The Tomb of Dracula #55, “Requiem for a Vampire” is highlighted by the stunning artwork of Gene Colan and Tom Palmer, which is exceptionally beautiful even by their high standards. Marv Wolfman’s script cleverly builds on the conflict between Dracula finding marital bliss with his wife and their infant son and the nagging doubt that he was capable of siring a child in his undead state. Adding to his concerns is the fact that his son resembles the angel he battled several issues earlier. Only the vampire’s lust for power distracts him from pondering this further. Anton Lupeski’s growing awareness of Dracula’s madness convinces him he must remove him once and for all before the vampire turns on him. Meantime, Quincy Harker is recovering from his heart attack and meets with Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, Harold H. Harold and Aurora Rabinowitz to discuss their next move. Harold successfully infiltrates the Satanic christening ceremony held in the Dark Church where Lupeski christens Dracula and Domini’s son, Janus and declares the child is the promised anti-Christ. Dracula realizes that Lupeski is setting up his infant son as the focus of the cult to minimize the vampire’s influence and rebukes Lupeski publicly, abruptly departing the ceremony with his wife and son and leaving the High Priest fuming over his humiliation. What follows is a wonderful piece of writing with husband and wife alone together, bearing their scarred souls to one another. Dracula opens up about his fractured relationship with his daughter, Lilith and Domini goes into greater detail about how she fell into the Church of Satan. Wolfman is as bluntly honest as the censorship of the day would allow in depicting real life sexual abuse by cult members.
The literate, moving dialogue combined with Colan’s realistic artwork combine to make this issue a landmark installment in this fine series. It seems impossible not to be moved by these two lost souls whose one desire is to find peace after living lives of degradation and abandonment. Of course, moments of peace are short-lived in broken lives and Lupeski is overheard by another vampire plotting with one of his cult member to kill Dracula once and for all. The loyal vampire reports Lupeski’s betrayal to Domini who chooses to pay a clandestine visit to Lupeski herself rather than inform her husband that the High Priest is plotting his murder. The issue ends with the vampire prowling the night skies in bat-form ruminating as he had at the start of the issue over the points that continue to cause him unrest. His melancholy mood is tempered by the belief that he has a loving and devoted family and has finally found some semblance of peace.
#56, “The Vampire Conspiracy” is the title of Harold’s fictionalized account of his encounters with Dracula. This is really just a humorous filler issue which neatly summarizes the Boston-based storyline thus far and wrings some humor out of the contrast between Harold’s narration (where he depicts himself as capable, heroic, and distinctly Sherlockian) and the reader’s recollection of what has occurred in the narrative up to this point. It is interesting to note that Harold portrays Rachel and Aurora as helpless damsels in distress in a fashion that is very familiar to those who grew up on a steady diet of Universal and Hammer horror. Most intriguing is a purely fictionalized encounter between Dracula and Satan who appears in the form of a black panther. While no such event has occurred, it does prefigure the direction Wolfman is about to take with the storyline in coming months. As it is, the issue remains a diverting time-filler.
#57, “The Forever Man” starts with an intriguing prologue depicting the curse that befell Gideon Smith in the 18th Century which left him doomed to a series of violent reincarnations which deny him peace. We follow Smith through the generations to the present (Boston in the mid-1970’s). A brief segue sees Domini confronting Anton Lupeski over his plans to assassinate Dracula, but the High Priest of the Dark Church succeeds in intimidating her into remaining silent for the time being. Meantime, the storyline picks up with Dracula hunting the streets of Boston when he runs into a series of unfortunate encounters that lands him in a hospital room next to Gideon Smith. Gene Colan’s artwork in this issue is impressive from beginning to end, but certainly reaches its peak with Dracula’s rampage through the hospital. The issue ends with poor Gideon Smith reduced to a catatonic state after witnessing Dracula’s frenzied reaction to being mistaken for an accident victim when discovered unconscious. A sidestep is necessary before we cover the next issue. The reader should first acquaint themselves with several solo adventures for Blade that were published in a couple different magazines (free from interference from comic censors) prior to enjoying the character’s solo spotlight in the pages of the next issue of the main title.
Vampire Tales #8, “Beware the Legions” starts things off well with a solid script from Marv Wolfman and gritty artwork from Tony DeZuniga. While DeZuniga’s style is very different from Gene Colan’s, the urban reality of the character of Blade translates well in his spare, but effective style. I’m not much of a fan of the Blade film series (outside of the casting of Wesley Snipes). When the time comes to revive the franchise, an adaptation of the Legion of the Dead storyline that begins in this issue would be the best source material to mine. Wolfman gives the reader an expanded origin story for Blade that would not have been possible in comics at the time. The vampire hunter’s mother was a prostitute and Blade was raised at Lady Vanity’s bordello in London’s West End. This makes narrative sense of why Blade’s girlfriend, Safron is an exotic dancer and why Blade is so comfortable around and protective of strippers and hookers in the series. The storyline here kicks off with Blade investigating the murder of one of the regular john’s at Lady Vanity’s. The murder was committed by the Legion of the Dead, a vampire coven who Blade tracks down and confronts at the issue’s cliffhanger ending.
