Blood Will Tell: Marv Wolfman's Tomb of Dracula
Vampire Meets Wolfman
The Lee/Kirby and Lee/Ditko comics of the 1960s made interiority a key component to the new Marvel superhero formula. In the 1970s, most of the progress made in conveying subjectivity, an inner life, and a distinct voice tended to happen at the margins of Marvel’s superhero line, rather than at the center (with Steve Englehart’s work as a notable exception). This was, at least in part, a function of the changes in the market and the industry. In 1968, Marvel finally freed itself from the onerous restrictions put on it by its distributor, Independent News; no longer limited to a fixed number of titles, the company could bring as many comics to the newsstand as it wanted. In 1971, the Comics Code Authority (CCA) revised the rules to allow the inclusion of “classic” or “literary” monsters (such as Frankenstein and Dracula), though not their low-rent brethren (zombies were still forbidden, but many writers snuck them over the CCA border wall with false papers identifying them as “zuvembies”). Under Roy Thomas’s leadership as editor-in-chief (1972-1974), more new writers and artists began to work for the company, bringing fresh perspectives.
One of Thomas’ newcomers, Marv Wolfman, would be closely identified with Marvel throught the decade, even serving briefly as editor-in-chief (1975-1976). Yet Wolfman’s legacy at Marvel’s is uneven. Having worked at DC before joining the rival team, he would ultimately make his greatest mark on comics upon returning to Mavel’s main competitor in 1980. There he and his fellow Marvel refugee, fan-favorite artist George Perez, would bring a Marvel sensibility (emotional soap-opera, slowly-simmering plots) to The New Teen Titans. Titans would be one of the decade’s biggest hits, eventually spawning two animated television series, two tie-in animated movies, and a live-action Titans series on DC’s streaming service. In 1985, Wolfman and Perez launched the 12-issue Crisis on Infinite Earths, which redefined the entire DC universe while setting a pattern for similar, though usually less-satisfying, reality-altering crossovers in the years to come. Wolfman’s impact on DC Comics is undeniable.
At Marvel, the company where Wolfman built the reputation that made his hiring by DC something of a coup, Wolfman’s work is a mixed bag. Actually, it’s not even that. With one exception, it’s a study in sticking to the middle of the road. Wolfman handled some of Marvels’ biggest properties (though not all of them were big at the time): Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, Luke Cage, and Doctor Strange. Yet none of these runs is particularly significant or even memorable. True, he did create some characters who went on to do very well for themselves (Bullseye, Nova), but nothing about Wolfman’s own handling of them would have suggested that they were destined for greatness. Curiously, the man who established his reputation as one of DC’s top superhero scribes, who helped the company rescue its books from mediocrity, never excelled with the characters who redefined the modern superhero.
Instead, Wolfman wrote just one Marvel series that stood out from the crowd, and it was about as far from superheroes as one could get: Tomb of Dracula. Part of Marvel’s post-1971 horror boom, it shares the unfortunate flaw that hinders so many of the comics to be discussed in this book: an off-putting or embarrassing title. Quite simply, there is no reason to expect that a comic called “Tomb of Dracula” would be fondly remembered decades later, and yet it is commonly acknowledged as one of Marvel’s best publications of the decade.
It certainly did not start out that way. Running for a total of 70 issues from 1972-1979, Tomb of Dracula began with a simple, uninspired premise. Dead for decades, Dracula is found and revived in 1972 by a group including the Count’s last human descendant, Frank Drake. The comic began as the most basic expression of its high concept, with little evidence of any kind of authorial investment beyond the outstanding pencils of Gene Colan (who drew every issue of the series, almost always inked by Colan's ideal complement, Tom Palmer ). This wasn’t even a comic written by committee; instead, it was the product of an ongoing game of musical chairs. The first six issues were credited to three different writers, none of whom left much of an impression (though Gardner Fox’s introduction of Rachel Van Helling, a descendent of the novel’s original vampire hunter, would prove significant down the road). Wolfman took over with issue 7, though, by his own admission, several months passed before he got his bearings (Daniels).
That it took so long for the title to find its direction should come as no surprise. Not only did Tomb of Dracula constitute a step away from the genre that had defined Marvel for the past decade, it also was one of the first attempts in the era of the Comics Code to publish a series centered around a villain rather than a hero. While this is obviously a problem of genre, it also has serious ramifications for the question of subjectivity. For years, Stan Lee and his collaborators told stories about characters who looked like monsters, but whose inner nobility made them admirable Now we were dealing with monsters who were truly monstrous through and through. How can the writer humanize a monster without humanizing him too much? How does the writer get inside the head of someone evil without holding him up to the reader for admiration?
Wolfman answered these questions in two seemingly-contradictory ways, delving deeper into Dracula’s psyche and past in order to make him feel more real to his readers, and surrounding the vampire with an ensemble of human characters who could bear the burden of reader identification and emotional investment. Already hunted by Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, and her mute companion Taj, Dracula would soon be the target of a larger network run by Quincy Harker (the now-elderly son of Jonathan and Mina from the original novel), Quincy’s daughter Edith (best not to get too attached to her), and Wolfman and Colan’s breakout character Blade. The last half of the series saw the cast expand to include humans who were not part of the vampire-hunting team, most notably Dracula’s new wife, Domini.
The ensemble approach was not unique to Tomb of Dracula. On the contrary, it proved to be the default for many of the new genre comics Marvel had begun to produce, particularly those centered on monsters. As we shall see in the Gerber chapter, N’Kantu the Living Mummy could barely speak, while the swamp creature called Man-Thing was not just nonverbal, but actually mindless. Unless these series were going to be a set of largely disconnected episodes, other ongoing characters were going to have to pick up the slack.
In the case of Tomb of Dracula, however, the construction of the ensemble had roots in richer soil than that provided by Marvel Comics. While most readers were more likely to know about the vampire from the endless series of movies featuring him, Tomb of Dracula situated itself firmly within the continuity established by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel. The names of some of the characters (Harker, Van Helsing) reinforce this connection, but, consciously or not, Wolfman began to develop his series in the manner established by the novel. Though Dracula featured the vampire prominently enough to use his name as its title, the book kept the character at a distance from the reader. More object than subject, Dracula is refracted through the perceptions of numerous viewpoint characters, most notably Jonathan and Mina. Moreover, the novel, so famously preoccupied with media and technology, is a virtual compendium of all the different means by which the story of Dracula can be recorded and transmitted: journals, shorthand, wax cylinder recordings, newspaper articles. A foreign element and dangerous pathogen, Dracula in Stoker’s novel is not just a communicable disease, but a disease of communication.
Tomb of Dracula devotes a significant amount of narrative effort to conveying the effects the vampire has had on those he encounters (primarily, those who survive his encounters; his effect on the others is self-evident). The original writers use Dracula’s descendent, Frank Drake, as the initial point of identification, but Drake proves unsuited to the task: spoiled, whiny, and despondent, Frank Drake is almost as unpleasant as the Count, but with none of the charisma. Small wonder that when Archie Goodwin takes over as writer with issue 3, he has Frank attempt suicide.
The League of Inherited Trauma
The defects in Frank’s characterization are only part of the story. Once the focus shifts to Rachel, Quincy, and (eventually, if briefly) Taj, Wolfman finds the ideal foils for a centuries-old monster: heroes whose trauma runs deep. The problem with Frank is that we see the precipitating trauma on the pages of the very first issue when Dracula kills this otherwise feckless rich boy's fiancée. Rachel and Quincy, by contrast, come from families on which Dracula has been inflicting suffering for generations. For them, Dracula is inherited trauma made manifest.
