Vampirella #21 (December, 1972)

If you read my post about Vampirella #18 back in June, you may recall that I promised at that time that I would eventually let you know how things ultimately turned out for Count Dracula, who’d begun a quest for redemption that was just getting started when that issue’s installment of the magazine’s titular lead feature reached its end.  Well, faithful readers, the time has come at last.  But please be advised that in order to do so properly, I’m first going to need to fill you in on the key events of the storyline’s chapters from Vampirella #19 and #20, so that what transpires in issue #21’s “Slitherers of the Sand!” will land, dramatically speaking, in the way its creators intended.  Also, as it turns out, this issue doesn’t really fully resolve the Dracula arc either, so we’re also going to be taking a quick look at some later appearances of the Count in Eerie and Vampirella, just so we can say we’ve wrapped things up properly.

Oh, and of course we’ll also be covering the other three stories published in Vampirella #21 — the ones that don’t have anything to do with the lead feature or with Dracula.  After all, I wouldn’t want to shortchange you on that material, would I? 

What I’m trying to say is: this is probably going to take a while.  So, you might want to go grab a beverage.  Maybe even a snack.  Feel free to take your time; I’ll just be sitting here admiring Enrich Torres’ fine cover painting for Vampirella #21 until you get back… say, is it getting hotter in here, or is it just me?  Maybe you’d better make that a cold beverage…

All ready now?  OK, let’s begin by reviewing how we left things at the end of issue #18’s “Dracula Still Lives!”.  Having had his long-dormant conscience reawakened by the return into his life of the Conjuress — a cosmic goddess he had fallen in love with as an idealistic young vampire back on his native planet Drakulon, many centuries ago — Dracula was determined to make atonement for his sins.  Still, he was far from certain such a thing was even possible, even with the help of a goddess.  “Can my soul ever be washed clean of the blood of a thousand innocent victims?”  It was a good question (though I have to say “a thousand” seems like a rather low estimate, considering how long the Count has been around at this point.  Just sayin’.)

The story continued in Vampirella #19 — an issue which might as well be called the Vampirella 1973 Annual, as it consisted primarily of tales reprinted from previous issues, with one new (but shorter-than-usual) Vampirella adventure fronting the package — the same format Warren Publishing had used for the 1972 Annual, the only difference being that they’d now rolled the annual into the title’s regular numbering sequence.

Produced by the feature’s regular creative team of T. Casey Brennan (writer) and José González (artist), the ten-page “Shadow of Dracula” opened in the year 1897, as we saw our heroine riding in a coach through the Maine countryside, en route to “the ancient Van Helsing mansion”.  How had Vampirella come to find herself in such a situation?  Let’s let her tell us herself:

And so it is that “Ella Normandy” arrives at Boris Van Helsing’s place in the company of Abraham Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray Harker, and a coffin containing the mortal remains of Lucy Westenra.  Yep, this story may easily be considered a full-on sequel to Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, just as much as it is to Vampirella #18’s “Dracula Lives Again!” — or, for that matter, to Archie Goodwin and Reed Crandall’s “The Coffin of Dracula!” (originally published in 1966 in Creepy #8 and #9, but reprinted in Creepy #48 in July, 1972 — not so coincidentally, the same month Vampirella #19 itself was released).  That was the story that had first introduced the Warren version of Dracula; it, too, had featured appearances by A. Van Helsing and the Harkers, whose character designs by Crandall on that occasion are followed by González here.

The Stoker-characters-reunion vibe is of course made even more complete when “Ella” and her companions meet Boris Van Helsing’s other guest — Count Dracula!

Vampirella isn’t satisfied with this explanation, and with good reason — this Dracula is a dead ringer for the one she knows in the present day.  And so, that night, while everyone else in the house is asleep, she confronts him…

Dracula explains that he has been sent back to this time by the Conjuress as part of his quest for atonement.  His primary mission is to aid the Van Helsing brothers in curing vampirism; the very same thing that Vampi herself is there for.  But there’s more to Dracula’s being there than that.  While the Conjuress has removed his Chaos-derived characteristics, so that he can withstand sunlight, be seen in mirrors, and so forth, she has left him with the same natural Drakulonian thirst for blood that Vampirella has; though the Conjuress will not let him perish for lack of sustenance, she expects him to master his psychological cravings as part of his journey to redemption.

The next ay, all those that have come to the Van Helsing mansion assemble to begin the grim task that has brought them there — the resurrection of Mina Harker’s best friend, Lucy Westenra, whom Dracula killed and turned into a vampire in Stoker’s novel, and whose undead existence was ended only by a stake through her heart.  It begins with the opening of her coffin…

…and that’s also where it ends, at least as far as Vampirella #19 is concerned.  But Brennan and González would continue their narrative one month later, in Vampirella #20’s “When Wakes the Dead”…

That “second injection” represents a significant change that’s been made to history thanks to Dracula and Vampirella’s presence, as will be explained on the very next page…

She’s alive!  Thanks to the use of Vampirella’s serum, the Van Helsings’ experiment succeeds, whereas in the original timeline it hadn’t.

