As was noted in last Saturday’s blog post, the date of April 17, 1973 saw Marvel Comics release not just one, but two different periodical issues devoted to the exploits of the world’s most famous vampire. But while the color-comics format Tomb of Dracula #10, featuring the debut of Blade, is probably much better known to contemporary comics fans, I’m pretty sure that, back in the day, my fifteen-year-old self was at least as jazzed by the arrival of its black-and-white companion publication, Dracula Lives #2… and probably more so.
I’m also pretty sure that very little (if any) of that excitement was due to the magazine’s cover, however. Not that there was anything wrong with Spanish painter Jordi Penalva‘s work here — which, we should note, set the template for Dracula Lives covers going forward (following the more surrealistic effort by Boris Vallejo that had graced the series’ first issue) by giving us a straightforward tableau of our favorite Count menacing an attractive (and insufficiently clad) young blonde. If you liked this kind of thing (and I’m not about to try to convince you that my horny teenage self didn’t), there would be plenty more of it to come. Even so, I know I must have been at least mildly irked by Penalva’s rendering of Drac’s physiognomy, which made the same error that Vallejo’s version had; namely, it left off the facial hair. As far as I was concerned, Marvel’s Dracula was always supposed to at least have a thin little mustache, at the bare minimum. OK, sure, I was prepared to cut the publisher some slack in regard to the still photos of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee they used for the allegedly humorous intros to the comics stories… but that was as far as I would go.
Anyway , as I was saying… the main thing to get excited about in this issue, as far as I was concerned, was the lead story, featuring the origin of Dracula. That, I knew, was a tale that Dracula’s creator, the Irish novelist Bram Stoker, had himself never told (although I was aware that there was at least one previous comic-book take on the premise, having read it in Warren Publishing’s Vampirella the year before). And not only was I curious to see what Marvel’s version — scripted, logically enough, by the regular writer of Tomb of Dracula, Marv Wolfman — would be like from a narrative perspective; the fact that they’d gotten Neal Adams to draw it made it something close to an event.
While I don’t have hard data to back this up, I feel fairly confident in asserting that Neal Adams was still the most popular artist working in American comic books in 1973, at least as far as the hard-core funnybook readership was concerned. And while new instances of his comics art hadn’t become rare, exactly, they weren’t nearly as plentiful as they had been just a year or two before. Following the cancellation of DC Comics’ Green Lantern in early 1972, Adams hadn’t picked up a new title as a replacement (though he’d continued to illustrate the “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” backup feature that had subsequently begun running in Flash, at least for the first few installments); and though he’d drawn a memorable trio of stories to wrap up his and writer Denny O’Neil’s Ra’s al Ghul saga in Batman, his work had otherwise appeared mostly either on covers, or in the DC anthology titles Weird War Tales and Weird Western Tales, neither of which your humble blogger ever deigned to pick up. In April, 1973, the most recent artwork I’d seen by Adams was probably the debut story for the new “War of the Worlds” feature in Marvel’s Amazing Adventures — and he’d only drawn half of that one.
In his 2021 introduction to Marvel Masterworks — The Tomb of Dracula, Vol. 1, Marv Wolfman explained how his collaboration with Adams on this story came about:
…Marvel was publishing so many Dracula stories that I couldn’t write them all, but when the brilliant Neal Adams asked if I would write a Dracula story for him to draw, there was no way in heaven, or hell, that I would say no. I loved Neal’s art and had worked with him just a bit at DC, most notably on “The House That Haunted Batman,” a story I co-wrote with Len Wein.
If Neal was going to draw this, I definitely wanted it to be a special story. And what could be more special than an origin story where I would incorporate the real-life history of Vlad Tepes, the Transylvanian warlord who many believe was the model for Stoker’s Dracula?
One more note before we continue, in regard to the story’s intriguing special credit for Archie Goodwin as “spiritual advisor”. While Goodwin had written plenty of stories for Marvel in the past, since late 1972 he’d been working more or less exclusively for DC as both an editor and writer. The nod that he’s given here may relate to his contribution to the Dracula origin story in Vampirella that we mentioned earlier (Goodwin wrote the first version, which was slightly retconned by another writer just a couple of issues later); but I’m more inclined to believe that it represents Neal Adams’ grateful acknowledgement of Goodwin having given the artist some of his very earliest comic book art assignments in his role as Warren Publishing’s editor and primary writer in the mid-1960s.
