Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Dracula Month Day 31: Unearthed: Fright #1!

Happy Halloween!

Welcome to the end of Dracula Month and another installment of my occasional series Unearthed wherein I delve into forgotten comic books of the past. Once again I'm going back into the archives of the 1970s Atlas comics; before I begin, here's what I've previously featured:
The Destructor #1
The Destructor #2
The Destructor #3
The Destructor #4
The Hands of the Dragon #1
Morlock 2001 and the Midnight Men #3
Tigerman #1
Tigerman #2
Tigerman #3

Today it is Atlas' one-and-only Dracula comic, natch. Said comic book is Fright #1 with the feature 'Son of Dracula'! This was the only issue of Fright, printed in June, 1975. By the time it came out Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula was well underway and had proven there was an audience for a monthly dose of the ol' count. Let's get started!

The cover depicts Dracula's image looming over that of his son while said son is trying to neck with a lady. "Spwaned in Hell to stalk the night! The strangest vampire of all!" Note the chalk-white skin on the son, which is also how Marvel initially coloured Dracula in their comics before granting him fleshy tones. The story is entitled "And Unto Dracula Was Born a Son" by writer Gary Friedrich and artist Frank Thorne. Friedrich is no stranger to Atlas or this feature, having also written Morlock 2001 and the Midnight Men. Frank Thorne remains best-known for his lovely renderings of Red Sonja. This is another Atlas book with a perfectly fine creative team; again, this publisher had all the resources they needed to succeed.

We open in rural Transylvania as some villagers who look like they came straight from Universal casting are trying to burn a supposed witch to death upon a brier. Dracula sees and judges them "Fools! Such a waste of young beauty -- of fresh blood!" Dracula swoops in and easily frightens the villagers then carries the woman back to his castle in the form of an immense bat. Some spectacular horror art from Thorne ensues as his giant bat is rendered as something perfectly monstrous.

As Dracula examines the woman he discovers a mark upon her breast which he identifies as "the mark of my family." He determines the woman is his only living relative and decides to spare her life (the mark is not depicted on-panel). When she awakens Dracula greets her as his cousin, identifying her as his fourth cousin. However, the woman knows what Dracula is and is afraid of him. Dracula offers to transform her into a vampire but she offers him something better: "A son, cousin!" Yes, inbreeding is popular amongst hillbilles, royalty and vampires. The woman's only condition is that Dracula not transform her into a vampire, then he can have their son to raise as his heir. The duo are seen "hours later" in what is supposed to be a post-lovemaking session (but although this is Thorne it's tasteful).

Nine months later the woman shows off her newborn son to Dracula but informs him: "As soon as I'm able, you'll not see him again! He must never become one of your kind!" That wasn't part of the bargain she made which makes one wonder why she made the proposal to begin with - sure, it saved her life in the short-term, but why didn't she escape during those nine months when she knew what would happen at the end? Anyway, threatening a vampire never goes well and when she claims she'll smother the child if Dracula draws too close he determines "You are of no further use to me!" and lunges in to drink her blood to transform her into a vampire. However, although she's weakened from the assault she slips out of the castle with her baby the next morning and rides to the sea, entrusting her child to someone else for safekeeping. She places a charm around her son's neck and claims if anything happens to the charm, "the boy might die!"

Dracula catches up to the woman at the docks, noting that in one more night she'll be a vampire like him and he wants their son to join them (this is some odd vampire lore - usually vampire victims are dead while transforming into vampires whereas here they can apparently remain alive and human during the interval). The woman refuses to become a vampire and throws herself upon a sharp piece of wood, dying. Dracula vows to find his son.

Seven years later in Appalachia... because again, hillbillies, royalty and vampires have much in common... we see the woman who was charged with protecting Dracula's son (now called 'Derek') has kept the charm around Derek's neck and has him sleep with a cross in his arms each night. As Derek wonders why he must do these strange things, Dracula bursts in to explain. The adopted mother drives Dracula off with a cross but Dracula vows to return and claim Derek. Or rather 'Adam' because the adopted mother suddenly begun calling him that. Anyway, she seals Adam up inside a wine cellar then blows up the entrance with gunpowder so that Dracula won't be able to find him... so instead he'll suffocate inside the buried wine cellar? And how is it helping Adam to deprive him of his only caregiver and sole person who understood his condition as the son of Dracula? Pay no attention to those questions because once the explosion clears we jump ahead to Adam's adulthood.