In the days that follow, Lucy not only lives, but thrives — seemingly due at least in part to the solicitous attentions of Count Dracula.  The Count, in the meantime, is wracked with guilt, remembering the evil he did to her as a creature of the night, even as he walks by her side in the daylight…

Remembering Vampirella’s blood-substitute serum, Dracula goes to her to ask for a dose.  She’s reluctant, as giving up several vials to help with Lucy’s resurrection has drastically cut into her supply, and she only has three left.  But she realizes what fate may befall Lucy now if she doesn’t help Dracula control his bloodlust, and so she gives him a vial.  He quickly gulps down the contents, even as a familiar figure shimmers into view…

After Dracula exits her room, heading who knows where, Vampi takes the next to last dose of the serum.  Meanwhile, elsewhere in the large house, Mina Harker is gripped by a sudden fear that her best friend is in grave danger.  She goes to Lucy’s room, where the other woman happily assures her that everything is fine; there’s no need for concern, she says, “not with Dracula looking after me!”

Certain that this Dracula is somehow the same one that he fought and defeated before, Abe Van Helsing tells Jonathan Harker that they’ll try to have him extradited to England, to stand trial for his many crimes there.  In the meantime, however, it seems the plan is to just keep him shackled in what appears to be a dungeon cell (every old New England mansion has one, didn’t you know?).

For his part, the miserable and guilty Dracula wishes they’d just go ahead and stake him, already.  But Vampirella has other ideas — empathizing with her fellow Drakulonian’s struggle against his dark urges, she’s determined to rescue him.  First, however, she makes a bad situation worse by dropping and breaking her last vial of serum.  Oops!  Now she, too, will be driven to feed on a human victim before the sun rises.

Meanwhile, Jonathan has decided for himself that, human or not, Dracula must die.  Carrying a freshly-sharpened wooden stake and a stout mallet, he goes to the Count’s cell to carry out his summary judgment.  But just as he’s preparing to deliver the fatal blow, Vampirella arrives…

With the aid of Jonathan’s stake and mallet, Vampi quickly frees Dracula from his chains, and the two flee into the night…

In 1897, the Van Helsings and Harkers are left shaken by their experiences.  Convinced that his and his brother’s experiments have, by attracting not one but two vampires, “brought an ill fate on Van Helsing Mansion,” Boris swears that this will be the end of their attempts to cure vampirism: “It was not meant that we should raise the dead!  I have destroyed all our records, save for a few pages!”  It thus appears that history has been restored (assuming it was ever actually changed in the first place); in any event, we’ve come back to where we started at the beginning of issue #19’s “Shadow of Dracula!”, with a few tantalizing remnants being all that remains in the present day of the Van Helsing brothers’ research.

The story’s final scene finds Vampirella reunited with Conrad and Adam Van Helsing, back in the family manse in 1972.  Having been inspired by his psychic “sixth sense” to summon Vampi home, Conrad now asks her if the Van Helsings’ formula will be of any use to her own search for a cure.  “I’m afraid not,” she answers.  “It was only meant to revive the living dead kind of vampire!  For a vampire such as myself, it’s useless.”

I enjoyed this two-parter tremendously in 1972; by this time, I’d not only read Stoker’s novel, but I was also familiar with at least a couple of the film adaptations of it, and I appreciated what seemed to me to be a greater fidelity to the source material in this comic-book “sequel”.  I also appreciated the striking similarity (possibly coincidental, though I’d guess not) in the tale’s setup to the time-travel storylines that had turned up so frequently in my late, lamented Dark Shadows TV series.

And in 2022?  Maybe I’m being unduly influenced by nostalgia, but I think the story still holds up pretty well.  While there’s no doubt that Brennan’s prose run towards the melodramatically overwrought on occasion, his sad tale of the doomed romance of Count Dracula and Lucy Westenra still evokes a legitimate sense of tragedy, at least for this reader.

In any case, we now have the background needed to appreciate the story arc’s next (and as far as Vampirella herself is concerned, final) chapter, in issue #21.  But before we begin, we should note that this issue is also the first to feature Bill DuBay’s name on the magazine’s masthead as Managing Editor.  DuBay, who’d started his professional association with Warren Publishing in 1970 — freelancing first as an artist, then as a writer — had already had an impact on the Warren line of magazines as art director, in which capacity he’d carried out an overhaul of their shared graphic design.  In the next couple of years, he’d bring in an almost completely new stable of writers for Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella, while continuing to look primarily to the Spanish illustrators represented by the Barcelonan agency Selecciones Ilustradas (SI) for the titles’ artwork.  As we’ll see, he’d also continue to contribute to those titles himself as a writer, and even as an artist, although less frequently in the latter case.

