Tomb of Dracula #7 (March, 1973)

Calendar-specific note for anyone reading this blog post on or soon after its original date of publication:  No, your humble blogger hasn’t gotten his holidays mixed up.  But I’m at the mercy not only of what comics were published a half century ago this month, but also of which comics my younger self actually bought… and my December, 1972 haul was decidedly light on seasonally appropriate fare.  On the other hand, Tomb of Dracula #7 does at least have snow in it, so maybe that counts for something.  And now, on to our regularly scheduled fifty year old comic book…

In December, 1972, a little over a year since its debut, Marvel Comics’ Tomb of Dracula had seen six issues delivered to stands — a run of stories which, despite having been drawn by a single artist, had been written by three different authors (five, if you count plotting contributions made to the first issue by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas).  That sort of creative churn generally didn’t bode well for the long-term health of an ongoing series; but for ToD, the fourth attempt at finding a regular writer for the book would prove to be the charm, as Marv Wolfman came on board with issue #7 — and then remained at the helm for the next sixty-three issues, or (to put it another way) the next six-and-a-half years. 

In some ways, Wolfman might have seemed an unlikely choice for the assignment.  While the twenty-six-year-old New Yorker had been writing comics professionally since 1968, most of his published work to date had appeared in the form of short standalone tales for the horror/mystery anthologies of such publishers as DC, Marvel, Warren, and Skywald; though he’d scripted the odd adventure here and there of such continuing characters as the Teen Titans, Batman, and Captain Marvel (sometimes in collaboration with his friend Len Wein), his only ongoing series work had been for a couple of features in DC’s Edgar Rice Burroughs titles — “John Carter of Mars” (in Tarzan and Weird Worlds) and “Beyond the Farthest Star” (also in Tarzan) — and, as of November, 1972, “The Spawn of Frankenstein”, a new backup strip that debuted that month in DC’s Phantom StrangerThe Tomb of Dracula would thus be his first book-length ongoing series.

Still, Wolfman’s resume seemed to indicate an affinity for the horror genre — even more so after the several months he’d spent recently as the script editor for Warren Publishing, the home of Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella.  So it’s perhaps not really that much of a surprise that Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas decided to give him a shot at Marvel’s fledgling Dracula series — an offer that the young writer ultimately accepted, despite some reservations.

As Wolfman recalled in his 2021 introduction to Marvel Masterworks — The Tomb of Dracula, Vol. 1:

I had absolutely no interest in Dracula.  Or vampires.  I had never seen a Dracula movie and, back then, before the existence of videotapes, there was no way I could watch one in order to see what was considered a Dracula story and then essentially produce more of the same.

Thankfully, Wolfman at least already knew the basic outline of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula — though, at this point, only by way of an heavily edited “children’s edition”.  But as he had a month or so’s lead time before his first plot for Tomb of Dracula would be due, he availed himself of the opportunity to check a copy of the complete original novel out of his local library, “and read the book that started it all.”

I absolutely loved it.  LOVED IT!  But more importantly, it gave me a clue how to approach the comic…  Stoker’s novel is written as a series of letters between characters, as well as ship’s logs, diaries, newspaper stories and police blotters, as the book’s cast tries to figure out what to do about the monster that had invaded their lives.  Since none of the letters are written by Dracula himself, he is shrouded in mystery.

 

I suddenly had an approach.  I would focus my stories on the effect Dracula had on the human monster hunters, and not on the monster himself.  We would keep him in shadow and make him far more mysterious than he would be if we knew his every thought.  To that end, and with only very rare exceptions, I never gave Dracula any thought balloons.

We’ll presently have an opportunity to see how (or if) Marv Wolfman implemented this approach in his very first story for Tomb of Dracula… but before we dive into issue #7, it would probably be advisable to review the basic setup of the series, as established in the first issue (it has been over a year since we posted about it, after all), as well as to recap the main developments in the ongoing storyline since then.