This is one of the ways that Tomb of Dracula gets at the title character indirectly, in that Dracula has long since colonized Rachel’s and Quincy’s inner lives. There is no Quincy Harker or Rachel Van Helsing without him. Wolfman was quoted as saying that he didn’t feel he really got a handle on the title until issues 12-14, which makes sense, since issues 12 and 13 are when he managed to weave inherited trauma and new trauma together. When Wolfman introduces Quincy Harker in Issue 7, he also adds Quincy’s daughter Edith. The fact that there is no mother present is, of course, attributable to Dracula, who killed Quincy’s wife years ago. Edith is no vampire slayer, but she knows just enough to be subject to a healthy, well-informed terror in the face of the undead. In Issue 12, Dracula kidnaps Edith and lures Quincy’s team into one of the numerous “ancient manses” that horror comics seem to place on every corner.
After a series of gothic brushes with death (weak floorboards, tarantulas), they find Edith on a balcony high above them. Edith tells them to keep away, because Dracula has already turned her into a vampire—she can no longer trust herself around the living: “If you won’t leave, father—then I have no other choice. / You must stop me—you must—before I kill!/ You must! You must!” She leaps from the balcony: “The body falls, and never changes….never lifts itself from its long, deadly leap…/ and it lands very, very hard.” Quincy’s calls out, but his words are dwarfed by a sicking sound effect: “THUD!”
Quincy laments his latest loss, but Frank informs him that Edith (who showed incredible strength of will by not turning into a bat and saving herself) is still not dead. Quincy honors Edith’s wishes and stabs her through the heart. The next two panels (Edith writhing in agony and Quincy crying) are wordless.1
Edith’s death is much more effective than that of Frank’s fiancée, and not only because the reader has had some time to get to know her. Her murder by Dracula is situated within the larger context of the vampire hunters’ never-ending traumas at the vampire’s hands. As Quincy exclaims, “First my dear Sonya, my loving wife—now Edith—now Edith!”2 In the very next issue, Quincy says:
“I remember once, it must have been a long time ago—my lord, she was only three or four, yet she knew all about my work—/—she said “Daddy, I don’t ever want to become a vampire. Please don’t let me become one.’ / And I would laugh and tell her not to worry, that I would protect her always. / Oh God—Oh, God."
Quincy’s fresh new grief serves as the impetus for a spontaneous discussion that serves as a cross between a support group and a competitive mourning contest. Blade, the young, hip Black vampire slayer Wolfman and Colan created just a few issues before, lashes out at Frank:
“You didn’t think I was chasin’ vampires for my health, did you, Drake?
“You said I didn’t know what it’s like to lose someone—man—I’m the original loser!”
Blad then tells his new companions that, when his mother was in labor, she was bitten and killed by a white-haired vampire moments before Vlad was born:
“So don’t hand me any of your bull about mournin’ the dead—‘cause I’ve been through it all before—/—an I’m still livin’ with it, every time I look in the mirror an’ realize that a woman died given’ birth to me—me!”
Blade’s words prove his worthiness in joining Qunicy’s band of mourning misfits while also emphasizing his separate destiny. His trauma was not caused by Dracula, a fact that makes him much more suitable for subsequent, non-Dracula related adventures than his companions are.3 It is also fitting that he connects his guilt to what he sees in the mirror. Not only will he subsequently fight his own vampire doppelgänger (a long story that need not be related here), he highlights the metaphor behind the narrative function served by all the humans in the supporting cast. Vampires such as Dracula do not show up in mirrors; they are incapable of seeing themselves as other see them. It is up to Quincy, Rachel, and Frank to mirror Dracula back to him.
The scars that these characters bear are both metaphorical and real. The same issue that ends with Edith’s death highlights the disabling and disfiguring effect Dracula has on those around him. As they try to rescue Edith from the Victorian nightmare home in which she is kept, Quincy’s room to maneuver is limited. He uses a wheelchair, thanks, of course, to Dracula. Meanwhile, Dracula has sent bats to attack Rachel and Frank; they start clawing at Rachel’s face before Taj chases them away. What happens next, or, rather, over the course of the next several years of Tomb of Dracula, is unprecedented. Rachel’s face is covered in scratches a few pages after the attack, but these settle into permanent scars that become one of her defining physical features.
Soon Rachel and Frank embark on an unsatisfying romance (unsatisfying both for them and the readers), defined by Frank’s continued attempts to prove his manliness and independence and Rachel’s tendency towards emotional withdrawal. In the last issue, after Quincy finally kills Dracula, Rachel receives a letter that Quincy wrote for her write before his confrontation with the vampire. He encourages her to give Frank a chance, because he is worried about what is happening to her:
I write because I have great love for you and I fear you are becoming too much like me. I have lost my humor about life, for I became obsessed with death. Rachel, you are too young to be so grim, you have so much ahead of you…please, my dear, don’t cut yourself off rom the joy life can bring. […] Give yourself a chance to experience all that you have missed. I am an old man, Rachel, but if you are reading his now, I am a happy man...
With Dracula dead (temporarily, but for the purposes of the now-cancelled Tomb of Dracula, permanently) the surviving supporting cast finally has the chance to live for themselves, rather than as physical manifestations of the damage wrought by their enemy.4
Sheila Takes a Bow
In Issue 23 (and its lead-in, Giant -Size Chillers Featuring the Curse of Dracula 1 (June 1974), Wolfman begins his periodic exploration of the inner lives of Dracula’s (eventual) victims. The timing makes sense; after an intense exploration of the Dracula/Van Helsing dynamic in issues 19 and 20, the series turns its focus away from the vampire hunters and more towards the Count himself. Whenever we linger too long with Dracula, listening to his reminiscences and catching him in a reflective mood, there is the risk that excessive identification with the vampire will not only render him heroic, but also make him less frightening. For instance, Issue 15, which is framed by Dracula writing in his diary in order to work through the shock of his most recent death, presents a series of vignettes narrated by Dracula himself. A pensive Dracula is a relatable Dracula, something Wolfman will only entertain towards the end of the series.
Over the course of seven issues (23-24, 26-29, plus Chillers), Dracula involves himself in the affairs of young Sheila Whittier, heiress to Castle Dunwick.5 He comes to the Castle intending to kill Sheila, but is taken aback by her manner and her plight. Not at all surprised to see him, she says, “You’re back? Are you going to hurt me again? Haven’t you done enough to me already?” He sees that her back is covered in fresh scars, and replies, “You are mistaken, Sheila Whittier. I am not one of your tormentors.” To the contrary, he saves her life several times in their first meeting. It turns out that her uncle, who left her the castle, is haunting it; what’s more, he’s actually her father, murdered by her mother, whom he subsequently haunted and drove insane. He intends to sacrifice her to the “dark gods” in order to secure himself a place of honor in hell.
Dracula makes short work of the ghost by the end of issue 23, but by that point, Wolfman has already succeeded in turning this storyline into a set of narrative baits-and-switches. What begins as Dracula’s plan to secure himself a castle in England turns into something the vampire could not have anticipated: he has walked onto the set of a Gothic novel and become merely one of the players in Sheila’s story. Soon he puts Sheila in her place, using her as a pawn in his schemes for world domination, but once again, the story runs away from him (as, eventually, does Sheila).
Issue 24 begins with Rachel and Frank talking on the same bridge Frank tried to jump off of the day they first met. Since they both believe Dracula is dead, they’ve decided to give their relationship a try. As Dracula watches from the distance, mocking them to himself, the narrator tells us:
Their lips meet, but there is nothing; this is a hollow kiss devoid of any emotion other than pity and helplessness for a man this woman truly loves…
And for Frank Drake, not even the imagined warmth of this momentary embrace can erase the coldness and hatred he feels for himself.
Even though they think their enemy is dead, the emotional logic of Tomb of Dracula dictates that there is only so much ambient emotional energy to go around in a given story. Over the next several issues, the affective focus will be on Dracula, Sheila, and (soon enough) David. Alone in her “creaking manse,” Sheila contemplates the new man in her life:
There’s nothing wrong with my waiting here for him. Why must I feel guilty?
He’s my man…and I know he isn’t evil like they all say he is.
I know that say he’s a murderer…a hellish vampire who preys on innocence for survival—
—who corrupts everything he dares profane with his deathly touch.