And now, back to Vampi…

You’ll note that below José González’s lovely opening full-page splash, there’s a credit for “Prologue by T. Casey Brennan”.  That’s because Brennan, who’d succeeded Archie Goodwin as the writer of the Vampirella feature with the title’s 17th issue, only scripted the story’s first four pages.  In these pages, Vampi confides in her friend, the somewhat disreputable but good-hearted stage magician Pendragon, about how she’s come to doubt her love for Adam Van Helsing, and how she’s decided to join Dracula on his continuing quest for atonement.  And then…

Here on our story’s fifth page, we finally get a proper credit for José González, as well as for Vampirella’s brand new writer:  Chad Archer.  While that author’s name rang no bells for me in October, 1972, I was actually already fairly familiar with his work.  For, unbeknownst to me (as well as just about everyone else at the time who didn’t work for Warren), “Chad Archer” was in fact a pseudonym for Steve Englehart — a young writer who just in the last year had picked up multiple regular freelance scripting assignments at Marvel Comics, including Avengers, Captain America, and Defenders.  He was also still on staff at Marvel Comics, however, and thus deemed it prudent to do his moonlighting for Warren under a pseudonym.*  Why “Chad Archer”?  According to a page on the author’s own website, the name was meant as an admiring nod to one of his predecessor on the feature, Archie Goodwin; as Chad Archer, Englehart was “shadowing Archie”.

Conrad isn’t about to trust his old enemy just on the latter’s assurances that he’s reformed, but he eventually accepts his son Adam’s argument that, even if they can’t accept the Count on faith, they can count on the odds, being four to his one.  And so, the group of five comes together in the interest of mutual survival, until such time as the Conjuress can locate them with her magic and rescue them…

Assuming that the road must connect two points, the group picks a direction at random and begins to make their way along its track.  After a short while, the keen ears of Conrad Van Helsing pick up a sound coming from the far side of a dune; once his companions have quieted themselves, they can hear it, too…

Unfortunately, the elderly Conrad can’t run as fast as the others.  Adam decides he should try to decoy the slug-thing, so that the others can get his father to safety.  At first Vampi agrees; but then she realizes that Adam can’t maneuver in the sand nearly as well as the creature can… whereas she, of course, can turn into a bat, and bedevil it from the air:

Vampi flies away from the slug-thing, searching from the sky until, some minutes later, she relocates her friends.  Everyone is bummed about the “road” turning out to be nothing of the sort — and also about the fact that they’re all becoming very, very thirsty, and there’s still no sign of the cavalry, i.e., the Conjuress.  Dracula suggests that they can all at least have a nip of Vampirella’s blood-substitute serum — it won’t do the normal humans any harm, and it’s wet — and is unpleasantly surprised to learn that Vampi isn’t carrying any on her.  (Which you figure he should have been able to tell just by looking at her, y’know?  Really, where does he think she’s packing a vial in that almost-costume of hers?  But, whatever.)  As the younger Drakulonian explains, this was the Conjuress’ idea: “I was to learn to live without blood at the end of my journey, just as you are doing.”  Instead, it’s looking like the two vampires and three humans will all be thirsting to death together.

Somewhat unexpectedly, it’s the young and seemingly fit Adam Van Helsing who first seems to suffer the effects of water deprivation.  After six hours, the young man becomes delirious, imagining that he sees an oasis in the distance; as the others try to calm him down, he conceives another idea that’s almost as mad as that one:

Oh, dear.

Though stunned by her fall, Vampirella is revived by the telepathic “voice” of the slug-thing.  Returning to her human form, the wounded young woman once again rushes to the rescue of her friends — an effort that begins with a taunt:

In contrast to Vampirella #19-20’s “Shadow of Dracula!”/”When Wakes the Dead!”, my younger self was somewhat disappointed in #21’s “Slitherers of the Sand!” — mostly, I believe, due to the sudden heel turn (or should that be “heel return”) executed by the Count, which seemed to me then (and still does, to be honest) too abrupt, and insufficiently foreshadowed.  Today, however, I’m more inclined to forgive “Chad Archer” for this trespass — partly because I strongly suspect that the decision to derail Drac’s redemption journey was driven by Vampirella‘s editor, Bill DuBay; but also because I find a lot else to enjoy in Englehart’s maiden voyage with Vampi.  I’m especially taken with how both courageous and clever he writes her, as exemplified in how she ultimately takes out the slug-monster by way of her wits and her grit, rather than her vampiric powers.

