With TOMB OF DRACULA, Marvel Comics fully embraced the newly relaxed guidelines of the Comics Code Authority in the 1970’s, going right for the jugular of a zeitgeist eager for the return of horror to the mainstream.
TOMB OF DRACULA underwent a number of significant course corrections well after its #1 issue debuted in April of 1972. With the book never intended as an anthology series, writers like Gerry Conway, Gardner Fox and Archie Goodwin nonetheless entered and exited within one or two issues, each bringing their own sensibility and leaving a handful of new characters and core concepts on the table as they departed. A Dracula and atmosphere initially informed by the iconic Universal film gave way to a more modern, Hammer Horror-inspired approach, but even that didn’t prove the final vision.
By the time permanent writer Marv Wolfman arrived with issue #7, TOMB OF DRACULA settled into its own unique niche in the larger Dracula cannon, derived as much from Bram Stoker’s original to various film iterations, TV’s “Dark Shadows,” and the vast and colorful canvas of the Marvel Universe itself. Though Dracula and his antagonists tussled largely in their own corner, the book saw cameo appearances from the X-Men, Spider-Man and Werewolf by Night. TOMB OF DRACULA would also spawn its own ambassadorial characters who continue to operate to this day.
Though numerous artists like Gil Kane set the tone with an array of iconic covers, Gene Colan provided the true constant for the series on interiors through each of its rapid changes in direction and succession of writers. From the first rumblings of Marvel’s interest in pursuing a Dracula title, Colan lobbied aggressively for the gig, undaunted by editor Stan Lee’s decision to move forward with another penciler. He ultimately won Lee over with some preliminary audition pages and would go on to draw the full 70-issue run, collaborating closely with Wolfman. He cast actor Jack Palance in the immortal role, prefiguring his stint as the bloody count in Richard Matheson’s TV adaptation.
Many will insist that the title character represented the primary villain of the series, though it’s possible and perhaps preferable to look on Dracula as a long-suffering anti-hero beset by ex-lovers and ungrateful descendants, simply trying to enjoy the fruits of his afterlife. Dracula might be monstrous, even truly evil, but he’s a rascal, too. That verve and lust for life positions the supreme vampire as a far more playful and compelling alternative protagonist to his sanctimonious counterparts on the other side of the unending battle. Rachel van Helsing and Quincy Harker, offspring of those meddlesome peons from Stoker’s original novel, represent the surliest thorns in Dracula’s side from the start, with his own human descendant Frank Drake and Hannibal King, a vampire hunter who was, himself, a non-practicing vampire, rounding out the core ensemble.
Undoubtedly the most significant contribution TOMB OF DRACULA brought to Marvel arrived with issue #10 and the introduction of Blade the vampire hunter. A black man whose mother suffered a vampire attack during pregnancy, Blade represented an early paradigm shift for the company and for horror comics, especially considering the surrounding ensemble of offshoots from the strictly white Victorian origin. Blade eventually proved so popular that Wolfman opted to write the character out of the series, free to eventually seize the limelight in his own adventures and a number of cameo appearances, while the focus on TOMB OF DRACULA shifted back to the original cast. Still, Blade’s brief involvement persists as one of the most memorable chapters and primary legacy of the long-running title.
TOMB OF DRACULA finally got sealed in August of 1979 after 70 issues, a GIANT-SIZE DRACULA—featuring the first Marvel Comics’ work by the legendary John Byrne—and the black and white DRACULA LIVES companion series. For nearly a decade, the irrepressible Count Dracula grappled with equally stubborn, bell-bottomed vampire hunters, led an army of possessed, mittened children through the snow, bamboozled a satanic cult into believing he was the Devil for fun and profit, dodged wooden bullets raining down from helicopters, and waded through a number of unseemly paternity suits. He led the vanguard for Marvel monsters, and looked undeniably fly while doing it.
Fangs for the memories, you wily old so-and-so.
Marvel 70’s Monster Week continues tomorrow! For more on the 75th anniversary of Marvel, visit marvel.com/75 or join the conversation on Twitter using the hash tag #marvel75