But they’re all wrong. I’ve seen him. I know him. I do…I really do.
He is my man, isn’t he? And my man couldn’t be dressed in a cloak of sin.
Yet even as she finishers her monologue, the last panel shows Dracula attacking (and presumably killing) a woman on the street).
Soon Dracula sends Sheila on a mission, arranging for her to meet David Eschol, a man whose antiquarian rabbi father was killed for the sake of a mysterious chimera statue imbued with vast magical powers. Pretending to be from a museum, she quickly establishes a connection with him. They immediately hit it off, and as a result, Dracula’s scheming has inadvertently placed him in one corner of a love triangle. By issue 28, all three of them are captives of the mysterious Dr. Sun, who has taken possession of the chimera. Using its powers, Dr. Sun forces each of them into a his or her own transparently symbolic psychodrama. David imagines himself as Moses before the burning bush, discovering that it is a vehicle of Satan, not God. Sheila is romanced by Dracula, who turns into a laughing skeleton in her arms. Dracula is nearly killed by his assembled enemies. When Dracula snaps out of his trance, he mercilessly kills all of Dr. Sun’s minions, prompting Sheila to grab the chimera and smash it before either he or David can take possession of it. As she and David leave, she tells Dracula:
I thought I loved you, Vlad. Maybe because you saved me—were beside me when I most needed someone there.
But I was blind not to see what you truly were, and to ignore what I did see.
Goodbye, Vlad. Keep Castle Dunwick—do what you wish with it. It’s yours now. I no longer need it.
Goodbye, my almost-love. I pity you—truly I do.”
Infuirated, Dracula yells at her to come back: “You can’t leave me unless I tell you to. You can’t leave your master—"
Remarkably, he lets Sheila and David go without attacking them. Where Sheila grows to understand Dracula, and therefore herself, better, and understands that her sentiments are false, Dracula is appalled to discover that, unnoticed, he has developed actual feelings.
The next issue begins with Dracula attacking random humans in a fit of rage, resolving to kill Sheila and David. David, meanwhile, has decided he must kill Dracula if they are ever to be free. As so often happens in vampire movies, he reaches Dracula’s coffin just as the sun sets. All the words spoken are by Dracula (“Sheila Whitter is mine, boy—and what is mine cannot be lightly taken from me”), but the captions all follow David. For a silent page (interrupted only by Dracula’s laughter) David tries to run away, while the captions render David’s struggle for survival a matter of faith and fate:
The youth runs, though his father had taught him not to run from evil, but to face it—to ignore it.
“The eyes of God are everywhere: observing the evil and the good.” David was told this.
“God does not leave the virtuous man hungry. But he thwarts the greed of the wicked,” David was taught.
And though it may be true that God does honor the virtuous—perhaps he does destroy the wicked…
…tonight he does not.
And at last, David screams.
The last four pages reenact both Sheila’s first encounter with Dracula and the end of the previous issue. She opens the door to find David’s corpse, held in a standing position by Dracula, who informs her the the is come to take her “back home.” The caption reads: "Months before, Dracula’s first words to this frightened girl were “I am not one of your tormentors.” The lord of darkness lied. "
Where previously Dracula was an intruder in a haunted house doing its best to expel its new owner, now he has to gain Sheila’s permission to enter the late David’s apartment. Sheila invites him in, not realizing he could not enter without an invitation. Yet just as in the previous issue, when Sheila speaks to Dracula with an authority that surprises them both, she once again pronounces judgment on the lord of vampires. But this time it is also a diagnosis, a rejection of the very idea that Dracula has a self worthy of her affection.:
Sheila. “You have no heart! You have no soul!/ You’re a demon! A damnable lecherous demigod!/ Show me what kind of man you are, Dracula! Beat me! Beat me for my hating you! Beat me for my once loving you!”
Dracula: “I…can…not… beat you. / I…care…..”
Sheila (climbing onto the windowsill): “You care only for yourself! I was just a convenience!”
Dracula: “You are wrong, Shiela. Perhaps we both…”
Sheila: “Get away from me, Dracula! If I was ever yours before—/ I won’t be anymore! Never any more!”
When they first met, Sheila fell from a balcony, only to be saved by Dracula. Now she jumps to her death, with Dracula flying after her, too late to catch her: “Sheila! /No! / No!/ I didn’t mean….”
In his depiction of Sheila, Wolfman has laid a trap both for the reader and for Dracula. Initially, she seems fragile, naive, and deluded. And yet Dracula, whose tendency to launch into florid monologues has long been a familiar feature of the comic, is reduced by Sheila to incoherent pleading two issues in a row. They forge an emotional connection, but it is in the nature of both the narrative and Dracula himself that there is only room for one of them to have full subjectivity at a given time. We saw earlier that Sheila could at least wrestle with her doubts about Dracula in his absence, and also the she tended to be less expressive in his presence. But when she asserts her own will, Dracula’s fades. At the same time, the reader, faced with an inarticulate vampire, gains access to an aspect of his inner life usually occluded by his constant talking: an emotional, needy creature who can either be dominant or submissive, but never equal.
Thus when the next issue begins with Dracula standing over her grave, he has regained his composure and his facility with words:
This is not the way I wished it to end.
It is important that you believe that, Shiela.
But you could not accept me for what I am…what I must ever be, could you, my dear?
Yet I—I accepted you—and never once did I drape you in illusion.
Had you held me dear for what I am, perhaps there would have been a tomorrow—
—instead of a timeless, endless nothingness.
Farewell, Shiela Whittier—rest in the peace you never had in life. (Issue 30)
It’s a nice speech, but it’s also disingenuous: Dracula didn’t “drape Sheola in illusion,” because he never bothered to find out who she really was. But as the capstone to the Sheila storyline, it also calls into question Sheila’s own conclusions about the vampire: “You have no heart! You have no soul!” In the context of the comic’s vampire lore, she is close to correct, in that vampires are generally portrayed as soulless, while their physical hearts are only the last vestige of human vulnerability (the weak spot to be penetrated by a wooden stake). But all of his mixed responses to Sheila, combined with his somber, nostalgic mood after her death, are a sign that Dracula is more than his exterior, and more than simply monster. He is not good, to be sure, and he is capable of endless self-deception. But, to borrow the phrasing of Stan Lee, does that not make him somewhat….human?
The captions in the beginning of issue 30 emphasize Dracula’s sadness and loneliness, following him back to the castle where, as he so often does after a setback, Dracula recalls moments from his past in his diary. These stories are all about different times in his undead existence when he allowed himself to be emotionally vulnerable, but for Dracula, the moral is simple: he always survives and always conquers. Thus this issue, and the entire storyline, enacts the basic pattern Tomb of Dracula provides its protagonist: opening himself up to others leads him to periods of introspection that he must reject in order to go on.6
This same story arc also sees Wolfman inaugurating a narrative technique to which he will return intermittently throughout the series: capsule biographies of Dracula’s victims presented immediately before their deaths. Once again, it is connected to his growing feelings for Sheila. In Issue 23, he realizes he must feed, but that he must also spare Shiela. Initially, this decision is presented as entirely rational, since he needs her for a servant: “So she must live, and it will be another who will die.” As he laves, he is flooded with “a curious sensation”: “a feeling that says that some lives should be held sacred. ‘Bah,’ Dracula retort,—‘Lives exist only for my sport.’ / And he repeats that silent shout in hopes that someday he might believe it.”
It’s a surprising moment, since we have never seen Dracula show any compunction about his need for blood; it is as though Sheila’s own naive trust in him has already started to have an effect. The next two pages further develop the question of empathy for his victims, but this time that empathy is cultivated within the consciousness of the readers (who by now may well have become too jaded to be shocked by yet another vampire attack.
The scene shifts from the castle to a one woman driving a green VW bug. I quote the description in full, as both an example of Wolfman’s technique and a demonstration of how thoroughly irrelevant this section is to the plot:
Caroline Bascombe has been traveling all night, and the radio beside her has been her only company.