Why do I think Bill DuBay must have wanted Dracula out of the Vampirella feature in Vampirella sooner rather than later?  We’ll be getting to that a bit further on — but first, we have three more stories in this comic to take a look at, beginning with this one: another installment of Esteban Maroto’s “Tomb of the Gods”, the writer-artist’s series of standalone tales inspired by world mythology.  As we’ll see momentarily, Maroto has looked North for his subject matter this time out…

“A Legend” was originally produced for (and published in) a Spanish-language comic; like the other such stories by Maroto we’ve covered on the blog (including Vampirella #18’s “Tomb of the Gods” series entry “Kali”, as well as the “Dax the Warrior” tale in Eerie #40) this version’s script appears to have been produced by an anonymous American writer who either was working from a very poor English translation of Maroto’s original text, or else had no translation available to them whatsoever, forcing them to make up their own story based just on the pictures.  Certainly, this tale, as much or more than any other supposedly all-Maroto story I’ve ever read, barely hangs together as a coherent narrative at all.

The gods draw both Altik and Farla into a dream, where she’s the captive of a giant and he’s supposed to fight to rescue her.  But Altik’s not really all that brave, and tries to bargain with the giant for his life, instead.  The chief god of the Aesir, Woden, is disgusted by this; but evidently, Altik is the only mortal remaining whom the gods can still influence even a little, and so Woden sends a Valkyrie to rescue both Altik and Farla.  Altik is then proclaimed the Aesir’s champion, and after the two wake up (or so I assume; the text glosses over this bit), Altik begins his career as a hero, while Farla becomes his mistress.  Along the way, Altik slays a dragon and bathes in its blood (as shown below), just as did the much better known Norse hero Sigurd (or Siegfried, if you prefer the German version):

Despondent, Altik falls into a deep slumber… I mean, really deep.  So deep, in fact, that he doesn’t wake up when Farla turns up after a while to tell him that she’s dreamed that Ragnarok has befallen, the gods are dead, and they’re on their own… or when Farla’s husband Gorheim finally returns home from his hunting trip, to find another man sleeping in his bed… or when Gorheim reluctantly agrees to let Altic stay in his house one more night, him being such a great hero and all… or even when Farla slits Gorheim’s throat, in the wee hours before dawn.

When Altic does finally awake and learns all that’s transpired while he was napping, he tells Farla they’d better beat feet fast, as the law around these parts “is harsh and fatal to a wife who takes hand against her mate.”  And so, the couple flees into the forest…

Vampi’s closing lines here are a good bit more serious in tone than her sign-offs generally tended to be.  I kind of get the impression that our unknown American scripter was desperate to find some point in the pictorial narrative he’d just put words to, and some preachy moralizing seemed to be the best way to go.  Frankly, I can sympathize with his predicament, as, story-wise, “A Legend” is mostly a mess.  It sure is pretty to look at, though.

Our next story comes from writer Steve Skeates, whose work for Warren as well as for DC Comics we’ve discussed in a number of previous posts, and artist Luis García, the illustrator of Vampirella #18’s “Song of a Sad-Eyed Sorceress”:

The group of cavemen quickly come upon a stegosaurus — but when the others rush forward to attack, our unnamed protagonist goes running the other way.  Not that that helps him much, in the end…

Once again, our unfortunate friend finds himself before the mocking, distorted faces of his mysterious tormentors.  Delighted by the terror their victim experienced in the prehistoric era, they begin to discuss what time period they’ll send him to next.  “I’ve got an idea!” exclaims one.  “Watch this!”  Again, their hands reach into his body, twisting… again there’s terrible pain, followed by the utter blackness of sleep… and then, an alarm clock rings:

The End!  Or maybe I should say, “The Stop”, since you’re not really sure the story is over until you turn the page.  It’s not a true conclusion, in other words — and not much of a payoff, in any case.

Though unquestionably well-drawn by the always-reliable García, “Paranoia” is nevertheless the weakest story in the issue, as well as the least distinctive; to my mind, it’s just as easy to imagine Skeates dashing this one off and sending it to his DC editor, Joe Orlando, as it is his offering it to Bill DuBay (or whoever was buying stories for Warren at the time of its submission).

There is one thing that strikes me as interesting about the story that has nothing to do with its relative quality (or lack of same), however; and it’s that it’s the first story I can remember reading in Vampirella that has no women in it (at least, no obvious ones).  The very first issue of the magazine, way back in 1969, had proclaimed on its cover: “Captivating Comics about Fantastic Females!” — and it was that emphasis that had set Vampirella apart from Creepy and Eerie since the beginning, even more than the presence of Vampi herself as a character (the “Vampirella” strip as such didn’t become the magazine’s lead feature until issue #8).  Did the inclusion of the female-free “Paranoia” in this issue represent a conscious change in the title’s direction on editor DuBay’s part?  It seems at least possible, though I’m not enough of a Warren expert to attempt to give a definitive answer.