The reputed depredations of the historical figure Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Dracula, are well known today, and the idea of his having served as the model for Bram Stoker’s vampiric villain pretty much taken as a given. In actuality, however, Stoker’s 1897 novel makes but one brief reference to “that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk”, and modern scholarship indicates that that phrase may represent just about all that the 19th-century author knew about the 15th-century ruler. Indeed, outside of his homeland and its neighboring countries, knowledge of Vlad’s alleged penchant for impaling his enemies, or for nailing their headgear to their craniums, was more or less limited to academic specialists all the way up to 1972. That year, however, saw the release of In Search of Dracula, a work of popular nonfiction by Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu. This book received a considerable amount of media attention, and brought the “historical” Dracula’s bloody career into the mass public consciousness for the first time.
All of which goes to say that as familiar as this material may seem now, in April, 1973 it was still fresh — and naturally inviting — ground for storytellers like Wolfman and Adams. It’s interesting to note, however, that for all the supposed additional license afforded by the “mature readers” black-and-white format, the creators — or, perhaps, the higher-ups at Marvel — opted to downplay what “impalement” actually seems to have meant in the context of Vlad Dracula’s career, choosing to show him parading around with severed heads on the ends of lances, as opposed to the rather more gruesome spectacle of living enemies skewered on sharpened wooden poles.
Returning to our story, the Turkish warlord, Turac, wishes to keep the severely wounded Vlad Dracula alive for the foreseeable future, so that the Turks can control Transylvania through him. One of Turac’s soldiers then recalls hearing of “a gypsy woman who has wrought many cures when hope was lost… Perhaps she can aid us!” And so…
One aspect of Wolfman’s script that I don’t believe I sufficiently appreciated back in ’73 is the ambiguity with which it treats Vlad’s purported atrocities. Just a couple of pages earlier, Turac allowed that the accounts of impalements, etc., might be “mere tales — untruths“. And while the old Romani vampiress is obviously sincere in the antipathy she expresses towards Dracula here, her statement that he’s given her people “much grief” is, in the end, only hearsay. If we’re going to be honest with ourselves as readers, we have to admit that the only time we’ve seen Dracula kill anyone is in the midst of battle. So, maybe the guy deserves the grim fate that’s coming to him — but, on the other hand, maybe he doesn’t. Wolfman’s approach allows us to choose for ourselves.
As in the first issue of Dracula Lives, every so often the mostly black-and-white proceedings are complemented by a bit of bloody red. It’d be interesting to know whether Neal Adams, who consistently took an interest in the coloring of his work, had any input into how and where the placement of red occurred in this story.
It’s distressing to see a woman asking her husband for forgiveness for “letting” herself be raped; on the other hand, it probably wasn’t an unusual attitude in this era. As for Vlad, whatever else his faults may be, he clearly loves his wife; his expression in the last panel above (rendered by Adams with his customary skill and sensitivity) shows shock and dismay, but no trace of reproach.
In 2023, many readers are likely to read the murder of Maria as an example of “fridging” — i.e., the infliction of death or serious harm on a female character simply for the purpose of moving a male hero’s story arc forward in a dramatic fashion. But while that’s unquestionably a fair reading of this scene, it’s worth remembering that very few writers — or readers — were likely to have thought twice about the use of such a trope in 1973. Speaking personally, I would be dishonest not to acknowledge that, for better or worse, this plot development succeeded in making my younger self sympathize with Dracula in a way I hadn’t before.
If Adams’ rendering of Dracula’s transitional form — half man, half bat — puts you in mind of a certain character he’d co-created a couple of years earlier for DC — well, you’re certainly not alone.
On another note: readers of Tomb of Dracula would have understood the significance of Dracula’s infant son surviving the events of this story, since it had been established in that series’ very first issue that Dracula’s line would continue into the late 20th century; little Vlad must grow up and sire a child of his own, so that one day an American named Frank Drake can inherit his family’s ancestral castle in Transylvania. Somewhat more curious, however, is Dracula’s decision to deliver his heir into the keeping of a group of Romani; is Wolfman attempting to suggest that the rumors of Dracula’s antipathy towards that people has been greatly exaggerated? I have no idea, but it’s an interesting question.