It sings to her, making the hours pass more quickly, and, unconsciously, she hums alone with it.
Caroline smiles; her mother only had a fever. The doctors say it will pass. And Randolph called saying the kids have been behaving, and that they missed her.
And Randolph also said he never realized how hard it is keeping the house clean and the kids in line, and that maybe he now understands why she is always tired when he comes home from work.
The music faces and the news begins. “Strikes continue…” The sounds would have gone on hadn’t Caroline glanced downwards, wrinkled her face at the bad news, and switched the station for some more music.
When she looks up again, Caroline sees the fog has crowded around her car. Even her lights can’t penetrate it.
“Damn,” she thinks to herself. She wanted to be home by morning.
Through the heavy fog she sees a shape—human? Animal? Yes—it is a man.
God, it’s a man standing in the center of the road. Caroline slates the break down hard.
The car jerks suddenly and swerves to the left.
But not nearly enough.
There is a sickening crunch as metal hits flesh.
She gets out of the car and is immediately attacked by Dracula.
As the plain of his fangs turn [sic] to pleasure, Caroline Bascombe’s screams end, and her body falls limp.
She dies, then, and three days she will finally return home to Randolph, and then Teddy and little Emily—yes, even darling little Emily—will have their mother back.
Two years from now Randolph will fall beneath Blade’s knife. Caroline and Teddy will suffer from bloodless and perish. Emily will live 150 years before she, too, dies.
For the attentive reader, this extended digression is a reminder of the compromised moral framework of not just Dracula’s existence, but that of everyone who (however briefly) survives an encounter with him. Sheila is spared, but we are forced to see the cost of her survival, a cost with ramifications extending 150 years into the future. This is, of course, the basic fact of vampirism: the vampire’s unlife is always at the expense of ordinary human beings. It is a fact that Sheila ignores as long as she can, but must ultimately face.
Even more important, though, is the way in which the text demands the moral engagement of the reader. We, like the vampire, can grow jaded by the parade of future corpses whom Dracula encounters on a nightly basis, and therefore can sympathize with Dracula too much. One of the plot points that repeats throughout Tomb of Dracula is the bonds of affection that develop between Dracula and the occasional human, perhaps modeling the affection of the readers. The recurring motif of capsule biographies of otherwise anonymous victims is an important corrective to the moral drift that so often results from Dracula’s seductive charms.
Women Who Love Vampires Too Much
Wolfman’s successful characterization of Dracula obliges him to periodically remind the reader just how horrible the title character actually is. The capsule biographies of the victims certainly help, but they will not be enough one that series commits to Dracula as the actual protagonist of his own series. Issue 44 inaugurates a storyline that continues until the series' final issue, one that emphasizes Dracula’s own personal and emotional development. He stumbles upon a group of Satanists in a deconsecrated church. Their leader, Anton Lupeski, is about to offer up a young woman named Domini as the bride of Satan. Dracula swoops in and pretends to be Satan, taking over the church for himself and claiming Domini as his bride.
Initially a cipher, Domini comes to mean a great deal to Dracula, while soon opening up her own complicated history to the reader. Issue 47, in which a Satanic rite allows Dracula and Domini to conceive a child, starts with Domini in an entirely subordinate role. She notices that her husband looks “troubled,” and asks if she can somehow relieve the “aching” she sees in his eyes. Dracula launches into one of his extended monologues, with Domini as his audience.
Dracula: “You are my wife, Domini—bequeathed to me by your leader in worship, Anton Lupeski.
Yet I know nothing of you…of who you are, or why you have deigned to worship in Lupeski’s unholy temple.
You are a mystery to me, and yet, for reasons I still cannot fathom, I…care for you…as much as I cared for my dear Maria.
Domini: I know nothing of you, my husband, except that you are not Satan…as the others still believe.
Whoever you are, my Lord Dracula—it doesn’t matter. At least not to me. I love you. For reasons I do understand.
Domini understands but at this point, there is no way anyone else could. But Dracula goes on, admitting that he has grown troubled at the thought that he exists only for conflict. He tells Domini the high points of his biography, from his time as leader to his marriage to Maria, to his transformation into a vampire. He speaks of his lust for domination, which could include even Domini herself, whom he could easily “crush…like an over-ripe melon. But…:
I can’t…truly I can not.
This tabernacle of God must be affecting me somehow, Domini.
There can be no other reason I would love a mortal—*
Did I say…love?
Dracula admits that he has grown accustomed to seeing humans as tools:
You see, my wife, I have a …power…the power all great men must have to become great
Humans call it…charm..a magnetic personality…charisma! The power to pull people to you…
Dracula’s display of self-awareness would also be self-criticism if he weren’t so thoroughly narcissistic. Moreover, he has just summed up the ethical problem raised by placing him at the center of a comicbook series: he is too charismatic to prevent readers from finding themselves on his side.7
But is Domini simply a naive dupe? Wolfman has shown other women besotted by the vampire’s charms (most notably the comic-relief character Aurora, whose infatuation with Dracula is only one of the many elements of her depiction as a brainless bimbo), but Domini professes her love while maintaining an unshakable dignity. When Lupeski asks her if she is prepared to become the mother of Dracula’s child, Woflman provides us with a rare glimpse into Domini’s inner life:
She digs deep into her past, grasping fragments of memories—the convent, where she was schooled…under the ever-watchful eye of Sister Mary-Theresa.
The constant running…rebelling against the church….Searching for…what?
And after each escape from the convent, being returned…by her father—a man who cared nothing for her.
The ceremony is nearly ruined by a masked gunman, whom Dracula quickly kills. But Domini immediately identifies the man as her father:
He came her to take me home again…as he did every time I strayed from him.
I guess…in his own way…he loved me.
But I learned that too late.
At that moment, she is looking at the painting of Christ that hangs in the dark chapel, and declares that everything “rests now in most capable hands.”
Domini, whose name means “belonging to the Lord,” contentedly finds herself playing a double game. She truly loves her husband, but she also knows that the image of Christ granted her father death before he could be infected with the vampire’s curse. The last page consists of five horizontal panels, with Dracula indulging in one of his usual megalomaniacal monologues, while Domini looks in the mirror, reflecting on her future:
Absolution for father…forgiveness for daughter-in-law. And for the son to be—ah, he will not be the devil’s son at at all, and Domini knows that now.
Domini, whose future son’s name “Janus” will reflect his dual heritage, belongs to two lords at once: her husband and God.
Wolfman is careful about parsing out access to Domini’s thoughts and feelings throughout the series, maintaining a sense of quiet mystery about her while telling the reader just enough to know how complicated her agenda actually is. This is in contrast to Dracula, as that last page demonstrates. Though Dracula’s self-knowledge is significantly restricted by his pride, he nevertheless is constantly verbalizing his thoughts and motivations, while Domini chooses to keep her own counsel.
The Tragedy of the Naive Vampire Fan
Rather than try to wrest supernatural drama from nine months of Domini’s pregnancy, Wolfman uses the next several issues as an opportunity to set up important players and themes (the power of the Christ painting in the Chapel; the mysterious golden-skinned “demon” who has haunted Dracula for centuries), to advance subplots (Blade and the hunt for his mother’s killer), and to tell one-off stories that either broaden Dracula’s world or deepen our understanding of the character. A particularly bizarre example of this last approach tells an unusual Dracula story that balances on the edge of metafiction and fan fiction, but provides a clear message: Dracula does not deserve our love.
Issue 49 (with the strangely generic title “…And With the Word There Shall Come Death!”) sees Dracula returning home to a contented, very pregnant Domini, only to be suddenly surrounded by a glowing halo and transported “into some forgotten limbo!” After a check in on Blade’s sub-plot, the scene shifts to a woman sitting in an ornate, Gothic library, talking to her companion, who appears to be Frankenstein’s monster.8 They are soon joined by D’Artagnan of the Three Musketeers, followed by Tom Sawyer and Injun Joe. They are all her “friends” whom she knows from her beloved stories. As D’Artagnan explains:
You created us, milady. We are a part of you, as we are a part of the books you took us from.