As you may (or may not) recall, in the series’ first installment — scripted by Gerry Conway (from a plot by Roy Thomas, which was in turn based on an idea by Stan Lee), and pencilled as well as inked by Gene Colan — a young American named Frank Drake discovered that not only was he the descendant of the famous Count Dracula, but also that he’d just inherited his ancestor’s castle.  Having just blown through the million bucks that represented the rest of his inheritance, Frank was receptive when his old friend Clifton Graves suggested that he cash in by turning the place into a tourist attraction.  And so, Frank and Cliff — accompanied by Frank’s girlfriend Jeannie (who used to be Cliff’s girlfriend) — decamped for Transylvania to check out the old place.

What Frank didn’t know at the time was that Clifton, resentful over being dumped by Jeanie, was planning to betray him — intending to arrange a fatal “accident” for Frank, then (somehow) taking over the castle for himself, as well as taking back Jeanie.  But before he was able to put his scheme into effect, Clifton — who’d gone off on his own to explore part of the castle following the trio’s arrival — discovered the actual coffin of Count Dracula.  And then, naturally, pulled out the wooden stake he found sticking out of the skeleton he found within, thus resurrecting the vampiric count.

Clifton immediately got tossed into a pit for his trouble, but things went even worse for the unfortunate Jeanie, who — despite the best efforts of not only Frank, but of the requisite mob of torch-bearing local villagers, as well — not only got bitten by Drac, but turned into a vampire.  The issue ended with Jeanie walking away from the devastated Frank into the mist-shrouded night, with Dracula (in bat form) flitting along overhead.

In issue #2 — written solely by Conway, with Colan’s pencils now being inked by Vince Colletta — Frank sought to retaliate by stealing Dracula’s coffin.  After rescuing Clifton from the pit where the Count had left him (but without learning of Cliff’s role in the vampire’s return), Frank flew with the coffin to London, hoping to lure his evil forebear into a trap.  But it was Jeanie who turned up at Frank and Cliff’s hotel room first; and though her new master eventually arrived on the scene as well, in the ensuing proceedings, Frank was forced to stake what remained of his beloved, and Dracula escaped.

With issue #3, Conway was gone, and so was Colletta.  Replacing them were, respectively, Archie Goodwin (who’d previously written about Dracula for Warren’s Creepy and Vampirella) and Tom Palmer (who’d already proven himself perhaps the most sympathetic and effective inker Gene Colan would ever have, via runs on Doctor Strange and Daredevil).  Goodwin’s most important contribution to Marvel’s Dracula mythos would come in his first issue’s opening scene, as a suicidal Frank Drake was dissuaded from throwing himself off a London bridge into the River Thames by Rachel van Helsing — the great-granddaughter of renowned Dracula-slayer Abraham van Helsing — and her associate, a mute South Asian man named Taj.  Both Rachel and Taj had experienced vampire-wrought tragedy in their lives; they offered Frank the chance to make meaning out of his own pain by joining their crusade “against the ancient evil which spawned the like of Count Dracula“; and he accepted.  Meanwhile, Frank’s not-so-faithful friend Cliff Graves — whose psyche had already been pretty well shattered by his recent experiences — finally hit rock bottom, as he was accosted by Dracula and turned into the Count’s new Renfield.

Goodwin’s primary storyline in #3, involving an aging woman’s attempt to restore her youth and beauty by convincing Dracula to turn her into a vampire, continued into his second and final issue, #4 — and wasn’t quite resolved there, as a magic black mirror the woman gave Drac in trade for his sharing his “gift” swallowed up both Dracula and Taj on the issue’s final page, transporting them to a hellish netherworld.  The story was picked up in issue #5 by Goodwin’s successor, the veteran comics writer Gardner Fox, whose extensive resume at DC had included stints writing the supernatural superheroes Dr. Fate and the Spectre.  Fox had Dracula and Taj escape the hell-dimension by way of a second black mirror, a mate to the first one, which took them to 19th century Transylvania.  Frank and Rachel then pursued them into the past; ultimately, all four returned safely to the 20th century, albeit to a remote English moorland rather than London.