The last full-length story in this issue comes in at twelve pages; twice as many as “Paranoia”. It was written by Don McGregor, who, as we noted in our discussion of Vampirella #18’s “Song of a Sad-Eyed Sorceress”, was inclined to write as many pages worth of comics as he felt a given story needed, assuming that Warren would allow him the space — and despite the fact that he was paid a flat rate per story, regardless of length.  The story’s artist was Félix Mas, whose work on “The ‘Dorian Gray Syndrome'” was also featured in the aforementioned Vampirella #18 post.

The normally-verbose McGregor lets Mas’ graphics do the storytelling in the last panel above — so, just in case you missed it, our two young protagonists have been caught with a flat; well, how about that?  (My apologies to reader frednotfaith2, whose comment back in June regarding yet another story from Vampirella #18 made note of its similar use of this hoary horror-tale trope — a trope that, as fred pointed out at that time, was already well due for the parody it would soon receive at the hands of Richard O’Brien and his stage (later film) musical,The Rocky Horror Show.)

If I have any gripe at all about Félix Mas’ art in this story, it’s that his renditions of the young couple make them — Donald, especially — look at least a few years older than seventeen.  But it’s only a quibble, really.

Donald follows Christina into another room; but then, after taking his eyes off his host for only a fleeting moment, he finds himself suddenly alone.  Meanwhile, Sandralee is brooding over a speech her father gave her about her pregnancy (“You better remember you’re going to have that baby more than a day.  The novelty might wear off!”), unaware that, behind her…

Don McGregor is a writer well-known for his verbosity.  While I’m not prepared to claim that this is the only wordless comics page on his resume, it’s certainly not something you find very often in his stories, and thus seems worth noting.

At the story’s end, Donald and Sandralee still face the same challenges they did prior to their encounter with Christina Greystone.  But even though the couple’s final lines of dialogue directly echo words they spoke earlier in the story, before their arrival at the castle, one can’t help but believe that, after what they’ve been through, these kids have got the stuff to make it out there in the “real” world.  (Well, that’s what I choose to think, anyway.)

As you’ve likely noticed, I’ve presented this story with less editing and synopsizing than any other we’ve covered in this post.  The main reason for my doing so is that while the story’s plot may not amount to much more than a few familiar tropes strung together, the way the story is told — through Mas’ inventive page designs and atmospheric rendering, as well as McGregor’s mostly effective (if occasionally awkward) prose — makes it something rather special, in my view.  In any event, I can see why comics artist-critic-historian David A. Roach included the story in his list of “The Top 25 Warren Strips” in The Warren Companion (TwoMorrows, 2001).

Earlier, I described “The Vampiress Stalks the Castle This Night” as the final full-length story in Vampirella #21.  The qualifier is necessary, as there’s one two-page strip remaining in this issue; although, to be honest, it would have been as logical to feature it at the beginning of our discussion of the book as to do so here at the end.  That’s because “Mind-Benders!” by Bill DuBay (or “Dube”, as he’s credited here) originally appeared on the inside front and back covers of the magazine (click on the image for a larger, more readable view):

Just say no to “hallucinigens”, folks!

So ends (as well as begins) Vampirella #21 — the first issue in what some will later call “the DuBay Era” of Warren Publishing — with a strip contributed by the new editor himself.  That’s fitting, I suppose.

As things turned out, your humble blogger wouldn’t follow the title very far into this new era.  I did pick up the next issue, #22, which featured the second Vampirella tale written by Steve Englehart (now credited under his real name; evidently he’d left his Marvel staff job by this time to go fully freelance).  But I either missed or simply passed on #23, so that the next issue I purchased was #24; and by that time, Englehart had already moved on, his writing workload at Marvel having expanded to the point he could no longer fit Vampi into his schedule.**

I don’t recall making a conscious decision to drop Vampirella after #24, or even of having any particularly negative reaction to any of the stories in either that issue or the last one I’d read before it, #22.  At this late date, my best guess is that I had been really invested in the Dracula plotline, and after the Count was no longer around, I lost interest in the adventures of Vampi and her entourage fairly quickly thereafter.

But even as my enthusiasm for Vampirella was dwindling, I was becoming more involved with its companion magazine Eerie… thanks primarily to the launch in the latter title’s 46th issue (published in January, 1973) of a brand new series starring — who else? — Dracula.

The new feature’s first installment began with a two-page prologue recapping the recent Drac-related events in Vampirella; and then, writer Bill DuBay and artist Tom Sutton took over to show us just where the Conjuress took the Count next:

Sure, that makes sense!  If you want Dracula to conquer his bloodlust, of course you’d take him to a place and time where the temptation to resort to his old evil ways would be all but irresistible.  The plot contrivance this illogical development represents is painfully obvious to me today, but in 1973, I’m pretty sure it didn’t faze my fifteen-year-old self.