We are your joys and your sorrows, and we are your loves.
Is it any wonder, then, Madame, that we love you as much as you love us?
Or that we, mere words of fiction granted flesh and bone by the powers that are yours, know what secrets lie in your heart?
Her creations cannot help but know that she pines for the hero of her favorite novel, the man she has been unable to summon: Count Dracula:
I’ve dreamed […] of Dracula, with his arms about my shoulders, his powerful eyes reaching deeply into my own.
Oh, I have wished so long for him to join me here, and to give me his love.
At their encouragement, Miss Angie (as Tom Sawyer calls her) tries once again, this time with all their help and support, and Dracula finally materializes. He immediately believes Angie when she tells him that she summoned him, but has no patience for her feelings when she explains that she fell in love with him after reading “your book./ You were everything I could ever hope for in a man.” Dracula’s response is contemptuous: “That foolish novel Stoker half-based on my diary?”
Angie appeals to him as “the man Lucy Westenra loved.” But Dracula barely remembers Lucy: “Westenra? The name sounds familiar.” One of “a thousand tramps such as she,” Lucy “and all the others like her were merely sustenance for me.” Dracula does, however, intuit the mechanism by which Angie succeeded in summoning him this time after so many attempts. Angie “took me while I expressed the calmness [Domini] had given my soul for the first time in centuries.” In other words, at the moment when Dracula was completely content with letting a woman into his life as something more than “sustenance,” he inadvertently made himself vulnerable to Angie’s strange magic.
After Dracula slays D’Artagnan, Angie realizes that she “loved the Dracula I thought you were./ The man in the story. The man of strength, of power, of nobility!….You can’t be Dracula…not MY Dracula!” She burns the book, sending him home.
The last page delivers one final, Twilight Zone-style twist: we learn that Angie is actually a mental patient in a padded cell, clutching her copy of Stoker’s novel. The ward nurse notes that Angie always has an “attack” after reading “that awful vampire story.” An attendant replies:
“Let’s just leave her alone…to her fantasies.
They’re all she has now…all she loves anymore.
…Ever since the death of her husband child threw her into that depressed state.
Angie is Wolfman’s model of the bad reader, not just of Dracula, but of Tomb of Dracula: seduced by “strength,” “power,” and “nobility,” she has duped herself into believe Stoker’s character was worthy of her love. But despite her rejection of the “real” Dracula, the comicbook protagonist has just as much claim on those qualities as did his literary precursor. Angie is blind to Dracula’s glaring moral failings, no matter how manifest they are on nearly every page of his adventures.
She is a bad reader, but she is also a powerful one: her love, her investment in the character, brings him to a life that he does not have on the page. The story’s framework marginalizes Angie as damaged and insane, but it nonetheless leaves open the possibility that her creative fan fiction might play a positive role in the workings of her own disturbed psyche. Meanwhile, Wolfman’s story both encourages and rejects a similar investment on the part of his own readers: we presumably don’t want to be deluded like Angie, but even the quiet scene with Dracula and Domini is an invitation to look kindly on a monster who ultimately doesn’t deserve the sympathy.
The Lifecycle of Vlad Dracula
It is not enough that Dracula not be worthy of sympathy; Tomb of Dracula is built on the tension between the protagonist’s evil nature and the narrative machinery that compels reader identification. Had Wolfman chosen simply to make Dracula the villain and Harker’s crew the heroes, Dracula could have remained a one-dimensional monster whose destruction would be an unmitigated good. Instead, the comic insists on multiple, conflicting points of reader identification based on the competing subjectivities of its characters.
This is why the repeated, one-on-one confrontations between Dracula and Quincy Harker work so well, in that each one of them has an accessible inner life, and each one demands some measure of reader identification. Quincy’s decades-long quest, the multiple sacrifices he has endured, and the pervasive sense of mourning that surrounds him make him the comic’s ethical heart, but Dracula’s arrogant narcissism, punctuated occasional and effectively by moments of melancholy self-doubt, make it difficult to accord him the hate that he deserves.
Their conflict is enhanced by the fact that they represent such divergent points in the human lifecycle. Technically, Dracula is, of course, much older, but it is Quincy who was born at the end of Stoker’s novel, and in the 1970s, it is Quincy who is obviously not long for this world. Dracula, on the other hand, though already dead, is potentially eternal. In the time between the original novel and the last issues of the series, Quincy has experience every stage of a human life, while Dracula remains unmarked by the passage of time.
The last three years of Tomb of Dracula are a challenge to its title character: can the vampire actually change and grow? During the first 40 issues, Dracula’s plans and goals may evolve, but the character himself is frozen in place. Indeed, he is one of the rare comicbook characters whose diegetic lifespan actually makes sense when compared to the time over which the comic itself is serialized. In his “Myth of Superman,” Umberto Eco argues that the superhero lives in an “oneiric climate,” an “iterative present” that allows time to pass, but cannot allow the hero himself to change very much; as a serialized commodity that must remain forever available for further exploitation, the superhero cannot be allowed to be “consumed” by the narrative. Hence the phenomenon known as “Marvel Time.” Though the Fantastic Four’s original space flight was depicted in 1961, the characters cannot be permitted to age; otherwise, the teenage Johnny Storm would be around 75 in 2019. “Marvel Time” is a sliding time-scale; at any given point in a Marvel comic after the early 1970s, the Fantastic Four always gained their powers ten years earlier. But Dracula is immune to narrative consumption; as an undead vampire, he already embodies the ideal temporality of Marvel Comics. Learning in 2012 that Dracula was active in 1972 and hasn’t changed in the slightest requires no cognitive dissonance on the part of the reader.9
The storyline that begins with Dracula’s discovery of Lupeski’s Satanic church alters this dynamic, by bringing a time-bound change to Dracula’s life, guaranteeing more change in the future. With his marriage to Domini, Dracula remains a vampire, but is now suddenly on a path that at least mimics a human life. Wedded to a human woman and father to a semi-human son, he is now time-bound. For an immortal creature, this is either an existential threat or an unexpected opportunity.
Dracula as family man is an idea that sounds terrible, yet it is the sheer inappropriateness of this development that is the key to the last 25 issues of Tomb of Dracula. In Domini, he has found a woman who quickly shows that she understands him, and even seems to accept him for who he is without herself becoming evil. Thanks to Domini’s influence, Dracula repeatedly displays uncharacteristic mercy, declining to kill Rachel and Frank on the day his son is born and on the day of his death. In Issue 48, a vampire named Marianne tells him and Domini the story of a life haunted by Dracula from the very beginning, and an undeath now rendered lonely by the demise of her vampire husband. She asks Dracula “the one who began this cycle of horror for me—/—to end it now and forever…and to let me be with my husband for eternity.” Dracula’s response:
Once, many years ago, it seems now, I would not have understood your request.
But now, with my wife Domini at my side, I can understand such things as peace and rest and love.
Yes, I will kill you, woman. And may your ashes rest In peace…forever!
Could the Lord of Vampires be going soft? And if so, should he? Though Tomb of Dracula is short on subtlety, and though the series had been running for at least a year before it showed evidence of anything resembling a long-term plan, in the final third of its run, the comic anticipates the ethical complexities raised by the antihero dramas that would dominate premium cable two decades later. Both HBO’s The Sopranos and AMC’s Breaking Bad centered on compelling protagonists whose cruelty and criminality are offset by brilliant writing and acting. Both Tony Soprano and Walter White commit acts of horrific violence that one might expect would render them entirely unsympathetic, and yet viewers found themselves invested in these men’s success.