It's now 1975 (present-day) and Adam Lucard (because the Dracula family has that terrible knack for choosing obvious aliases) is a teacher at Columbia University, New York City. Adam lectures his students abothe the occult and shows off his charm to the class as an example of supernatural belief. Adam's student Debbie Porter is quite hot for teacher and reveals she's a practising witch, but Adam is brooding for that evening he must seal himself up in his home with his cross to abate his thrist for human blood. Hold up, what? It seems even though Dracula didn't convert Adam into vampirism he has basically inherited it and must be eternally vigilant against it. A flashback reveals Adam only recently learned all of this when his 2nd adopted mother was on her deathbed and gave him a book which the 1st adopted mother had left with him, containing details of the occult powers of vampires.

While Adam is trying to sleep Debbie breaks into his apartment because she doesn't understand 'personal space.' Debbie sees Adam asleep with the cross on his chest and decides to awaken him with a kiss - but first removes the cross. The joke's on her as he awakens to kiss her - as a vampire! Yes, despite all the long decades of work done by Adam's mother, adopted mother and 2nd adopted mother it's all for naught - he's become a vampire and he bites Debbie in the neck for her blood. In his vampire form Adam doesn't even recognize Debbie.

Adam leaves his apartment to go hunting for more blood. It turns out Debbie brought a friend with her who was waiting down in the street and he attacks her as well. Adam returns to his apartment and falls asleep. He awakens in the morning as a human but at the sight of Debbie's body Adam realizes he must have lost control and claimed other people's lives. Adam drives a stake into Debbie's heart to prevent her becoming a vampire then ponders whether he should destroy himself to keep him from killing again. And on this somber note, the book ends.

Thoughts: This premise suggests not only that Atlas was looking to Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula but also to their hero Morbius, the Living Vampire, a similarly human who transformed into a vampire. It also reminds one of heroes who transformed into monsters at night such as Werewolf by Night and Gary Friedrich's own Ghost Rider.

There are glitches in the story - as noted, there is confusion about the Son of Dracula's name as it appears he was supposed to be 'Derek' with the 1st adopted mother and 'Adam' with the 2nd, but through a slip-up he was called 'Adam' before the 1st adopted mother's death. Frankly, I'm not sure why the entire scene of the 1st mother killing herself and burying Adam alive is even in the story - it necessitates the creation of a 2nd adopted mother who then dies herself in flashback and I have no idea how burying Adam alive was supposed to deter Dracula.

Still, as noted, this could have worked out in the same way other reluctant monsters such as Morbius, Ghost Rider and the Werewolf. This is a decent Atlas comic with great Frank Thorne artwork.

(Scans in this post from The Horrors of It All blog)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Dracula Month Day 30: Adventures into the Unknown #29

I'm nearing the end of Dracula Month so let's have a little fun; turning to comic book publisher ACQ I'm going to examine Adventures into the Unknown #29 (1952) and the story "Invasion of the Ghost-Monsters" by artist Ken Bald (writer unknown).

In this tale the wealthy eccentric Silas Inwood has died and in his will charged his nephew Barry with writing his biography. Barry and his fiancee Fay follow the instructions and after adding a copy of Silas' biography to Silas' library they have to perform an incantation to complete the will's conditions. The spell causes Silas' ghost to appear, his spirit having lived on through the pages of his biography. Silas intends to conquer the world with an army of ghosts conjured from his library, including the likes of Captain Kidd, Jack the Ripper and Dracula. Dracula is given the job of guarding Barry & Fay while the other ghosts rampage through the city. Barry defeats Dracula by forming a cross to drive him away, then he conjures up literary heroes such as Paul Bunyan and Robin Hood to defeat the evil ghost monsters and Silas' wife Martha emerges from the biography to force Silas back into his rest.

This is an utterly ridiculous story. This is a story where a ghost delivers a ransom demand to the mayor over a telephone. It's the kind of glorious stupidity which gave comic books their reputation as trash. But how does Dracula fare? Although he makes a poor showing against Barry, he receives more attention than any of the other ghosts. That 'Dracula' name gets you respect, my friends.

The concept of literary characters having life because of people's belief in them would later be mined for a good seven years in comic book form via Mike Carey & Peter Gross' The Unwritten. You can read "Invasion of the Ghost-Monsters" for yourself at the Digital Comic Museum.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Dracula Month Day 29: Count Dracula

As I think has come clear in many of my musings on Dracula, I'm a man who values fidelity to source material. Unfortunately, Stoker's original novel has only seldom received film adaptations which were in anyway faithful to the novel, this in despite of the dozens of pictures which have been made. My pick for the most authentic adaptation is the 1977 BBC TV mini-series Count Dracula, directed by Philip Saville and featuring Louis Jourdan as the titular count.

