Marv Wolfman took over scripting duties on Marvel’s The Tomb of Dracula with Issue 7. Despite the name, Wolfman was an unlikely choice for a horror title as he had never been much of a horror fan and had limited exposure to the character outside of Stoker’s original novel. Nonetheless, the decision to pair Wolfman with artist Gene Colan and inker Tom Palmer elevated the series to classic status and insured its reputation for decades to come.
Issue 7 quickly sets the stage with the introduction of Quincy Harker and his daughter Edith. Quincy is the son of Jonathan and Mina Harker born at the end of Stoker’s novel. Here he is a nearly blind old man confined to a wheelchair with his daughter and faithful dog Saint as his constant companions. He functions as a mentor to Rachel Van Helsing and Taj Nital and has welcomed Frank Drake into the fold. Quincy is an amateur inventor whose vampire hunting gadgets give the story a Bondian edge that works very well. Wolfman’s sense of history and character instantly deepens the story and gives the reader a reason to empathize beyond the immediate sense of good vs. evil.
His innate understanding of people as an amalgamation of family history, mistakes, joys, and tragedies is Wolfman’s greatest strength as an author. Even his Dracula, for all of his cruelty and savagery, is imbued with such humanity and dignity that one can’t help hoping all of them can find peace. Wolfman may be the first writer since Stoker to successfully treat the characters as real people that readers recognize as something other than stereotypes. Finding the key to that empathy is what elevates his take on the property above so many others.
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Marvel’s The Tomb of Dracula is beyond question the finest horror comic series ever produced – a fact made all the more amazing when one considers that since the original series ended, none of the many revivals (even those with the original’s classic creative team) have succeeded in bottling lightning a second time. Much of the success of the book is down to the surprisingly literate scripts by Marv Wolfman and the stunning artwork by Gene Colan and inking by Tom Palmer. However, Wolfman did not come aboard until Issue 7 so this first installment in an ongoing series looking at this influential comic will focus on the first six issues of a title undergoing the pangs of development.
Roy Thomas deserves the credit for bringing this series to life. It was Thomas who convinced Stan Lee that the loosening standards of the Comics Code Authority and renewed interest in the occult could make an ongoing horror comic featuring Bram Stoker’s infamous vampire count the runaway success of 1972. The Comics Code Authority came into being in the 1950s as a reaction against crime and horror comics as a result of the rather disturbed fantasies of Dr. Frederic Wertham. His 1954 study, Seduction of the Innocent imagined underage sex between Batman and Robin and convinced countless parents that juvenile delinquency was as much to blame on comic books as it was Rock ‘n’ Roll. The fact that Wertham’s book revealed more about himself than the actual content of comic books was lost on parents, whether over-protective or neglectful, who were quick to latch onto an excuse for why the post-war nuclear family was struggling. The result was the neutering of comic books for nearly twenty years and a ban on crime and horror as entertainment suitable for children.
Prior to The Tomb of Dracula, most comics companies would have turned the character into a misunderstood superhero. Marvel already had one of those with Morbius, the Living Vampire, but The Tomb of Dracula was determined to prove as revolutionary to Marvel as Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith’s adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Both titles were far more adult and, at the outset anyway, far removed from Marvel’s established continuity. They were gambles that paid off in an era when Marvel deserved to call itself The House of Ideas.
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Most comic fans are aware that while the Marvel Age of Comics may have begun with the 1961 publication of the first issue of The Fantastic Four, the imprint actually began in 1939 when Timely Comics published the first issue of Marvel Comics with the Golden Age Human Torch on the cover. In the 1950’s, Timely Comics became Atlas Comics who continued to publish Cold War adventures of Timely’s Golden Age favorites as well as horror anthology titles and westerns. Far fewer comic fans recall that Atlas Comics was briefly revived in the mid-seventies as a rival to Marvel under the auspices of estranged family members of Marvel’s publisher and editor-in-chief. They stole Marvel talent and did their best to give the industry giant a real run for its money.
At the time, Marvel had taken advantage of the loosening of the Comics Code Authority and produced the award-winning horror title, The Tomb of Dracula. The dark look and tone of the book combined with the consistently strong scripting by Marv Wolfman and stunning art work by Gene Colan (inked by Tom Palmer) made the 70-issue run of the original series one of the biggest artistic and commercial success stories of the decade. While Marvel has never quite managed to bottle lightning with the title a second time, revivals are frequent while sales of reprints remain strong nearly forty years after the fact. While the book was busy collecting industry awards for the exceptional talent of its creators and the level of maturity they brought to the title, the newly-revived Atlas Comics prepared their answer in the form of the first and (as it turned out) only issue of Fright featuring The Son of Dracula in the spring of 1975.
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