Issue #6 saw our vampire-hunters contending with Dracula in this moody new locale; at one point, the Count threw Frank and Rachel a pit (much as he’d done to Clifton in issue #1), and despite the decidedly unromantic surroundings, Frank found himself inspired to confess his love to the woman who’d given him a reason to live… although, after they were rescued, he seemed to have second thoughts almost immediately, ruminating on the story’s final page that “I’ve got to forget about her!  …His [i.e., Dracula’s] blood is in my veins, and — who knows when I might become as he is — a vampire!”  Yeah, I’m not sure how that was supposed to work, either… and Gardner Fox wouldn’t be around to tell us, since, like Gerry Conway and Archie Goodwin before him, he wrote his two issues and then was outta there.

But, in any event, we’ve finally arrived at Tomb of Dracula #7 — the first issue whose contents (other than its Larry Lieber-Tom Palmer cover) were produced by the talented triumvirate who would together be responsible for all but four of the sixty-three issues remaining in the title’s run:  Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, and Tom Palmer.

(See, what’d I tell you?  Snow!)

Much of what makes Palmer such a good fit for Colan is evident from this opening splash page, as he utilizes both finely detailed hand-drawn linework and applied screentone patterns to capture the penciller’s characteristically expressionistic approach to light and shadow.  In addition, Palmer is able to further enhance the overall mood of the pencilled art by virtue of being its colorist, as well as its inker.

Has anyone else ever made the intermediate stage of a vampire’s transformation from human to bat (clothes and all) look both as eerie and as credible as Gene Colan does in the middle panel above?  I don’t think so.

But while the young Englishwoman named Edith may not be aware of the approaching bat until, almost upon her, it screeches loudly, she nevertheless knows enough to run like hell, once she does see it…

Meanwhile, a telegram has arrived at the manor house where Frank, Rachel, and Taj, are wrapping things up following their recent moorland adventure…

On the way to his and Edith’s London home, Harker Estate, Quincy tells the others about Dracula’s attack on Edith the night before.  “Dracula is up to some scheme… if he wasn’t, he would never have returned to London… He would have gone straight towards Transylvania.”  Upon arrival, he asks Edith to show their guests to their rooms, promising them that he has “a few surprises” to show them after dinner…

Quincy Harker’s expository discourse reflects Marv Wolfman’s recent immersion in Bram Stoker’s novel; I can remember being quite impressed as a fifteen-year-old reader that Wolfman had not only brought the Stoker-originated character of Jonathan and Mina Harker’s son into Tomb of Dracula as a featured player (Quincy — or, as Stoker spells the name, Quincey — appears as a child in the novel’s closing paragraphs), but had even alluded to his namesake, the American Quincey Morris — the only one of the Dracula hunters in Stoker’s story who doesn’t survive the experience.  The inclusion of such details made Marvel’s Dracula comic book seem more of a direct sequel to the novel than it had up to this point, at least for your humble blogger.

At the end of his monologue, Quincy demands to know if Frank is in with him and his allies, or out; Frank assures him that he is indeed in, “till the battle is over…”

Meanwhile, at his Surrey morturary hideout, Dracula awakes, eager to put his latest plan into action…

Pied Piper style, Dracula leads his little “army” back to his hideout, where he entrusts them to Clifton’s care before venturing back out to set “the trap which will, with one masterful stroke, destroy all my enemies together!”

The bait for said trap?  An unfortunate Londoner named Buckley Grainger, seen here weaving his way home after an evening at his local pub, where he and his mates have been toasting his impending nuptials, scheduled for the morrow…

Over the course of Wolfman’s run of Tomb of Dracula, virtually every victim about to be fanged by a vampire would get a name, and usually even something of a backstory, before meeting their inevitable end…

Dracula immediately becomes solid again, the better to attack Rachel.  But then he’s tackled by Taj, and it looks like Quincy just might manage to put a stake through the Count’s black heart… but then, Dracula turns into mist again

Once they reach the walls of the old house (or “fortress“, as Quincy prefers to call it), Taj gives Frank a boost so that the latter can peer through the windows.  Frank sees Clifton Graves greet his master — unfortunately, he can’t hear Drac ask Cliff if his coffin has been “prepared” properly, nor can he make out Cliff’s response (“I got the body just like you asked”) — and so he assumes that the vampire is just going down for his usual daytime nap.  Which, of course, is just what Dracula expects, and desires.  And so, soon thereafter…

