Monday, October 3, 2011

Dracula: Marvel's Merriest Misanthrope (2nd Annual Spookey Month)

My favorite Marvel monster by far is Dracula, Lord of Vampires.  Not because of his redeeming qualities; he doesn't have any.  Dracula is far too hateful to identify with, or to like as a person.  Every so often, writer Marv Wolfman attempted to establish a little sympathy for Dracula.

Dracula loses his powers, he eviscerates himself in his blog, he drinks too much and cries at a sad clown movie. Then you remember he also murdered his wife, alienated his daughter and son, drove a young woman to suicide through emotional abuse, bullies anyone he perceives as weaker than himself-- nearly everyone-- and murders without remorse in order to feed his vampiric blood-thirst.  And that's in between long monologues where he tells you how great he used to be when he was alive, and how awesome he is even now that he's dead.   But he does exude charisma as star of his own comic.  He's sickly fascinating, like the snake that kills you or a YouTube video of a car crash.  You can't take your eyes off him, even while you deplore his very existence.

In Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula is the antagonist and what we learn of him comes second-hand from various diaries and letters; for Marvel's Tomb of Dracula series, Wolfman cleverly reversed the formula and Marvel ended up with a comic that exhaustively examined the sociopathic tendencies of its lead character, a completely reprehensible killer whose egotism buries the needle on the ego-ometer, easily topping 10,000 kilo-Trumps.  Imagine a Fantastic Four where they not only fight Dr. Doom every single issue, but the writers seem more interested in him than in the good guys.

At least Victor von Doom has a kind of tragic nobility resulting from his being more misguided than actively evil.  Despite his protests to the contrary, Dracula's nobility drizzled away with his blood the moment he died, only to have a kind of nihilism replace it.  But just like Dr. Doom as infamously written by Brian Michael Bendis, Dracula loves to put people down.  Let's look at some of Dracula's insults, shall we?  And then we'll cleanse ourselves through the healing power of music.

Dracula's hate is universal, but there is no one among the masses he hates more than Frank Drake, his descendent.  Drake's very existence is an insult to Dracula, so he repays the poor schlub at every opportunity.  It starts as early as Tomb of Dracula #1 (1972).

Dracula relies heavily on old favorites such as "fool" and "idiot."  "Scum" seems to be his favorite epithet, though.  All through the series, it's "scum this" and "scum that."  While he's not shy about expressing his displeasure with humanity, he's also something of a culinary critic, a skill he displays in #9 (1973).

It's amazing a guy who died hundreds of years before the invention of indoor plumbing knows enough to dump stew into a sink.  On the other hand, depending on how greasy or oily it was, that might not have been the best idea.  What am I saying?  Of course Dracula would want to clog your pipes!

Occasionally, Dracula gets a little more clever with his insults.  After charming a group of hoity-toity ship passengers, he suddenly shows his true colors in this scene from #10 (1973).

Well, he does call them fools before working a bit more baroque than usual.  If you want a torrent of angry verbiage from Dracula, few topics get him worked up like religion.  As a foul undead creature aligned with Satan, Dracula-- as you might imagine-- isn't too keen on God, as we see in this tender, sensitive moment from #27 (1974).

Even after months of hanging out among us mortals, he's not shy about expressing his dislike for people.  In #29 (1975), he really lets his feelings show.

Comparing us to vegetables is kind of odd, since Dracula is a hardcore carnivore who love nothing better than reducing all of humanity to docile food stock.  Dracula never orders salads in restaurants.  He's also not content to decry food, deities and people.  In #60 (1977), we also learn that Dracula has it in for inanimate objects.

Yes, even chairs aren't safe from Dracula's wrath.  But given his towering ego, Dracula must reserve praise for himself, right?  He has to be a narcissist-- the kind of guy who would gaze lovingly into a mirror and practice his various smiles, if he still had a reflection.  Yeah, I thought so too, until I read #66 (1978).

Well, this is after he's had a huge argument with none other than Satan (later determined to be lame-o wannabe Mephisto, which is a major cop-out on Marvel's part), who removed Dracula's powers and reverted him to mortality but left him with his snazzy cape.  Later, however, we learn there are few things Dracula despises more than his fellow vampires.  Check out this heartwarming moment from #70 (1979).

Tomb of Dracula #70 was a double-sized issue abruptly ending with his death, and so Dracula disappeared from the Marvel universe for a year or two.  Like his Hammer Studios counterpart, the comic book vampire kept returning from each seemingly final destruction.  While Wolfman and company wisely kept Dracula's involvement with Marvel's costumed heroes to a minimum-- with genre-appropriate appearances from Brother Voodoo, Dr. Strange and Werewolf by Night-- other writers would try to fold the character into the mainstream superhero continuity.  This resulted in incredibly silly moments such as Dracula trying to vampirize Storm of the X-Men.

Possibly sensing the ridiculous nature of such tales, the powers-that-be at Marvel had Dr. Strange eliminate all vampires via something called the Montesi Formula.  No more vampires.  Just mutants and spider-people, please, and metallic guys who fly around on surfboards.  But Dracula was and remains too good a public domain villain not to use even if you're just going to have him battle super-people in their colorful underwear and/or BDSM outfits.  In 1991, Wolfman and original series artist Gene Colan teamed up with inker Al Williamson for Tomb of Dracula:  Day of Blood!  Night of Redemption! which sees Dracula returning from the grave and ignoring all that X-Men nonsense between the final issue of his own series and the first of the new.

And he's no happier with humanity, although he has learned to express himself with a bit more eloquence.  Gone are the generic references to "scum" and "cretins," replaced by a more definitive explanation of Dracula's misanthropy.

Well, that's what Dracula gets for hanging out in a seedy strip club.  Of course you're going to learn cynicism when you choose only to see the worst society has to offer.  Dracula responds by tearing off a security guard's face-- Colan and Williamson make it look like a rubber Halloween mask trailing red streamers-- then slaughtering the club's dancers.  See those cops in the last panel?  They come upon a crime scene so horrifying it affects even their jaded sensibilities.  One of them vomits.  But what about the hoi-poloi?  I'm sure Dracula, having been ruler of Transylvania in his younger days, would find the upper crust more suitable company.

 Guess not.  Once again, he doesn't just offer a tongue lashing.  When one young woman makes a pass at him, Dracula responds by casually murdering her and throwing her body off an ocean-side cliff where she goes SPLAT! on the rocks below.

One of the worst things you can do is try to use Dracula for your own means, even if it helps him in the short term.  Here he mocks Dr. Smirnoff, a college professor whose dalliance with the supernatural has resulted in his torso becoming transparent.  Smirnoff wants Dracula to turn him into a vampire so he can avoid a Lovecraftian doom, but Dracula prefers to string him along and humiliate him at every opportunity.

I'm not sure when Dracula gave up his suit and tie for this pro wrestler's attire, but he's apparently won the Intercontinental Tag-Team Championship, if I'm recognizing that belt buckle.  Later, Dracula adds injury to insult when he pokes out Smirnoff's eyes and rips off his head.

At least Dracula's finally learned to loosen up and enjoy himself.  Let's do the same!  Once again, it's Hamamatsu's completely awesome Spookey!

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