Now, I should be up front, this is not a truly faithful adaptation. As per usual, the most obvious telltale sign is the presence of Quincey Morris; this time, he almost made it, instead merged with Arthur Holmwood into one character. It's appropriate as Holmwood is the second-most frequently omitted character.

The little bits and pieces from the novel which don't normally turn up in film adaptations - such as Van Helsing pressing a communion wafer into Mina's forehead - caught my eye. This may not be the best adaptation of Dracula production-wise, but it is quite faithful and that goes a long way towards satisfying me.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Dracula Month Day 28: Quiet, Please - "My Son, John."

Many of the legends and lores surrounding vampires were only ever codified by A) Bram Stoker's Dracula novel and B) Hollywood adaptations of said novel. As such, it's always interesting to me to look at horror tales from the 1940s or earlier, before it was decided that Bram Stoker & Bela Lugosi were the be-all end-all of vampires. For instance, check out the 1948 episode of the radio program Quiet, Please entitled "My Son, John".

This is the tale of a father who wants so desperately to be reunited with his lost son that he turns to black magic to restore his son to life. However, the father believed his son died in battle as a war hero; upon his revival, the son reveals he was a deserter and that while in Europe he met a certain gent named Dracula; now that he's been brought home to the USA, John is free to spread vampirism stateside.

Where this tale may strike some fans as odd is that the vampires have the power to turn into just about anything - not only a bat or a wolf but a cat, a dog, a gorilla... it may not sound quite right, but hey, there's no such thing as vampires; you can change the rules on a whim.

You can listen to this episode on the excellent Quiet, Please fan website.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Dracula Month Day 27: The House of Hammer #6

It's a little strange how in the dying days of the Hammer films studio they seemed to be expanding, rather than dying - what with the short-lived 1980 TV show Hammer House of Horror and the late 70s authorized magazine The House of Hammer from legendary UK comics editor Dez Skinn. The House of Hammer offered a number of black & white comic book stories in their pages, some of them original tales, others truncated adaptations of popular Hammer film titles. Many of the adaptations were drawn by John Bolton and that's the case with my subject today, Dracula: Prince of Darkness from The House of Hammer #6 (1977), based on the 1966 horror film and adapted by Bolton with writer Donne Avenell.

John Bolton is certainly an artist in the tradition of photorealism, but I find his adaptation of Dracula: Prince of Darkness to be a little too stiff. Still, there are beautiful shadows throughout this story and Dracula's eventual destruction as he falls into a frozen lake looks beautiful with Bolton's black & white storytelling. Several other Hammer Dracula pictures were adapted into these magazines and they're not terribly well-known; check 'em out if you can.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dracula Month Day 26: Journey into Unknown Worlds #29

I didn't want to let Dracula Month slip by without getting into another side of Marvel Comics' depictions of Dracula - their usage of him in their 1950s Atlas comics. He made various appearances of a limited sort across their titles and perhaps the best-known is "Of Royal Blood" a story which appeared in Journey into Unknown Worlds #29 (1954) shortly before the Comics Code Authority tore the medium apart.

"Of Royal Blood" reappeared in 1974 when Marvel printed it in the black & white magazine Dracula Lives. Throughout the history of their black & white horror magazines there were many Atlas horror tales placed back into print, but "Of Royal Blood" is one of the few to actually tie into the magazine's stated theme (ie, Dracula). The story was drawn by Tony Mortellaro (writer unknown) and features a man named Kroner who is determined to find a suitable husband for his daughter Maria. However, Maria is quite picky and when she rejects the suitors each time the father kills them. Kroner despairs of ever finding a husband for Maria who meets her demand "of royal blood," until he finds a very willing nobleman by the name of... Dracula.

"Of Royal Blood" is an effective four-pager with a simple twist upon which the entire story is constructed. The use of Dracula simply brings a little more attention to this work than what it would have otherwise obtained.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Dracula Month Day 25: Uncanny X-Men #159

I think my first encounter with the character of Dracula may have been Uncanny X-Men #159 (1982) and the story "Night Screams!" by writer Chris Claremont and artists Bill Sienkiewicz & Bob Wiacek. It came to me in the same batch of comic books which included Uncanny X-Men #161, which you may recall I blogged about how it frightened me as a child. Well, "Night Screams" certainly did as well. The story pits Dracula against the X-Men and includes scenes of him attempting to convert Storm into one of his brides (because it's a Chris Claremont comic - of course there's a theme of attempted corruption and of course the intended victim is Storm).