Vampire Tales #9, “Blood Moon” sees Chris Claremont taking over scripting chores from Marv Wolfman. Claremont already proved himself a worthy successor with the short-lived Curse of Dracula quarterly title for Marvel. The issue introduces us to the coven’s leader, Anton Vierken (who bears a physical resemblance to Anton LaVey) who sees the Legion of the Dead as his means to attaining world domination by realizing the social Darwinism run amok concept so successfully espoused by LaVey throughout the 1970’s. If this seems like a dry run for the Dark Church storyline in Tomb of Dracula, it is worth noting that Vierken is only the figure-head and Lady Marguerite d’Alescio, a host for an unknown Satanic entity, provides Vierken with his instructions. While much of the issue is expository, the action packs a wallop once Blade makes his escape having stolen microfilm of the Legion’s plans for biological warfare. The vampires track him back to Lady Vanity’s bordello where the madam and most of her girls are slaughtered in an attack that leaves Blade badly injured. The issue ends with Blade informing Quincy Harker that the matter is now a personal vendetta and one he must handle alone.
Marvel Preview #3 comprises the remaining four installments of the Legion of the Dead storyline that had been earmarked for Vampire Tales. “The Night Josie Harper Died” starts off with Blade hunting down the Legion one by one to the consternation of Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Thomas. It is a pity that more use was not made of the character for he comes off well here as does Blade’s jazz club hangout, Slow Boy’s (a nice nod to Peter Gunn and Johnny Staccato). Meantime, the Legion strikes by abducting Safron in a scene of genuine terror. Lady d’Alescio arranges for Blade to turn himself over to Vierken in exchange for Safron’s release. Of course, Vierken has no intention of honoring his end of the bargain and in the ensuing battle between vampire hunter and vampires in a cemetery at midnight; Blade finds one of his knives in the heart of an innocent twelve year old girl named Josie Harper. “Trail of Blood, Trail of Tears” sees Blade wanted for murder by Inspector Thomas while determined to rescue the abducted Safron from the Legion. Inspector Thomas calls on psychic investigator, Kate Fraser (from Claremont’s stint on Curse of Dracula) who examines Josie Harper’s body and confirms her murderer was a vampire. Inspector Thomas is still lacking hard evidence to prove Blade was framed. Kate is cornered by the Legion until Blade comes to her rescue.
“Dawn of Blood” starts off with an intense and protracted series of confrontations between Blade and Kate with the Legion which gives way to a brief interlude where Blade shares with Kate the fate of his father-figure, heroin-addicted jazz trumpeter, Jamal Afari who ended up a vampire Blade was forced to kill. Blade and Kate infiltrate Lady Marguerite’s estate and rescue Safron only to discover she’s now a vampire. “Hell Morn” is the gripping conclusion that starts off with a flashback of how Blade, then playing trumpet in a jazz club, first met Safron, a prostitute that Blade soon partially reforms. Just as Blade is about to drive a stake through Safron’s heart, Kate stops him and proves that Safron’s transformation is not complete and that blood transfusions can still save her life. A short time later, Kate and Blade are planning their next move when the Legion attacks and abducts (again) Safron as well as Kate. The storyline comes to a rushed conclusion when Blade singlehandedly raids Lady Marguerite’s estate and puts a stake through Vierken’s heart, rescues Safron and Kate, and learns that the Satanic entity controlling Lady Marguerite all along was actually Dracula in a conclusion that is far too hurried to be fully effective. This excellent storyline could easily have benefitted from one more chapter.
Marvel Preview #8, “Into the House of Terror” is a short, but effective story from Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan that sees Blade, while searching for Deacon Frost, investigate an abandoned house rumored to hold a vampire coven. Blade finds his vampires are a group of bloodthirsty children. While initially hesitant, Blade does the right thing and stakes the entire gang of adolescent vampires in another story that would not have passed comic censorship at the time.
The Tomb of Dracula #58, “Undead by Daylight” sees Blade and Safron at a crossroads. Having tracked down and killed Deacon Frost at last, Blade is unsure what do with his life. Across town, Blade’s old friend Musenda sits at his wife’s bedside. She has contracted a strange illness that transforms her into a vampire only during daylight hours. Her doctor has sent for Rachel Van Helsing who, in turn, contacts Blade since Musenda was unaware his old friend is also in Boston. Blade and Musenda return to the hospital to discover Lorraine, Musenda’s wife in a vampiric rage. Blade overpowers her and Rachel explains she is not actually a vampire, but a symbiote controlled by an undead vampire during daylight hours. The vampire must be destroyed to free Lorraine from her curse. Blade and Musenda confer with Quincy Harker and his crew before setting out on a two-man mission that takes the duo from a hair-raising car chase on a winding mountainside road to a commando raid by sea on an abandoned lighthouse where the vampire is nesting. The issue offers is a nice showcase for Blade and serves alongside Chris Claremont and Tony DeZuniga’s brief run to demonstrate how effective the character can be when treated as a hardboiled vampire detective. Sadly, neither film, television, nor the numerous attempts to revive the character in his own book has ever matched the quality of writing in the original series and its contemporaneous spin-off’s.
William Patrick Maynard was authorized to continue Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu thrillers beginning with The Terror of Fu Manchu (2009; Black Coat Press). A sequel, The Destiny of Fu Manchu is due for publication in December 2011. Also forthcoming is a collection of short stories featuring an original Edwardian detective, The Occult Case Book of Shankar Hardwicke and an original hardboiled detective novel, Lawhead. To see additional articles by William, visit his blog at SetiSays.blogspot.com