The Sopranos in particular modeled the audience’s problematic identification with Tony through his years-long therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jennifer Melfi. Charmed and repulsed by her patient, Dr. Melfi is always in danger of losing sight of Tony’s moral failings. As she is caught up in the Freudian web of transference and counter-transference, she becomes a proxy for the viewer’s own conflict between ethics and emotional investment. Only in the last season does she become convinced that Tony is a malignant narcissist, and therefore untreatable.
The comparison of Tomb of Dracula and The Sopranos might appear outlandish, and not only because the Lord of Vampires never trades in his coffin for an analyst’s couch. The Sopranos was the lynchpin in a campaign to give television the air of respectability it had so long lacked (“It’s not TV. It’s HBO”). Tomb of Dracula, with its cheesy title and melodramatic dialogue, could only aspire to the status of guilty pleasure. Ironically for a show dramatizing psychotherapy, The Sopranos offered pleasure without guilt. Or at least without aesthetic guilt; ethically, viewers were set up to be conflicted and disturbed.
Nonetheless, Marv Wolfman’s Dracula causes the same narrative conundrum as David Chase’s Tony Soprano: each hero must both charm and repulse, leaving the reader/viewer in an unstable position. And if each narrative does fundamentally recognize its protagonist as a destructive force, both the comic and the television show help the audience defer ethical judgment by holding out the possibility that the protagonist might somehow get better, or even reform, a goal that always recedes the closer he gets to it. Redemption is a limit case that must be approached, but never reached.10
Before we go any further, a brief outline of the series’ concluding arc is in order. Lupeski, still chafing at the loss of his status as unquestioned leader of the Satanists, is plotting against Dracula. He casts a spell on the noble earthbound alien Silver Surfer, prompting him to try to kill Dracula. Once again, it is Domini who intercedes and stops the violence. The Surfer is indignant: “But you are a good woman.. Don’t you know what he is?” Domini, with a reflection of the Christ painting visible in her eye, responds, “I know, and I know what he is doing. And I know what will happen in the end./ You need not punish him for what he is. Believe me.” The Surfer looks at the Christ painting, agrees that this is the “more fitting solution,” and flies off, leaving Dracula puzzled.
Later Lupeski tries to get Domini to take his side in the coming conflict with Dracula, but she refuses. Soon Dracula is pursued by a mysterious golden “demon” who has troubled him in the past. Dracula kills him, only to see the creature’s spirit rise and fly in to the satanic church, where the Christ painting now has eyes glowing exactly the same way his golden enemy’s did.
Domini goes into labor on Christmas Eve, and insists on being moved to the Dark Church to give birth. Meanwhile, Lupeski has been plotting with Rachel and co., arranging for them to kill Dracula the next day. But when Rachel and Dracula are in a standoff, Domini announces that the baby has been born, and insists that no one come to harm this night. The baby has the gold skin and red eyes of Dracula’s long-time antagonist.
The baby’s name, Janus, is announced at a ceremony that serves as another low-key power struggle between Dracula and Lupeski. Soon Lupeski plots with Rachel’s group again, and they attack Dracula’s with Lupeski’s open cooperation. Lupeski shoots at Dracula, but accidentally kills Janus. Dracula slowly crushes Lupeski’s skull. Yet again, Domini intervenes, preventing Dracula from killing his enemies. She then admits that she is following “Him” (the figure in the Christ painting, and calls upon Dracula to join her. Naturally, he refuses.
Dracula spends an entire issue in a psychotic rage over his son’s death, while Domini prepares for Janus’s resurrection. Janus lives again, but now takes the adult form of the golden-skinned “demon” and declares his intention to kill his father.
Their struggle eventually leads them to a strange haunted house, whereupon they are cast into hell at the behest of Satan himself, who is furious with Dracula for usurping his name. When Dracula finally leaves hell, he is horrified to discover that he is now human. After a series of humiliations, Satan turns him back into a vampire. But now he is no longer lord of the undead, and engages his replacement in a fight to the death. He wins, but wonders what point there is in being “lord over filthy woe-begotten trash!” Suddenly, he is confronted by Harker, who finally succeeds in killing Dracula.
It would be wrong to assert that a quick summary of the last two years of Tomb of Dracula does the series injustice. If the accumulation of plot sounds frantic and absurd, this is for good reason. But what is obscured in such a summary is the emotional resonance of the comic’s twists and turns. In the brief interval between Janus’s birth (Issue 54) and his death (Issue 59), Dracula experience a state of calm vulnerability that previously would have been unthinkable. And, indeed, it’s all but undepictable; of the four issues bookended by his son’s birth and death, one (56) is comic fanfiction (the terrible vampire novel penned by Wolfman’s least inspired addition to the cast, the nebbishy writer Harold H. Harold), another (58) is a standalone Blade story from which Dracula is absent, while a third (57), save for the inclusion of some subplots, is a stand-alone Dracula tale that could have been placed virtually anywhere in the series 70-issue run.
So the entire emotional weight of the changes in Dracula’s life is conveyed in Issue 55 (“Requiem for a Vampire”), an issue whose complete lack of violent action was surely responsible for its bland and generic cover.11 Dracula and Domini are discussing Janus’s strange coloring, only to be interrupted by Lupeski. After only a few minutes of conversation with him, Dracula reverts to melodramatic type. Carried away by his fantasy of controlling the world through religion, he shouts, “I shall become an emperor! / With the power to dispose of any dissidents with a mere nod. With the power to destroy any who dare interfere with my plans. /My demand is absolute domination. I will settle for nothing less!” Dracula is not wrong to focus on conflict, as, just a few pages later, he thwarts Lupeski’s attempt to have the church center its devotion on Janus rather than the baby’s father.
Dracula’s declaration is something of a thesis statement for the rest of the series. Or perhaps its research question: does Dracula truly want absolute domination? And if he gets it, will he be satisfied? Thanks to his self-confidence and his propensity for monologue, Dracula gives the impression that he knows himself well. But given time to elaborate, he tends to start a process of introspection that is usually cut short.
After Dracula fends off Lupeski’s indirect challenge to his leadership, he and Domini have a serious conversation that lasts six pages (an eternity by superhero comics standards). He wanted a son, and now he has one. But all he can think about are his previous offspring, all of whom disappointed him: “I come from a large family, one with many brothers. Their children worshiped them—/—while mine have ever sought to destroy me.” In one of Dracula’s few truly reciprocal conversations that does not end in his interlocutor’s death, Domini points out how different their experiences are:
But I think you’ve never truly understood me, or how I lived my life unloved, alone. […]
Your life has been one lived through strength—mine has been a life of weakness.
Leaving the convent for Lupeski’s church proved to be an exchange of one set of humiliations for another: “Do you know what it means when you believe you are less than the dirt you walk on?” She agreed to be the bride of Satan in order to “return some shred of dignity to me./ I would be someone again, Dracula, I desperately wanted that.” When she realized Dracula was not the devil, it didn’t matter:
You were a man, you had power blazing in your deep-set eyes, and I knew there was something special about you.
And I was in love, even though I later learned what you actually were. You see, for some reason, that didn’t matter to me. I loved you and only that was important.
And I know that in the beginning I didn’t matter at all to you. I was only a means to your end, but you see, you meant the same to me in my indefinable way.
You were able to make me into something more that special.
And maybe that made me love you even more.
And I think, perhaps, my love for you made you care for me.
I’m your wife. I’ve had your child/ I know what you were, what you are, what you will always be.
I-I know what will soon happen to us. I know what will happen to young Janus.
There will be pain, and there will be tears. There will even be fire between us all.
But Dracula, I love you…I love you with all my heart and soul.
On the surface, their conversation is a mutual confession of the hopes and fears that have guided their lives. But it is also not a dialogue; instead, it is one monologue (Dracula’s) followed by an even longer one (Domini’s). First Dracula reveals his vulnerability, and then Domini discusses her own. The difference, though, is that Domini wears her weakness on her sleeve, while Dracula must always project strength. Domini’s story starts out as one of passivity, but by the end, it is the tale of how her submission to Dracula led to her conquest of his heart. By now, not only has Wolfman succeeded in conveying why someone like Domini would love Dracula, he has also show why Dracula would love her. His love, however, is an implicit refutation of his earlier thesis: total domination is not what is actually making him happy. A lesson he learns from a woman whose very name reminds us of “domination."