Dracula acclimates pretty quickly to his new circumstances, all things considered.  But he decides he’d rather return home to his castle in Transylvania than stay in San Francisco, no matter how sin-drenched the latter might be.  (The question of what Dracula’s past self, whom we know exists in this time period, might make of all this never comes up, incidentally.)  So he puts the bite on a couple of on-leave sailors, taking just enough of their blood to put them under his power, and then orders them to take him on board their Europe-bound ship:

This is a good place, I think, to point out the best thing that the first two “Dracula” stories in Eerie have going for them, which is the artwork of Tom Sutton.  While Sutton’s Dracula is clearly based on José González’s character design, he’s much more imposing and menacing than the original version.  Or to put it another way, Sutton is a natural horror artist, in a way that González, for all his skills, can never quite achieve.

Meanwhile, near to whare Dracula is taking care of his business, a young prostitute named Josephine, and a blind old “witch woman” she calls Miz’ Elizabeth, are conducting dark dealings of their own  These ladies have developed a routine in which Josephine first lures some poor schmuck into a dark alley, then Miz’ Elizabeth brains him with a heavy club.  The witch then removes the victim’s heart and eats it raw — a practice she tells the younger woman will ensure her immortality.  (For her part, Josephine is only in it for the money.)  Things seem to be going well for the enterprising duo, until Jo makes the mistake of pulling the con on a certain thirsty Count, and…

Yes, you read that right.  A cosmic goddess with the power to traverse vast distances of time and space proves to be no match for an aged human female with a wooden club.***

Almost immediately, it seems that the “terrible vengeance” the Conjuress warned of has arrived, as the ground begins to quake violently; though maybe that’s just a coincidence, as today’s date turns out to be April, 18, 1906.  In any event, Dracula barely has time to pick the two women up under his arms and flee onto his ship before the city of San Francisco crumbles beneath his feet.  Then, hidden safely below decks, Dracula attacks both women as the ship sails out of the harbor.

The story continues in Eerie #47, as we learn that both Josephine and Miz’ Elizabeth have been turned into vampires, and that all three undead beings will be sustaining themselves during the long voyage to Europe by preying on the ship’s crew each night.  (DuBay never comes right out and says so, but it must be inferred that the Conjuress “restored” Dracula’s previous, “Chaotic” vampiric nature when she plopped him down in 1906 San Francisco; since, once again, he has to stay out of the sunlight, etc,)  Things get more complicated, however, when a coffin not belonging to any of them disgorges its contents — a rotting corpse that yet walks… and kills.  Or as the story’s title has it: “Enter the Dead-Thing!”

Obviously, the ship’s not big enough for four murderous undead creatures — especially when the reanimated corpse (and, no, how and why this particular revenant returns from the beyond is never explained) will be just as happy to tear the vampires to pieces as the sailors.  Ultimately, everyone — Dracula, his “brides”, the surviving sailors, and the Dead-Thing — end up in a free-for-all on the ship’s deck:

The series’ third chapter follows in Eerie #48, and with it comes a change in artist.  Tom Sutton has departed the feature, to be replaced by Rich Buckler — and while Buckler’s illustrative approach is more or less the opposite of Sutton’s expressionistic stylings, the results aren’t bad at all.  At this early point in his career, Buckler’s art comes across as a sort of amalgam of Neal Adams and John Buscema’s (with a dash of Jack Kirby’s dynamics), without looking like a slavish imitation of any of those worthies — something that can’t easily be said of much of his later work, unfortunately.

In the flashback, we see how Dracula, wounded by this nameless hunter’s silver nitrate shells, manages to elude his pursuer by taking a header off a cliff, then changing to bat-form.  He flies until he’s too weak to sustain the transformation, ultimately plunging to earth in front of a small farmhouse.  Then, as daylight approaches, the dwelling’s single occupant sees him through her window…

This Dracula doesn’t look anything like González or Sutton’s versions; but that actually tracks with the ground rules established for the Warren take on the character, whose spirit can take over a host body and thus acquire a new physiognomy.

In the days that follow, the woman, Gwethalyn, cares for Dracula.  As his strength returns, so does his need for blood — but he resists the temptation to feed on his benefactor.  Instead, while she sleeps, he wings away to a nearby town; then, after preying on a different, unknown young woman, he returns “home”…

Weeks pass, and Dracula continues his secret nocturnal visits to the town… but the residents there have become more cautious, naturally enough, and the available pickings grow slim.  One night, the police arrive before he’s drunk his fill of his latest victim, forcing him to fly home hungry.  Arriving back at the farmhouse, he’s not sure that he’ll be able to control himself if he goes in to Gwethalyn.  And so, that very night, he abandons her…

Wow.  Pretty heavy stuff, right?  Back in April, 1973, my fifteen-year-old self was pretty impressed — and eager to find out what would happen next.

