Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October is Spookey Month: Tomb of Dracula #7 introduces Edith Harker

We all know how Quincy Harker's daughter Edith meets her doom-- staked by her own father in Tomb of Dracula #12, "Night of the Screaming House" (September 1973).  But how did she find her way into the pages of Tomb of Dracula in the first place?  It happens in #7 (March 1973) "Night of the Death Stalkers," (lotta "nights" going on here) with her father making his debut a page or two later.

Let's look at the cover before we get into the story.  Doesn't Dracula have a fun sense of humor here?  This is some clever copy and it hooks me immediately.  The drawing is by Larry Lieber, Stan Lee's little brother.  It gives readers a fairly accurate depiction of the story inside.  It's not nearly as dynamic as some of the series' Gil Kane covers, but Kane was one of those "gold standard" cover artists and it's not really fair to compare anyone to him.  And yet I just did, didn't I?  What I like about Lieber's cover, however, is he makes Dracula look a lot like Hammer Studios' own Christopher Lee, the finest of all screen Draculas (and tallest).  I'm going to assume Lieber agrees with me and that in itself is more than enough to recommend this cover.  I'm in favor of Gene Colan's "casting" of Jack Palance as powerhouse, intensely masculine Dracula inside the pages, but the more sinisterly refined Lee played Dracula for a longer period and emerged with dignity intact despite some increasingly silly material like Dracula, A.D. 1972 and Satanic Rites of Dracula, both of which provide prototypes for Tomb of Dracula.  You know, Dracula in the modern age, tooling around London and swingin' hippies and mods and all that.  So Lee is also very appropriate.  Anyway, the cover does its job competently if not spectacularly, but it's still fun.  The issue preceding this one had a Neal Adams cover, by the way!

Take a deep breath, because here... we... go...

In this issue, Rachel van Helsing introduces her pal Frank Drake to the Harkers and they form a vampire-fighting association the likes of which the world had never seen.  Well, not really.  It's a group similar to the one Bram Stoker came up with in his original novel, the one that started this whole Dracula business.  I've always liked vampire-fighting groups, and Tomb of Dracula's is far and away my favorite because everyone is a bit edgy and damaged.  While Marv Wolfman's core cast coalesces, their enemy, the famed count himself, self-styled Lord of the Undead, is busy making new friends of his own.  Because Tomb of Dracula #7 has a lot more going for it than just the first appearance of Edith Harker and her dad.  It also has one of Dracula's most sinister plans-- hypnotizing a bunch of kids into killers.  Kids, killers.  They both start with the letter k, and lemme tell you, there are some kids out there who would just as soon slit your throat as look at you even without a vampire master giving them hypnotic orders.  Slit your throat, then enjoy delicious Honeycombs cereal as a part of any complete breakfast.

Dracula's logic for this is while Harker and company would stop at nothing to kill vampires, they're not about to murder children, not even to save their own lives.  Turns out he's right.

This set-up reminds me of Village of the Damned, that truly disquieting film where time stops in a quaint village and nine months later a cadre of identical blonde babies arrive.  They grow up into sinister children who delight in murder via telepathy and wearing blonde wigs.  It's also reminiscent of those Simon-Kirby kid gangs of yore.  The killer Boy Commandos in Tomb don't wear wigs and they don't engage in any witty repartee, but they do sport some eerie glowing eyes as they silently and relentlessly pursue our heroes.  They do such a good job of it, the story stretches into Tomb of Dracula #8 (April 1973), which has a John Buscema cover.

Getting back to Edith.  Since we've already covered Edith's final moments, let's take a look at her first.

I'm going to assume she works at the chemist (that's "pharmacy" or "drugstore" to us colonials) Colan draws her leaving.  Gosh, it sure is cold.  I hope she gets home all right...

Oops!  No such luck.  Yes, she is the book's jeopardy queen.  Still, a bash in the face is better than a bite on the neck when you're dealing with the undead, and it's Edith Harker's good luck to have come face-to-face with the boss of them all and come away with only a bruise.  Dracula seems kind of a quitter here, though, doesn't he?  Edith's wearing one measly little cross.  Where is Dracula's amazing hypnotic gaze to make her take it off so he can feed on her?  It takes him about two seconds to enthrall those kids.

Speaking of which, here they are:

It looks as though someone at Marvel did a really clumsy art touch-up on Dracula's head in the fourth panel.  The face is Colan/Palmer, but the wonky perspective on the forehead (the widow's peak is turned a few degrees from where it should be both vertically and horizontally and there's no foreshortening despite the slightly low-angle view of Dracula's head) and the hair texture look completely alien.  Why?  Maybe the page passed through the inking and lettering stages with the top balloon coming out too large and covering too much of Dracula.  The editor decided we needed more of Dracula's head in there, which meant reducing the balloon and getting someone on staff to touch up the missing areas.  Just speculating about a hypothesis, but it also looks as if someone mistook Dracula's left hand for one of the background trees and colored it brown as a result.

Here's one of the most disturbing aspects of vampire lore-- the corruption of innocence.  Stoker used this is a major theme in his novel, and Wolfman picks up on it.  In Stoker's book, Dracula's first victim is the virginal Lucy Westenra, the ideal of proper young womanhood in the Victorian Age.  By the time Dracula is through with her, she's feeding on babies in a parody of nurturing motherhood.  Wolfman's Dracula will stop at nothing in his quest for power or whatever he holds as his ultimate goal and a bunch of boys become his weapons.  They're very effective, surprisingly so.  They chase Frank and company right out into the night and trap them in an old-fashioned car and there's not a thing anyone can do about it.

In fact, the hypno-kids do such a fine job of taking Dracula's enemies out of the fight, he finally has a little leisure time on his hands.  The next issue (nicely inked by Ernie Chan-- credited as Chua thanks to a bureaucratic screw-up on his immigration documents) sees Dracula using this free time to recruit some even more sinister allies, a lot of moldy vampires.  I think he should have stuck with kids.  Imagine Dracula getting himself on TV, perhaps taking one of those horror movie host jobs, or showing up at a station where they do one locally and beaming his powers across a wider area, ensnaring hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children and turning them against the adults.  Kind of like Halloween 3, but without that Silver Shamrock rhyme to get into your mind and stay.  And stay.  AND STAY.

And here's where it turns out I owe Edith Harker something of an apology.  She first appears as a typical damsel in distress, and goes out that way as well.  But she gets to come to the rescue herself at least once before Dracula and dear old dad put an end to her once and for all.

And here she is:

You go, Edith!  Sorry they didn't get your hair color right in this, your shining moment.

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