While “That Dracula May Live Again!” stands well on its own, Marv Wolfman wasn’t quite done with his chronicle of our sanguinary protagonist’s earliest days. We’d seen how Dracula became a vampire, sure, but how did he become the lord of vampires? That story would be coming in the following issue — although Adams wouldn’t be around to illustrate it, alas.
As with the other early issues of Marvel’s fledgling black-and-white line, the new comics material in Dracula Lives #2 was supplemented both by photo-illustrated text features and by vintage pre-Comics Code horror stories reprinted from the days when Marvel had been known as Atlas. And so, following a one-page editorial, the next comics story in the issue is “Vampires Drink Deep!”, reprinted from Strange Tales #9 (Aug., 1952). This little yarn about a cemetery caretaker who unwisely attempts to swindle a group of vampires in a blood-for-money business deal is probably most interesting for the artwork by Joe Sinnott, best known to generations of Marvel fans for how he defined the look of Fantastic Four over a couple of decades with his polished, pristine inking over multiple pencillers — but here shows how his expert spotting of blacks could serve the cause of Gothic horror just as well as it could science fiction-oriented superheroics.
Next up in the issue is a text feature, “Who Is Bram Stoker and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?” — notable for representing an early writing credit for Chris Claremont, if not much else — and then it’s on to our second new comics story:
Most of the creators behind “The Terror That Stalked Castle Dracula!” — including plotter Steve Gerber, scripter Tony Isabella, and layout penciller Jim Starlin — were young talents who, in April, 1973, were at or near the beginning of their professional careers. The one exception was Syd Shores, a veteran artist who had over three decades of experience in the industry — and one who would sadly pass away less than two months following this story’s publication, on June 3, 1973.
The story never explains why these three particular Romani have been taken prisoner — as we’ll soon see, there’s an entire camp full of their people presently situated not far from the castle — but we’ll just have to go with the flow, since Gerber’s plot more or less depends on this element.
Hauptmann Kriss decides to make the third prisoner, a young boy, his personal messenger; and then settles in to enjoy his new situation as the “king” of Castle Dracula…
The next morning, Kriss realizes that he’s made a mistake; there is a vampire at large. He proceeds to task his second in command, Lieutenant Hanson, with searching for a coffin, though he doesn’t truly expect the effort to be successful: “I know from my boyhood reading that such creatures can sometimes walk by day.” But who can the vampire be? Not Dracula himself, whom Kriss knows “was killed by Abraham van Helsing decades ago.” Recalling that some Romani had served Dracula back in the day, he decides it must be one of them. But who among them not only has access to the castle, but “is not watched day and night?” Only one person fits that bill…
But that night brings yet more murder. The next morning, still convinced that the vampire must be one of the local Romani, Kriss orders Lt. Hanson to take six of the Germans’ best marksmen to the traveling people’s nearby camp…
But even this massacre doesn’t end the killings at the castle. That night, yet another soldier is slain — and the next morning, Kriss recalls that there is, after all, “still one Gypsy among us” — the young messenger boy. He orders a couple of soldiers to seize the child, then commands that Hanson drive a wooden stake through his heart…
While “The Terror That Stalked Castle Dracula!” isn’t a bad story, I think it’s fair to call it the weakest of the three new Dracula tales in this issue. That’s due at least in part to the artwork, as Starlin and Shores’ respective styles don’t mesh all that well; their visualization of Dracula is particularly unconvincing, at least for this reader.
Before moving on to the third and last new story, we have one more Atlas reprint. “One Corpse… One Vote!” comes from Spellbound #13 (Mar., 1953), where it appeared under the title “The Dead Men”; written by Stan Lee and drawn by Fred Kida, it’s the tale of a crooked politician named Harry Snide who gets himself elected mayor by having hirelings vote multiple times under names he’s copied down off the tombstones in the local cemetery. Since we’re reading this in a horror magazine and not in a crime comic, it’s pretty obvious from the beginning how things will ultimately end for the conniving Mayor Snide; still it’s an amusing enough little trifle.