Which is too bad, really.  Because this was the last installment of the “Dracula” series to ever appear in Eerie.  Did Bill DuBay — who was the magazine’s editor, after all, as well as the series’ writer — simply lose interest?  I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.  But for your humble blogger, it exemplifies the general problem I would come to have with Eerie, and with Warren’s approach to serial storytelling in general.  Too many continuing/recurring features simply stopped appearing, their storylines unresolved, or were resolved in what (to this reader, at least) were quite unsatisfactory ways (looking at you, “The Mummy Walks”).

For nearly five decades, I assumed that Eerie #48 represented the end of the road for the “Warren Dracula” and his saga.  Imagine my surprise, then, when my fellow blogger Quiddity (whose “A Very Creepy Blog” is recommended to anyone interested in Warren’s horror comics) informed me, via his comment on my Vampirella #18 post, that Dracula had in fact returned for at least one more round, in a trio of stories published in Vampirella #39-41 — three issues which I’d never read, their having been released well over a year after I bought my last issue of the title back in 1973, and knew nothing about.

These stories were not associated with the “Vampirella” lead feature, incidentally; rather, each appeared under the separate series title “Dracula”, just as the Eerie tales had.  All three were scripted by Gerry Boudreau (one of those new writers brought in by Bill DuBay that I alluded to earlier) and drawn by Esteban Maroto, with colors (for the first two episodes only) by Michele Brand.

Each story shares the same setting: a circus traveling through the American South in 1908, in which Dracula himself is a sideshow attraction.  Although drawn by Maroto to closely resemble the González version, there’s otherwise little to connect this iteration of the Count to earlier Warren stories — little, but not nothing.  Because in the middle of the second installment, we have this brief exchange between Dracula and his paramour of the moment, Cassandra Kiley:

As you might guess, that “sometime soon” never came.  The remainder of this story, as well as the entirety of the next one, made no further mention of Dracula’s past.  Nor did the three-part series end on any kind of conclusive note; rather, like any number of other Warren series, it just kind of… stopped.

And that, I believe, is the end of the Warren Dracula… although for completeness’ sake, I feel obliged to acknowledge that a Dracula has turned up from time to time in the various “Vampirella” comics that have been published since the character was revived by Harris Publications in 1991.  Is it the same Dracula?  I’m afraid I can’t tell you, as I haven’t read enough “modern” Vampi stories to know how much of the Warren stuff is still considered “canon” — or, indeed, if any of it is.  The only “Vampirella universe” story I’ve actually read in which Dracula appears is the 2012 Dynamite Entertainment miniseries Prophecy (which regular readers may recall came up in my February 23rd post about Conan the Barbarian #15, of all places), in which the Count joins Vampirella, Red Sonja, and a number of other licensed and public domain characters to fight the evil sorcerer Kulan-Gath.  To be sure, that story’s Dracula doesn’t look anything like any of the Warren versions — but, as we’ve already established, that’s not really a dealbreaker.  Still, unless there’s someone out there reading this who’s better versed in recent Vampirella comics than I am, I think we’ll we’ll have to leave the question of the relationship between the Warren and Dynamite Draculas an open one.

And at any rate, we’ve now ventured some distance afield from our normal fifty-year-old stompin’ grounds.  Thus, before we close, I’d like to take a giant step back into the spring of 1973, for just long enough to note that the abrupt cessation of Warren’s “Dracula” strip in Eerie probably didn’t bum me out then as much as it might have.  Why didn’t it, you ask?  Why, because by then I was enjoying the comic-book adventures of Dracula not only in Marvel’s color Tomb of Dracula, but also in that comic’s new black-and-white companion magazine.

Or, as I might have (but didn’t) put it at the time:  Warren’s Dracula might be dead, but Marvel’s Dracula Lives!

More to come in February.

 

*Ironically, Englehart’s very first professional comics credit under his own name — though as an artist, rather than a writer — had come in an earlier issue of Vampirella, published prior to his joining the Marvel staff.  Englehart had assisted Neal Adams with the artwork for writer Denny O’Neil’s story “The Soft, Sweet Lips of Hell!”, and received a credit (at the older artist’s insistence, according to Englehart) when the story appeared in Vampirella #10 (Mar., 1971).

**Actually, according to Englehart’s web site, he did write a script for issue #24 — but it was lost in the mail, and Bill DuBay had to write a fill-in at the last minute, using Englehart’s title.  In the end, of course, the writer was still leaving the book; it just seems to have happened an issue earlier than it would have otherwise.