When the issue ends, Dracula pushes aside all the questions that hound him, performing the vampire equivalent of counting his blessings:
For, I know my wife loves me, and I know I have a child who will make me proud.
And, for perhaps the first time in five long centuries—
—perhaps I have finally found that ever-elusive thing men call peace!
Note that nowhere on this list of things that have afforded him this rare sense of contentment is “absolute domination.” Once again, Dracula has come perilously close to true self-knowledge, but he fails to make the connection between his domestic contentment and forgetting, however briefly, his plans for conquest.
Of course, that equanimity vanishes with Janus’s death in issue 59. It is also the moment when the difference between Dracula and Domini, construed as positive just four months ago, become irreconcilable. Cradling Janus’s corpse, she turns not to Dracula, but to the Christ painting, in a monologue ending with the words “Why must vengeance be yours?”12 To which Dracula retorts: “Bah! Vengeance is mine! Mine, Domini! Mine!” Now Domini is in open rebellion, commanding Harker’s band to leave and forbidding her husband to harm them. Domini explains that she is acting not on her own authority, but that of the Christ painting. “Him? “ Dracula shouts. “Do you dare tell me you listen to him?”
Domini assures him of her love, and implores him to join her: “Please, come here. Embrace me, and accept his words. He will show you the way.” Dracula is appalled:
After all the time…you simply do not understand me.
You can’t understand what I’ve become, and why I can’t do what you ask me to do!
Lord help me…I can’t
Still in love with her husband, Domini is also the Dracula fan whose morals would ruin the comic if she had her way. Of course Dracula cannot join her. But his last words are inadvertently ambiguous. Since when does a vampire say “Lord help me”?
The Vampire Acts Out
The next issue (60) is almost entirely devoted to Dracula’s grief. But he is the title character of a four-color comic; no one would expect readers to shell out their hard-earned 30 cents for 18 pages of a vampire crying softly in the corner. Fortunately, both Marvel Comics and Dracula himself have a set of habits that will save the day. As we have already seen, the Spider-Man comics of the 1960s were master classes in the transformation of internal psychic conflict into more visually-appealing physical violence. Dracula, who almost (but not quite) met Peter Parker in an issue of Giant-Size Marvel Team-Up, is one of the few Marvel characters who can out monologue Spider-Man.
We have already seen several instances where Dracula’s introspection leads him to retell stories from his past aloud, as well as numerous occasions when he discusses his plans and feelings aloud to no audience in particular. Long before thought balloons fell out of fashion, Wolfman banished them from Tomb of Dracula in favor of narrative captions, epistolary frameworks, and, of course, the spoken monologue. In Issue 60, Dracula is rarely silent, but his words are accompanied by physical violence when he destroys parts of the dark church. As a vampire, though, he has an outlet that simple mortals do not. He can call down the storm as a physical manifestation of his feelings. When he does so, it is a reminder of Dracula’s narrative function, indeed, his superpower: he serves to transform inner feelings into outward word and actions, extending even to his environment. Dracula is a walking, blood-sucking pathetic fallacy.
The following issue sees Domini resurrect Janus, over Dracula’s protests. But it begins with an unlikely splash-page: Dracula, assuming a contemplate pose while sitting under tree, wondering aloud: “Should I return to Domini? Haven’t I caused her enough grief?/ What should I do—? What should I do?” Just a few years before, this would have been unimaginable, but now it is entirely consistent with the ongoing story of Dracula’s undead life.
When Dracula realizes that Domini intends to resurrect Janus, he arrives too lat to stop her. Janus is reborn in adult form, as the golden-skinned “demon” who tormented the vampire over the centuries. Of course, Janus is no demon—he is actually an angel, on a mission from God to stop Dracula. As with Domini’s pregnancy, the fight between Dracula and Janus turns out not to lend itself well to ongoing comics drama. There is really no reason Janus couldn’t simply turn Dracula into ash at any given moment. So when the conflict is first represented in issue 62, it is largely through the eyes of Domini, tormented that her husband and son must be locked in battle. In a truly odd storytelling choice, Domini ruminates over her own relationship with her father and the struggle between Janus and Dracula, but not while simply sitting alone in thought (like Sheila years earlier), or while watching an actual battle, but instead depicting their fight as a symbolic struggle. In a full-page spread with no panel borders, Domini looks on as Janus and Dracula sit opposite each other in fancy chairs, their hands in front of them in a pose that looks like something between a (sitting) boxing stance and two men airing out their nails after a manicure. Throughout their entire fight, they never leave their seats.
As an insight into Domini’s state of mind, this is an intriguing page, but as drama, it’s a non-starter. Instead, Wolfman hijacks the Dracula/Janus conflict in service of another plot (which will last two more issues), after which father and son meet face-to-face only one more time. This makes sense: Dracula has been so worried that his son will grow up to oppose him, and has monologued on the topic so many times, that the emotional power of the conflict has already been spent before Janus has even been resurrected.
Instead, Dracula once again finds himself hijacked by the haunted gothic house genre, only this time Janus, Frank Drake, and a psychic named Topaz are drawn into it as well. The house turns out to be yet another narrative feint, as all of these characters have actually been lured into Hell by Satan himself. Satan, it turns out, is not at all pleased at Dracula’s identity theft. We know it really is Satan, because who else could spend so many pages engaged in melodramatic monologue while Dracula barely gets a word in edgewise? By the end of Issue 64, Satan has inflicted an unthinkable punishment on Dracula: the vampire has now become human.
This Vampire…This Man!
Dracula is trapped in human form during issues 65 through 68, a period whose cover dates run from July 1978 through February 1979.13] This is a long time to follow the trials and tribulations of a defanged vampire. But it is not without precedent. From the moment Lee & Kirby introduced monstrous protagonists in the form of The Thing and The Hulk, short-term cures stripping them of their superhuman powers became a perennial trope. When Marvel launched its horror line (of which Tomb of Dracula was by this point the lone survivor), nearly all these new characters were cursed by magic or science, and desperate for a remedy.14] Usually, such stories were blunt reminders of the positive side of the character’s curse (the ability to do good for others). But Dracula never wanted to be human.
This story sequence had one more recent, and more relevant, precedent. In December 1977, just five months before Satan stripped Dracula of his vampiric abilities, Howard the Duck 19 featured a story in which Howard was stuck in human form against his will. Though Howard was no villain, he was definitely misanthropic, so find himself in the guise of a “hairless ape” left him untethered. Howard and Dracula both end up wandering the streets, encountering some of humanities less inspiring exemplars (Dracula meets a drug addict, while Howard gets a guided tour from a mentally ill homeless man). And both these storylines were drawn by Gene Colan. All of this is a far cry from the Silver Surfer discovering the nobility of blind sculptress Alicia Masters; instead, both Howard and Tomb of Dracula paint a bleak picture of the human condition.
By Issue 66, Dracula, now in Greenwich Village searching for his daughter Lilith (who he hopes will bit him and turn him back into a vampire), resorts to mugging a couple for money. Naturally, Dracula’s reaction to his humiliation is to monologue, but without the pride he usually expressed as a vampire:
Damn! What am I doing? I this what I’ve been reduced to?
I’m nothing more than a common thief!
What? Now I feel doubt? What is happening to me?
I’ve always taken what I need
This isn’t any exception!
Damn it! What have you done to me, Satan?
Why do you make me doubt my actions? Why do you make me worry whether I’ve done right or wrong? I’ve always followed my own rules for—eh?
Yes, to add further to his humiliation, Dracula’s monologue is interrupted. Usually, he somehow manages to hold forth in front of other people as though he were on stage; now, as a human, he can no longer expect the people around him to wait until he is through.