This brings us to our final story, which features the talents of writer Roy Thomas, penciller Gene Colan, and inker Dick Giordano:
It’s getting late, and the cemetery has to be closed up before dark; plus, it’s Mardi Gras time in New Orleans. So the tour is brought to a close, and the tourists depart — all save for one young couple who’ve decided it would be super hot to make it in a resting place for the dead, and so hang back until everyone else has gone, and the gates are locked…
We all know the drill here, right? So let’s move on to the part where Dracula is stalking away from the young people’s cooling corpses…
The reference to New York clues us in that this story follows in continuity from Dracula Lives #1’s “A Poison of the Blood” which was also drawn by Gene Colan (though scripted by Gerry Conway, rather than Roy Thomas).
I loved the cameo of Simon Garth in this story when I first read it back in 1973, and it still makes me smile. Very much in the spirit of the old one-or-two panel “guest appearances” that Marvel’s superheroes used to make in each others’ series in the early ’60s, it simultaneously both plugs another comic (Tales of the Zombie #1, in this case) and does a bit of universe-building, besides, establishing that at least two of the star attractions of the new black-and-white “Marvel Monster Group” inhabit the same fictional world.
Dracula finds himself drawn beyond the streets crowded with noisy revelers, “down a dark alleyway, known to few of the city’s inhabitants…”
I’m not sure whether or not I was familiar with the 19th century Louisiana Voodoo practicioner Marie Laveau prior to reading this story; Redbone’s song about “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” had gone to #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in early 1972, and I figure I must have heard it on the radio at least a few times, but I’m not sure I paid much attention to the lyrics (“Marie, Marie La-Voodoo-Veau, she’ll put a spell on you”). But whenever and however I discovered that Roy Thomas’ script had at least some slight basis in historical fact (similar to his tale in Dracula Lives #1, “Suffer Not a Witch…”, which had provided a previously unknown, Dracula-centric “origin story” for the Salem Witch Trials), I’m sure I thought it was pretty cool.
In another direct callback to the Conway-Colan story from Dracula Lives #1, the young man named Gaston explains that he’d gone looking for “Cagliostro” under the mistaken belief that the latter might be a vampire — but although he soon realized the guy was a fraud, just as Dracula did, he still got lucky, thanks to the real thing (i.e., Drac himself) showing up at the same time. How’d Gaston know Dracula was a vampire? “Spells of Madame’s caused me to know you.” Well, that’s certainly convenient. Later, after Dracula had killed the faux Cagliostro, Gaston followed him to his coffin, and then…
Drac decides that resistance is futile, at least for the moment. And so, he doesn’t balk when Gaston jabs a needle into his arm to draw his blood, and he simply stands by in silence as Gaston adds a few drops of that blood to the urn containing the “potion of immortality“, We see Gaston take a swig of the concoction himself before offering it to his mistress, who does the same…
It probably goes without saying that my fifteen-year-old self had no difficulty in understanding Dracula’s being tempted by Marie Laveau’s offer to become her mate. As rendered by Colan and Giordano, the restored Ms. Laveau had the looks to keep even a dead man up at night, if you know what I mean (and I suspect that you do). But while the Voodoo Queen would make a number of return appearances in the Marvel Universe in the years and decades to come, to the best of my knowledge she’s never had a return encounter with the Vampire King. Ah, well, they’re immortals, right? There’s still time.
Like virtually every other anthology comic ever published, Dracula Lives #2 is inevitably something of a mixed bag, quality-wise. But considering that it leads off with one story that easily ranks as classic, closes with another that’s merely excellent, and also features in the middle a third that’s never less than pretty good — and considering as well that the two reprinted tales are, at the very least, entirely readable — it holds up pretty well after fifty years. This would be a hard one for the series to top, and I don’t think that it ever did, really… though, that said, Dracula Lives #3 would still have a lot to offer all on its own, including the continuation of Marv Wolfman’s saga of Dracula’s early days — er, I mean nights — not to mention the Bram Stoker-Robert E. Howard mashup we didn’t know we needed, courtesy of — who else? — Roy Thomas. I hope you’ll stop back by here in June to check it all out.