Legions of doom“?  I’d be surprised if Dracula managed to pick up more than a dozen or so l’il scamps on his recruitment drive, so let’s just say he has a taste for overstatement.  On the other hand, he’s absolutely correct that our heroic little band can’t effectively defend themselves against kids, since they won’t want to seriously hurt, let alone kill, them — so, ’tis enough, ’twill serve, as the Bard would say.  In any event, Wolfman has delivered a more than adequate double cliffhanger, with Frank and friends facing imminent death-by-delinquent, and Dracula facing… whatever it is that happens to an immortal undead bloodsucker when he’s poisoned.

At this point, we Tomb of Dracula readers of December, 1972 settled in to wait the necessary two months before we’d find out how the series’ central characters (the bad’un as well as the good’uns) would get out of their respective scrapes.  Fifty years later, however, there’s nothing stopping us from plowing right on ahead into ToD #8 — so, hey, that’s what we’re going to do.

Before we return to our storyline, however, a word or two about the book’s art credits.  Though Tom Palmer continued to ink Tomb of Dracula‘s covers (the pencils for issue #8’s, incidentally, have been variously attributed to Gene Colan, Rich Buckler, and John Buscema), he didn’t work on the book’s interiors for the next four issues.  For this installment, then, the challenging task of finishing Colan’s pencils went to Ernie Chan; we’ll have more to say about Mr. Chan in a future post (look for Conan the Barbarian #26, coming in February), but for now we’ll simply note that the thirty-two-year old Filipino native’s work had been appearing in American comics since early 1972 — and that while his approach to inking wasn’t especially well-suited to Colan’s drawing style, he made a much better go of it than did a number of his peers, before or since… at least in the opinion of your humble blogger.

And now we rejoin Frank Drake and his comrades, as the quick-thinking Quincy Harker instructs Rachel to fire a crossbow shaft at the candle that is evidently the only source of light in the room where they’re trapped.  She does so, neatly snuffing out the flame and plunging the room into darkness…

Once through the window, Rachel runs right back around to the house’s front door; there, the only resistance she encounters is Cliff, Dracula having by now winged away to find help for the poison painfully coursing through his veins…

Meanwhile, Dracula has arrived at the office of a physician of his acquaintance, Dr. Heinrich Mortte (nice surname, eh?):

And so, Dr. Mortte draws on his stores of precious human blood to give Count Dracula a complete transfusion.  The procedure is a success, but Drac isn’t through with the doc yet — rather, he insists that Mortte take him to  where a mysterious “projector” invented by the doctor some years ago has been hidden away.  Mortte protests at first, but ultimately submits to Dracula’s will; and soon thereafter, the two vampires arrive at a nearby cemetery, where a sealed mausoleum quickly yields up the object of Dracula’s desire…

In the meantime, the respite found by the Dracula-hunters has proved to be short-lived; their car won’t start, and as soon as the hypnotized kids find their way out of the house, things get very serious, very quickly…

Quincy has already called Edith on the car’s phone, asking her to alert the “mysterious ally” first mentioned back in issue #7 — but it seems unlikely help will arrive in time.  Meanwhile, back at the cemetery, Dracula prepares to raise the first troops in his army of the undead, using Mortte’s projector.  (By the way, just in case you’ve been wondering, exactly what the device is supposed to be “projecting” is never specified.)

Naturally, this is the point at which Heinrich’s daughter Adrian enters the scene…

Earlier issues of Tomb of Dracula had indicated that our vampiric Count had been out of circulation since being staked by Abraham van Helsing back in the late 1890s; however, Dr. Mortte’s account implies that he and his wife became vampires after their daughter was born, suggesting that he must have encountered Dracula sometime within the last two or three decades.  Eventually, Wolfman and his fellow Marvel writers would make it clear that Dracula had in fact been active at various times in the seventy-plus years between the events of Bram Stoker’s novel and those of Tomb of Dracula #1 — but, for a time, it was a bit of a muddle.

