Monday, October 26, 2009

Spookey Month: I Love Marvel's Tomb of Dracula Series Even When It's Silly!

I’m a horror traditionalist. I don’t enjoy “torture porn” like the Saw series or the movie Hostel. Those kinds of horrors you can find in real life if you look hard enough. I’m more into the classics—ghosts, Frankenstein’s monster, werewolves and vampires. I do have a weakness for Japanese horror, mostly for its dream-logic and different feel from our Eurocentric horror tradition; but many of these stories also involve ghosts.

The king of Halloween for me is Count Dracula. And Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula is one of my favorite series. I’ve always admired Marv Wolfman’s slightly hysterical prose. That mid-70s heavyhanded narrative stuff suits Tomb’s dark, atmospheric storylines. And of course Gene Colan and Tom Palmer as an art team are second to none. Palmer ably translated Colan’s chiarascuro-laden artwork into printable form, and Colan’s page layouts and oddly-angled panels are just thick with mood and menace.

And our star! Wow! Marvel’s Dracula was an anti-hero masquerading as a villain. A pontificating killer with an out-of-control ego and equal parts misogyny and misanthropy, but Wolfman imbued him with charisma. It’s hard not to admire this hateful bastard as he escapes time and again, turning into mist or a bat to elude his clumsy enemies. Every so often the creative team would have to introduce someone even nastier than Dracula to liven things up. One of these antagonists was Dr. Sun, a disembodied brain obsessed with usurping Dracula’s powers and killing the Count.

What is it with comic books and Red Chinese plots to remove people’s brains? DC’s Weird War Tales had a story in which an American officer gets his brain cut by the Chinese Communists out to power a supercomputer. Batman’s vaguely Arabic enemy R’as al Ghul once took out a scientist’s brain for some nefarious purpose; R’as is neither a commie nor Chinese so maybe this trope is just evidence of a generalized western paranoia against the East. Then again, Nazis tend to do this as well so maybe I'm completely off base.

Anyway, Dr. Sun is another of these floating brains from Asia and he and his organization of sycophants and henchpeople have infiltrated America. Dracula crosses the Atlantic by stowing away in a Royal Air Force fighter only to get himself killed by Dr. Sun.

Which sets up the strange turn of events in Tomb of Dracula #41. It would be ironic if it wasn't actively stupid. Drac’s long-time enemies, led by Quincy Harker, enlist the US Army to fight Dr. Sun but Sun hypnotizes the soldiers and makes them his slaves. So Harker and company turn to the one person—in all the Marvel Universe, populated by fantastic quartets and avenging and defending superteams—who can help them. That's right.


Well, one member of the group has a very personal reason-- Aurora Rabinowitz has a crush on Dracula, so much so she thinks "even his ashes are cute." Love-- even the arbitary love enforced on an annoyingly dense comic book character by her creator-- makes people think and do ridiculous things. But vampire hunters? It's really difficult to understand vampire hunter logic: "We were fighting Dracula and a brain. Then the brain killed Dracula and we only have to fight the brain now. So let's bring back Dracula so we can fight the brain and Dracula again, only Dracula will probably kill the brain for us so after that we can..."

Maybe this kind of plan makes sense if you've been fighting the undead for years and you're really low on sleep and sanity. Only Rachel van Helsing-- possibly because Dracula's bats scarred her pretty face a few issues back-- attempts to convince them not to do this stupid, stupid thing and they vote her down. But even she fails to make the ultimate argument against this counter-intuitive plan to bring back their arch-nemesis.


What about Iron Man? He was always fighting the Reds. Even a psychic Red in a big pickle jar wouldn’t stand a chance, right? And Thor. Being a Norse god, Thor could… No, the choice is Dracula, dammit. We tried the army and they failed, so why bother the superheroes who regularly defeat nigh-omnipotent earth-eating entities with casual ease? We need our filthy vampire back.

Well, we know the real reason they have to revive Dracula. It's because his name is in the book's title. If the book had been called Rachel van Helsing's Common Sense Brigade, Dracula would have stayed dead until some editor-writer team needed him for another book. And despite Dr. Sun's having taken several issues to weaken and then kill the Count, Wolfman brings him back in within a few panels (beautifully drawn, by the way) in such a ridiculous, perfunctory way good taste and respect for Marv Wolfman prevent me from telling you how it happens. It involves the insipid Aurora, though.

Blade shows up, too. He really razzes the gang and gives them the business for bringing back Dracula. Such cads and bounders are they, in league with a scoundrel; they're in dire need of a good ostracizing and Blade is just the toff to do it, indeed. Blade company argue for two whole pages in circular fashion before Rachel kicks Blade out. And then Wolfman gives us a casual reminder that Marvel's universe is full of fabulous super-people who are much better choices for aid than an evil vampire; two kids go out trick-or-treating, one dressed as the amazing Spider-Man.

Oh yeah, forgot to tell you-- this story takes place on Halloween!

The kids get only an hour to rack up the candy, though. What a strict mother they must have! But she hasn't given her kids any more smarts than this story's main characters, because the little dumbasses promptly make their way to Dr. Sun's house. Yes, house. He's a brain in a jar trying to conquer the world and his secret base is in a house in an ordinary residential area.

The kids notice something is... well... a little strange about this place. After all, you don't often see hundreds of heavily-armed soldiers lounging around in suburbia. There must be some tanks and jeeps around, too because just three issues before they'd all gone off to battle Dr. Sun with a full combat brigade, right though the heart of the city.

National emergencies involving the mobilization of US Army troops on American soil are no reason to cancel the fun of Halloween, though. And I'm not sure what Dr. Sun really wants with these soldiers because they're not very competent at guarding his house:

Two kids in costumes infiltrate right up to the front door and ring the buzzer. Let's see what's happening inside:

Oh, they're not guarding him. They're just standing around letting him scream at them via mental waves or some kind of electronic voice device. They're supposed to go round up all their friends and bring them back to Sun's place for a big Halloween shindig/mind control party. It's kind of like an Amway recruitment drive.

As for the kids, they never get their candy. Blade and Dracula crash the house and start tearing the place apart, dancing to the latest tunes and putting the Misfits' version of Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt-kickers' "Monster Mash" on repeat play until Dr. Sun makes them stop and they all settle in to eat candy corn and watch the Halloween movie series on DVD, then tell ghost stories while passing around a flashlight to hold under their chins. Scary stuff!

It's too bad our impatient trick-or-treaters didn't ring the doorbell one more time instead of running off, because Dr. Sun gives out those fun-sized chocolate bars. Milky Way, Snickers and more!

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