Did they ever have Dracula possess people while he was staked elsewhere? I don’t remember so, but it’s easy enough to rationalize. I have a vague memory of Dracula being out and about during WW II but I couldn’t swear to it.
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I’m not aware of another Marvel story where Dracula’s spirit possesses someone while his own mortal remains are indisposed, but I wouldn’t stake my life (ho ho) against there being one.
It looks like when this story was written, Marvel was still going with the idea that Drac had been dead from the end of Stoker’s novel (1897-ish) all the way through to the first issue of ToD (1971). That didn’t last, but I’m not sure when the chronology officially changed.
Yes, the clear implication of TOD 1 was that he’d been lying with that stake in his heart since the Stoker novel. Then an Archie Goodwin story asserted he had no familiarity with the modern world. Like you I’m not sure when Wolfman definitively rejected that.
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Alan, that officially changed nearly 50 years ago in Tomb of Dracula 15 which was published in September 1973. In that story, there was a revelation that Dracula kept a diary and there were several brief stories. The last story revealed that Dracula was attacked and staked in his own castle in… 1969! At the time, I just read it and accepted it. Looking back on it now, it certainly is confusing and raises all kind of issues for the then current stories. Certainly the second story you mentioned in Dracula Lives 2 does not really make any sense when you’re aware of this (such as, where was Dracula during the time of that story?). I suspect I understand why Marv did this….he later revealed that Dracula had done horrible things to Harker’s and Rachel van Helsing’s family members and had first met Blade in 1968…and also I guess this opened up more story posssiblities for the Dracula Lives magazine…but revealing that he was only entombed for 2 or 3 years….very strange…perhaps one of the earliest “retcons” before the term existed.
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Thanks for that info, brucesfl!
You’ve let the cat out of the bag now by reviewing this book in depth. The origin story and art by Neal Adams makes this a classic. This issue has been in my top 10 list ever since I had first learned about it around 6 years ago. I picked up my NM- copy for a very reasonable price back then because people just don’t like to collect magazine size comics. Go figure. Thanks for the excellent review.
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Blame the movies. but even though the novel clearly mentions Drac as bearded, it still seems strange to me to see him in one. Anyway, I really liked the origin tale from Wolfman and Adams. Your mileage may vary (as Alan likes to say), but I think Adams does his best work in black and white. I think he holds back for the colorist in his mainstream work and saves his full talent for black and white, much like Wrightson, for that matter. Anyway, I could take or leave the other two original stories here, but the Adams tale would have made it worth the money, if I’d seen it back in the day. Thanks, Alan.
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Many years ago, I read a later book by Florescu & McNally, Dracula: Prince of Many Faces, a biography of the historical Count. Judging by their work, and other accounts I’ve read, the real Dracula was a very nasty human being and considered so even by his contemporaries. Tepes was the nickname the Turks gave him, meaning “Impaler”. In other words, it was never his actual name, as I’ve read some refer to it — Dracula became his family name, meaning “son of the dragon” after his father, Vlad II, was titled Dracul (dragon) due to his high-ranking membership in the chivalric society founded by a king of Hungary and called the Order of the Dragon. The real Dracula was born in Transylvania but never ruled that region, instead ruling neighboring Wallachia three different times, each rather short. I suppose Transylvania just has a more compelling, slightly sinister sound than Wallachia. Young Vlad Dracula and his younger brother, Radu, also spent several years in the court of Sultan Murad II in Gallipoli as hostages to ensure Vlad II’s good behavior after he surrendered to the Turks. The younger Vlad & Radu were, consequently, involuntary childhood companions to Mehmed II, future Sultan and conqueror of Constantinople. Reputedly Radu became a sexual boy toy for Mehmed.
A lot of fascinating and crazy happenings in reality, more than could be readily fit into any mingling of the real and fictional Draculas. Never previously seen samplings of Wolfman & Adams origin story for the Marvel version of Dracula, but looked very good, naturally.
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“Transylvania” might sound sinister, but it is simply Latin for “across the forest” or “on the other side of the woods.”
Always a pleasure to see Neal Adams art at its prime. As for the Marie Laveau character drawn by Gene Colan, it appears that he based her likeness on Raquel Welch, but without going for an exact likeness, as that would take away from the story. Take a look at some of her headshots.
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