Returning to our story, we stick with the cemetery scene just long enough for Dracula to inform Heinrich that Adrian is to be the first victim of the vampire army’s war on humanity… and then it’s back to our beleaguered anti-Dracula squad, as one of the homicidal youths finally smashes the car’s front windshield in with a rock…

Both fully transformed into bats, the two vampires join battle in the sky above the cemetery, with the Mortte-bat desperately trying to keep the projector securely grasped in his claws…

And so ends Marv Wolfman’s first story arc for Tomb of Dracula.  Recalling his initial efforts in his 2021 Marvel Masterworks intro, the author wrote:

Issues #7 and #8 were a two-parter, and, truth to tell, I wrote them still a bit unsure about what I was doing.

While one doesn’t want to pile on. your humble blogger can see why Wolfman feels that way.  The second half of the story, in particular, seems not especially well thought through, as the whole Mortte/projector plotline is introduced, somewhat confusingly fleshed out, and then completely resolved, all independently of what was originally the main narrative thread, involving Dracula’s scheme to lure, trap and destroy his hunters.  As far as we know, Quincy Harker and his associates never even learn just how close they (and all England) came to being overrun by a horde of resurrected vampiric corpses.  Of course, one could argue that that conclusion works as irony, and shouldn’t really be considered a storytelling flaw; still, it seems rather wasteful, if not a little sloppy, to introduce such a potentially game-changing plot element as Dr. Mortte’s vampire-raising device, and then dispose of it in less than twenty pages.

But you’ve got to start somewhere, after all; and I’d say that Marv Wolfman did all right for himself with these first two issues, by and large.  A lot of that is due, I believe, to the author’s wholehearted embrace of the Dracula ur-text, i.e., Bram Stoker’s then seventy-five-year-old novel; and, following on from that, to the inspired creation (or, if you want to be technical, adaptation) of the Quincy Harker character, whose introduction added a multi-generational dimension to the series’ central conflict.

As Wolfman wrote in 2021, it would ultimately be the monster-hunters, at least as much if not more so than the titular monster, that would make or break Tomb of Dracula as a series.  And in February, 1973, the advent of the most famous monster-hunter who would ever emerge from Marvel’s Dracula mythos lay just two months in the future… but that, obviously, is a topic for another post, another day.

In closing, another calendar-specific note: To all those who celebrate, everyone here at Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books — I, that is — would like to wish you and yours a very merry Christmas.

10 comments

  1. David Macdonald-Ball · December 24

    Another thoroughly enjoyable review of a comic from five decades past.
    My only point of note is that Marv, in endeavouring to distinguish the English characters from the American, unfortunately fell into the old Dick van Dyke trap of making all of them enunciate like Cockney Victorian chimney sweeps. It’s a minor issue, but one that never fails to irk me coming as I do from another entirely different part of this Sceptered Isle.
    Merry Christmas.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. frasersherman · December 24

    In fairness, it’s not like there was ever a huge run of Christmas stories back in the day. IIRC you’d get maybe one or two — “Man who murdered Santa Claus” or TT’s “A Swingin’ Christmas Carol” and that would be about it.
    Archie Goodwin made a big thing that Dracula had no clue about the modern world and that this gave his enemies an edge so yes, Wolfman was making a big change — but one that worked. As did focusing on the non-Dracula characters, though he does do a good job developing Dracula too. The doctor here is one of the few non-evil vampires I can recall in this series.
    I have debated upgrading from my Essential TOD set to something with color, though Colan/Palmer look so good in black and white I wonder if it’s worth the expense.
    Side note: a pox on Chris Claremont for having Rachel vampirized in X-Men years later, then killed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alan Stewart · December 24

      “…a pox on Chris Claremont for having Rachel vampirized in X-Men years later, then killed.”

      Couldn’t agree more, fraser!