Dracula endures further random adventures and humiliations, with the highlight being his first hamburger (“The meat is too well done. / Where is the blood? Lord, how do these humans exist?”) When he is shot, he discovers that he can’t bear the physical pain to which mortals are subject. And, for once, words fail him:
Dracula tries desperately to say something to this human who has helped him, but the words choke in his throat…
Instead, he merely smiles, before he falls unconscious to the roof.
Later he reaches Lilith, who refuses to help him; she would much rather see him suffer. Janus finds him, and for no apparent reason teleports his father and Harker’s entire crew to Castle Dracula in Transylvania. There Dracula fights his enemies, who are now finally in a position to kill him, and also discovers that the vampires who formerly served him hold him in contempt. On his knees before Harker’s wheelchair, Dracula admits defeat:
I was a great man…a greater vampire, too!
I…I..damn it, man—Look at me!
Lord, this isn’t the way a Dracula should die!
Once…once I thought I’d perish in battle!
Not by a crippled old fool.
God! I don’t want to die this way!
I won’t die this way!
When Dracula even renounces Satan (“That stinking, fetid mockery”), he discovers that the last few minutes have all been an illusion cast by Satan himself. Dracula has called on God, and God will not help him. In renouncing Satan, he has no place in the world. Satan departs, having restored Dracula to his status as a vampire. But the damage is done:
Satan was right—and Dracula foolishly renounced everything he had ever believed.
Like a human in stark terror at the sight of the vampire lord, Dracula had seen his evil, and fell in battle.
But Dracula has not truly fallen. His humiliations are not over; like him, they have simply changed their form. In Dracula’s case, one of the most common clichés proves to be true: he is his own worst enemy. The last two years of Tomb of Dracula do what Marvel Comics had done well for almost two decades, allegorizing an internal conflict by making it external. Again and again, we have been told that Dracula is not just a monster, but “a man,” a term that, in this supernatural context, conveys humanity or individuality as well as gender. The more he awakens to his own suppressed humanity, the more torn he becomes. Being human was not about Dracula’s acceptance of his humanity, but about his discomfort with it. Trapped in human form, Dracula faced antagonists who were human (with the exception of Lilith, whom he himself sought out). Now that he is a vampire again, it is the vampires that will not give him peace.
For the first three pages of Issue 69, Dracula is relentlessly pursued by a swam of the undead in bat form, eventually given refuge by three small children who had been left alone in their farmhouse while their widowed mother takes their gravely ill sister to the doctor’s. She had instructed them to let no one in, but they are unable to stand by as the man banging on their door is torn to pieces by vampire bats. They invite him in, but their crucifix keeps Dracula from feeding. Not receiving an invitation to enter the vampires are on the verge of destroying the children's house, and Dracula finds himself protecting them:
“Use your crucifixes! Save yourself! Believe in your God—He is your only salvation now!”
To save the children, Dracula does the unthinkable: he grabs a crucifix, and, even as it burns his hands, he uses it to push through the horde of vampires and lure them away. In the next and final issue, he is even flying with it in mist form, and even forgets that he is holding it for several pages. At the end of a duel with the vampire who replaced him as lord, Dracula kills the usurper and reclaims his title. He is, however, no closer to contentment.
For most of the series, Wolfman and Colan have managed to keep Draculs as an appealing protagonists without denying his evil, and yet they have also tried to make him develop and grow. This final storyline turns the dilemma they face as storytellers into a series of ultimately unresolvable challenges for Dracula himself. Tomb of Dracula is not metafiction, but by the end, it does become an efficient mechanism for transforming the very contradictions inherent in the comic’s premise into the substance of the protagonist’s inner life.
The Afterlife of Tomb of Dracula
No sooner was the original series canceled than Marvel transformed it into a black-and-white magazine for “mature readers.” Wolfman continued for a few issues, Colan for even fewer, but the magazine’s focus on single-issue, one-off stories did not lend itself to the sort of character development that was the hallmark of the color comic.
Tomb of Dracula began its unlife as an easy exploitation of a character in the public domain. After Wolfman and Colan, that is exactly what Marvel’s Dracula became again. In the four decades since Harker slayed his archenemy, Dracula’s portrayal has varied a bit, but the one constant is his lack of ongoing character development. No one at Marvel who has used the character after Tomb of Dracula has had to grapple with the dilemma that proved so productive for Wolfman, since there has been no chance for Dracula to serve as the object of readerly sympathy or identification. Consigned to the category of occasional antagonist, Dracula has no need of an inner life. Previously, he had been a challenge to the reader: do you like what you see when you look at me? And should you? Now he has taken on the role that the mirror normally plays in vampire lore: if we look directly at him, nothing is reflected back.
Unfortunately, they are followed by Frank Drake's melodramatic resolution to track down Dracula and kill him. ↩
Later Quincy’s wife will be referred to as Elizabeth. ↩
Blade, of course, went on to be the star of three successful feature films, plus a television series. Frank Drake, Quincy Harker, and Rachel Van Helsing did not. ↩
It doesn’t go well for them, although this it the work of late writers. After a passing reference to her failed romance, Chris Claremont has Rachel turned into a vampire by Dracula in Uncanny X-Men Annual 6, while Frank Drake briefly becomes the least useful member of a vampire-hunting team in the 1990s↩
Wolfman, notorious among comics professionals for his poor spelling, alternately gives her name as “Shiela” and “Sheila.” Since “Sheila” is the standard, that is what I am going with.↩
At the time, Wolfman said that he planned to do a diary every fifteen issues: “The diaries come along only after southing major has happened to Dracula that forces him to sit down and consider things, m to pause his plans, whatever they are” (“Department of InFOOMation,” FOOM 8 (1974), n.p. )↩
Meanwhile, in a moment that typifies Wolfman’s ongoing contrasts between Dracula and his pursuers, the same issues show Frank and Rachel talking about their relationship in a park. Frank forces a kiss on her, and she gives him the brush-off. Apparently, charisma does not necessarily get passed down through the generations.↩
At the time, Marvel was still publishing its own adventure’s of the monster of Frankenstein; the version here is drawn with a general resemblance to the Marvel character, but distinct enough to suggest that this is no simple crossover. ↩
As it so happens, the character has changed significantly, especially in his visual depiction. But this is a function of “the times” rather than time; his look was updated presumably to make him seem less old-fashioned. In story, there is no acknowledgment that any changes has been effected at all.↩
While I’m in the business of making patently ridiculous comparisons, the deferral of redemption replicates the dynamic established by Dostoevsky in Crime and Punishment: the would-be superman Raskolnikov is compelling precisely because of his morally bankrupt theorizing. Dostoevsky the moralist must have Raskolnikov turn to Christ for redemption, but Dostoevsky the novelist knows that this is a moment that cannot be part of the story he has been telling for hundreds of pages. The epilogues end with Raskolnikov about to open the Bible, but not with him reading it and becoming a Christian. ↩
On the cover, Dracula stands outside the dark couch, the moon behind him somehow showing the image of a skull. He stares straight ahead, pointing his right index finger, and says “Gaze into the eyes of Dracula, human fool—/and see your death!” Thankfully, no such scene appears in the comic. ↩
Here and elsewhere in Tomb of Dracula, Wolfman’s command of Christian theology appears shaky. The original source for the vengeance quote is Deuteronomy 32:35, though it is repeated in a different context in Romans 12:19. Christ is not typically associated with revenge. ↩
By this point, Tomb of Dracula was on a bimonthly schedule. ↩
Jack Russell spent years looking for a cure for they lycanthropy that turned him into the Werewolf by NIght. Johnny Blaze was miserable under the curse that turned him into the Ghost Rider, as was Daimon Hellstrom, burdened with his heritage as the Son of Satan. The mindless Man-Thing couldn’t actually desire a cure, but that did not stop others from wanting a cure on his behalf. ↩