and organic to The Tomb of Dracula.
The encounter with Dr. Strange began here...
... and ended here. And just a few months later...
... the Silver Surfer showed up. (From The Tomb of Dracula #50).
Marv Wolfman must also be credited with fleshing out the character of Dracula like no other writer in history—including Stoker. In Marv’s hands, Dracula truly came alive (so to speak), with a real personality, clear motivations, and a rich backstory. Marv’s Dracula is loathsome, vile, cruel, arrogant, deceitful, noble, and at times, believe it or not, even the slightest bit sympathetic.
The other vampires we meet throughout the series are, with a few rare exceptions, purely evil, grotesque monsters who view humans as nothing more than prey and as a source of nourishment.
In other words, vampires done right.
After The Tomb of Dracula ended with #70, there were several revivals. A couple of them reunited the classic team of Wolfman and Colan. And one revival was actually written by none other than yours truly! It was a three-issue limited series published in 1998 called Dracula: Lord of the Undead, illustrated by Pat Olliffe and the aforementioned Tom Palmer, and it was a dream project for me. Working with Pat and Tom and editor Tim Tuohy was one of the absolute best experiences I ever had as a comic book professional, and I still have a great fondness for that project.
Greenberg writes Dracula! It took me years to get this project off the ground.
The splash page for #1, with my name in the credits. I now own the original art!
But I have to say that none of the revivals—including the one I wrote—have measured up to the original Tomb of Dracula series. That 70-issue body of work is in a class by itself and still towers over everything that has followed it.
Which is why I’m pleased that it’s being put out again, during a period in which vampires are all the rage, so that audiences can relive, or experience for the first time, the best handling of Dracula since Bram Stoker completed his novel about the sinister vampire count from Transylvania.
If you’re a fan of horror and/or a lover of vampire fiction (and I know some of you are): Don’t let the fact that it’s a “comic book” turn you off to it. This is a serious, respectful treatment of the subject matter.
Volume 2 of the trade paperback series apparently goes on sale September 29, so pick up Volume 1 now, start reading, and you’ll be ready for the next installment by the time it comes out. To quote my favorite TV detective, Adrian Monk: “You’ll thank me later.”