      Like

  3. DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · December 24

    Another fine analysis of a comic I never read, Alan. I didn’t develop a taste for horror in any form until I was an adult and first got my hands on a Stephen King novel, so I would have passed ToD by on the newstand with a “not no, but hell no” level of rejection, but here fifty years later, I can appreciate the book as a step in the development of one of my favorite writers, Marv Wolfman and a continuation of the tremendous legacy of our own “Gentleman” Gene Colan. The fluidity of Colan’s pencils flows across the page in such a dynamic way from one figure into the next that I can easily understand how difficult it would be to ink and color it. Kudos to those who’ve tried. Wolfman’s script might have suffered in it’s pacing, especially in #8. but it’s a treat to be able to look back and see where the creator of so many of my favorite comics characters got his start.

    Merry Christmas to you too, Alan, and to all the rest who wish to celebrate it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • frasersherman · December 24

      I didn’t buy it back in the day either, but I’d flip through it on the stands. I could see that what Wolfman and Colan were doing was way beyond the horror stuff in House of Mystery or Monsters on the Prowl.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. frednotfaith2 · December 24

    Here in Jacksonville, FL, no snow but with temperatures down in the 20s and a chill breeze, it’s rather colder than usual, although back in 1989 when I visited Florida from San Jose, CA, it actually snowed on X-Mas. Anyhow, I only got a few issues of ToD in its early years — one of those happened to be the first to feature Blade – but had gotten the last 20 or so and many of the back issues. A classic run by Wolfman, Colan and mostly Palmer! Despite Wolfman not taking the opportunity to flesh out the story of Mortte and Adrian in issue 8, overall IMO Wolfman’s first two issues come off pretty well, with some chilling elements. Can’t help but feel a sadness for Edith knowing she’d fall to the despicable Count in the next issue, as referenced in the opening of issue #10. As horror mags go, among those of a serial nature rather than collections of short stories, Wolfman’s run qualifies as one of the enduring classics, perhaps only rivaled by the runs of Wein & Wrightson and later Moore on Swamp Thing, and the Walking Dead series (which I haven’t actually read but have certainly heard about).

    Liked by 2 people

  5. brucesfl · December 24

    Thanks Alan. I remember reading this issue (TOD 7) very well and especially enjoying the beautiful Colan/Palmer art but of course could not know this was would be of historical importance as Marv’s first issue and his work on TOD would be important in his development as an excellent comics writer in later years. I would buy TOD till the end of its run, even during my college years when I bought very few comics. An interesting historical note for you: TOD 8 which you also discussed, was when the book first went monthly. Horror must have been becoming very popular for Marvel by early 1973 since the same month (February 1973) saw the debut of the magazine Dracula Lives 1 and the Werewolf by Night book also went monthly. And where was Tom Palmer during TOD 8-11? He inked a Colan Dracula story in Dracula Lives 1, inked the lead story in Tales of the Zombie 1, and several issues of the then new Doc Savage series and a few short horror stories. But Roy or Marv must have realized that Tom should be back on TOD and he returned with TOD 12 and remained until the end of the series (fortunately for us).
    Also I completely agree with frasersherman’s comment about Chris Claremont. Your latest post reminded me what a strong character (and by far the strongest female character in TOD) Rachel van Helsing was, and considering Claremont’s feeling for strong female characters, to this day I don’t understand how he could have done that to a great character like Rachel. Very sad.
    By the way there was a holiday story that came out in December 1972; it was in Luke Cage, Hero for Hire 7. I am guessing you missed it or decided not to discuss it. Sorry to say I don’t remember much about it although fairly certain I bought it at the time. Anyway, happy holidays!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · December 24

      Your first guess re: HFH #7 is correct, brucesfl — I didn’t pick up my first issue of that book for another couple of months (you’ll be reading about it here come February, btw 😉 ). The only Christmas-themed comic I *know* I bought in 12/72 was Witching Hour #28, which I don’t remember all that well. (Nice Nick Cardy cover, though.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • brucesfl · December 24

        Thanks Alan. I definitely do not remember seeing that book in December 1972 and was not buying any of DC’s mystery titles back then. But interestingly enough, I have just seen this cover on another comics related blog (I believe it was 13th Dimension) regarding holiday related comics covers. It is a great cover and Cardy was always amazing.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Brian Morrison · December 25

    Merry Christmas Alan. Thanks for all you do, it is very much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.