Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mondo Vampire!

I woke up one morning recently and found that the world has been taken over by Vampires! Suddenly our blood sucking friends (make that FIENDS) are everywhere! From True Blood, to Vampire Diaries and Twilight, Nosferatu are true media darlings. What’s next? A late night vampire talk show?

We’re going to need more slayers!

And that’s just on TV and film. Take a look at the shelves here at Comic book Jones! Vamps have a ton of shelf space! The best being American Vampire. But there are several Dracula titles, Buffy, and Angel. True Blood is coming. Batman is fighting The Undead in Batman Confidential. Over at Marvel Vamps are going to be all over “X” landscape!

All I can say is …this really sucks!! (but not as much as that PUN sucked!)

Seriously, it seems that there has never been a better time for vampires in comics. Having said that I thought it might be a good time to look back on what was arguably the very best Vampire comic ever, Marvel Comics’ Tomb of Dracula

Tomb of Dracula (TOD) was published by Marvel from 1972 to 1979 for a total of 70 issues. The series featured a regular team of vampire hunters (Quincy Harker, Rachel Van Helsing and Frank Drake) along with their allies in an ongoing battle with the legendary Lord Of the Vampires, Vlad Dracula. It was in issue #10 that the character Blade (played in three films by Wesley Snipes and in a short lived TV series by Kirk Jones) a half human/half Vampire and vampire slayer.

In 1971 the Comics Code was losing it’s authority to censor content in the wake of the Spiderman and Green lantern “drug” issues. Back in the 1954’s the Comic Book Witch Hunts lead by Dr. Frederick Wertham (Seduction Of The Innocent) lead to the establishment of the CCA (Comics Code Authority) which was an industry created board that would approve the content of each comic book being published. If a book met the very tight censorship of the CCA it was given a “seal” and could be sold. Comics without the seal found it very difficult if not impossible to find distribution to news stands. Of all the comic genres, “Horror” comics were hardest hit. The rules of the CCA effectively destroyed horror comics altogether bringing about the end of the great EC line of Horror, Sci-Fi and Crime books.

Marvel had already “tested” a pseudo Vampire, Morbius in The Amazing Spider-Man and reaction was strong. Marvel decided to take a chance and launch a true horror comic. Since Dracula was in the public domain, it was a no-brainer to use his famous name to drive the new book.

Over the first few issues Marvel had a tough time finding a steady writer for the book. But by issue issue #7 the team of Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan and Tom Palmer would remain a constant. It was this reaming that would be responsible for making TOD one of the best written and drawn comics of the 1970’s.

Wolfman’s Dracula was not just a monster. He was a many faceted individual. Supremely evil and yet possessing a twisted code of “honor” from which he would not deviate. Wolfman never lets the reader lose sight of the fact that Dracula is a killer of the first order, but also a character capable of introspection, courage and even love. Wolfman’s Dracula is particularly intrigued by the innocent and helpless and often comes to their aid. This combination of good and bad makes his Dracula the single most three dimensional character of the period.

By the late 70’s, however the horror cycle that had produced such titles as TOD, Ghost Rider, Werewolf By Night, and over at DC Swamp Thing, had run it’s course. TOD was one of the last hold out’s.

As cancellation loomed, plans were made to wrap up the storyline and lingering threads by issue #72. However, when management decided at the eleventh hour to terminate the title with #70 instead, the final three issues' worth of story and art had to be compressed into one double-sized book, culminating with Dracula's apparent death and dispersal.

The color title was succeeded by a black-and-white magazine (with stories also drawn by Gene Colan) that lasted six issues. An earlier magazine, Dracula Lives!, published by the Marvel imprint Curtis Magazines, ran from 1973 to 1975. The color comic was also supplemented by a "Giant-Size" companion quarterly that ran for five issues in the mid-1970s.

Today you can easily find reprints of the entire run of Tomb Of Dracula in the black and white “Essentials” line and the premium “Omnibus” line. Tomb of Dracula is as edgy and engrossing today as it was over 30 years ago. It is very much worth your time to read this classic series!

That’s 30!

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