***Decades later, the Conjuress’ creator, T. Casey Brennan, would claim in an interview that “Bill DuBay killed her off to spite me.”  Your humble blogger has no way of verifying the truth or falsity of that statement — to the best of my knowledge, DuBay (who died in 2010) never himself addressed the matter — but it’s pretty obvious that the writer-editor had no use for the character, or for the “redemption arc” associated with her, as he wrote them both out of his storyline as quickly as he could.  (Another fact that may be germane here is that Brennan, who’d sold close to twenty stories to Warren from 1969 through late 1972, only had a couple more stories appear from the publisher following DuBay’s ascension to editor.)

6 comments

  1. John Auber Armstrong · October 8

    Man, I spent a lot of time with these comics in the bathroom with the door locked …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve McBeezlebub · October 8

    I don’t care for black and white comics so there’s that. I also have an immunity to costumes like Red Sonja’s and Vampirella’s because of the gay thing. i just look at the art and wonder how they can walk without flashing people let alone fight.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Quiddity · October 8

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts about the issue. I feel that when Eerie first started transitioning into a series-based magazine Dubay went for the obvious, most well known types of monsters, creating a series for Dracula, the Mummy and the Werewolf (oddly enough not for Frankenstein although we would eventually get one with “The Inhuman Creation” series. Perhaps because Skywald, Warren’s competitor was running a Frankenstein based series around that time, incidentally enough written and drawn by Tom Sutton under a pseudonym.) Then Dubay started having all these other ideas for series, some of which saw the light of day and ended up being considerably better, while others were promoted but never came to pass. Perhaps this is why the Dracula series ended after only a few stories, with him looking for room to fit in other series instead. The Mummy and Werewolf would last quite a bit longer but were massive disasters and eventually were combined into a single series, appearing to quickly be coming to a conclusion… only for the final story to be more stand alone so we never got a real conclusion. Blah.

    Dubay also seemed quite all over the map in terms of Vampi writers around this period, tossing out Brennan, bringing in Englehart but he departed quickly too, Dubay gave it a quick try, brought in Len Wein to do a few stories then he’s gone too and Dubay finally settles on Mike Butterworth for the next couple of years.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · October 9

    I was never a big fan of Warren’s horror output. Not a big fan of horror movies at that time, either, as a matter of fact. Every now and then, however, I’d flip through one and pick it up, usually because I was pulled in by the fantastic art of Maroto, Mas, Gonzales or one of the other great Spanish artists they imported (and yes, on occasion my purchase was due to the brevity of Vampirella’s costume, but what can I tell you? I was only fifteen).

    If I’m being honest, the writing on these stories usually left me cold. Moreso even than Marvel or DC, these Warren stories rarely seem to be allocated enough pages to really tell the story well, or, as was the case in the above “Tomb of the Gods” story by Maroto, the Spanish to English translation proved to make the stories unbearably cheesy at best and wholly incomprehensible at worst. Also, while I didn’t mind Vampirella coming from the planet Drakulon, I hated the fact that they expanded that mythology to cover Dracula as well.

    That said, Gonzales’ art on Vampirella was beautiful. Vampi herself was sexy and sultry and the layout and gothic style of the art, with the inkwashes and what have you, really worked. The only part of Gonzales work that I didn’t enjoy was his version of Dracula, who I always felt looked more like a really hip TV dad than an ancient blood-sucking horror.

    I can reduce the rest of the stories you covered in this post, Alan, with the same overall critique: beautiful artwork and poor writing. While I applaude Don MacGregor for allowing the visuals to breathe in his story, the words he did write were (imho) overwrought and needlessly melodramatic. And as you pointed out, the Tomb of the Gods story made virtually no sense at all, most likely due to a poor translation of the text.

    As far as the way “the Dube” boxed Dracula up and got him the hell out of Dodge, I agree with your assessment that he certainly seemed tired of the character; at the very least his redemptive arc and the character of the Conjurer, which was surely validated by the ignominous way, he swept the whole storyline under the rug in one or two pages. Hadn’t Tomb of Dracula debuted over at Marvel by this time? Do you think Dubay was cleaning house of all of Warren’s Dracula stuff so as not to be in competition or cause confusion with the Marvel version? Just a thought and probably not a good one, at that.

    And don’t even get me started on the idea that a vampire could get a human woman pregnant. Just…don’t go there. Please.

    Thanks for taking the time to lay this all out for us, Alan. Feel free to take a nap and I look forward to next week’s post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Chris A. · October 11

    I only own a handful of Vampi mags, and these feature covers by Frazetta and/or interior stories drawn by Neal Adams, Jeff Jones. And Wally Wood. While I like Enrich and Sanjulian’s covers they weren’t enough to induce me to buy the mag.

    As for Vampi herself, it seemed kinda silly to me for this alien vampire gal to be trotting around in a skimpy bikini and high heels. I never could take such a blatant cheesecake character seriously. But of the few issues I own there were some classic stories in them, but Creepy, Eerie, and the short-lived Blazing Combat rate much higher with me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Amazing Adventures #16 (January, 1973) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books

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