At the time of this story's publication Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan's Tomb of Dracula had wrapped up - indeed, both men had left Marvel for greener pastures at DC Comics. This appearance of Dracula was one of several he made around that period in various Marvel super hero titles (ie, Thor), but like virtually all of Marvel 1970s horror leads he would soon be put to rest (until the horror characters returned in the 1990s). Claremont had dabbled a little in the black & white Dracula Lives magazine earlier in his career so he had some legitimacy in picking up the character, but Dracula can't help but suffer when pit against a Marvel super hero. Claremont demonstrated some interesting ideas in this issue with regards to the cast members' faith (notably, Wolverine's atheism, Nightcrawler's Catholicism & Kitty Pryde's Judaism) but scenes of Dracula turning into a man-bat feel tonally wrong for the character Wolfman & Colan portrayed.

As the story was drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz, you'd think it's pretty chilling material, right? Um, think again. This is still early in Sienkiewicz's career back in his Neal Adams phase and the rough edges of his art were considerably softened by Wiacek's inks. Claremont & Sienkiewicz would later prove they could combine super heroes and horror effectively in New Mutants, but this story lacks a little in atmosphere. As a tiny tot scenes of Dracula looming over Storm's throat were almost too much for me to bear; as a grown man it's simply 'all right.'

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dracula Month Day 24: Marvel Classics Comics #9

In 1973 Pendulum Press began adapting famous works of literature into slim volumes which retold their stories in comic book format for an intended younger audience, much like Classics Illustrated. These works were produced primarily by Filipino art teams and unknowns and they've been reprinted by other publishers many times over the years. Strangely, one such place is at Marvel Comics where they reprinted many of the Pendulum books in their series Marvel Classics Comics. So it was that in 1976, Marvel Classics Comics #9 reprinted the Pendulum adaptation of Dracula.

The cover above was the only new addition to the Pendulum copy. The art is by Gil Kane & Tom Palmer and depicts a Dracula who is fairly recognizable as being the same person appearing in their Tomb of Dracula comics and Dracula Lives magazines. Within, however, Dracula was depicted with a full beard and a thin face. The adaptation was written by Naunerie Farr and drawn by the Philippines' Nestor Redondo, who would later work directly for Marvel in their Conan books.

This is the second-best adaptation of Dracula which Marvel has published. Yesterday's Stoker's Dracula had much more space to delve into the details of the novel, where as the Marvel Classics version runs at a lean 48 pages. The typewritten lettering gives the book a cheap, amateurish feel, but while the story races by quickly virtually all the details are kept intact - except for poor Quincey Morris, who is omitted from this adaptation. Considering Quincey makes such a great heroic sacrifice in the climax of the novel, isn't a shame how seldom he appears in the adapted versions of that work?

Monday, October 23, 2017

Dracula Month Day 23: Stoker's Dracula #1-4

While Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan busied themselves with the full-colour Tomb of Dracula series for Marvel Comics, the wicked count also haunted the pages of the black & white magazine Dracula Lives in a variety of serials and one-offs set at various points in his history. Easily the best of the lot was the ongoing effort at adapting Bram Stoker's novel by the hands of writer Roy Thomas and artist Dick Giordano. Unfortunately the magazine ended before they could finish the adaptation (the last chapter they completed appeared in the magazine Legion of Monsters). It remained incomplete until 2004 when Marvel republished the chapters and finished the story in the four-issue limited series Stoker's Dracula.

I was working for Marvel Comics at the time this book came out and I was so pleased to see them wrapping this up, complete with Roy Thomas & Dick Giordano and printed in black & white so that the new pages would sit well with the previous. Giordano's style had changed somewhat in the 30 year interval but he was game and it's easily my favourite project of his latter days. Giordano passsed away within 5 years of this project's completion, proving Marvel got in just in time. Now the full story is available in trade paperback as Stoker's Dracula.

Of all the comic book adaptations of Stoker's novel, this is my favourite version. Some of that is down to the moody atmosphere in Giordano's black & white pages, particularly in the ink washes adding a sense of fogginess. This is a neat project and I'm so happy it was brought to completion.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Dracula Month Day 22: The Satanic Rites of Dracula

Christopher Lee's tenure as Dracula in the Hammer horror films officially came to an end in 1973's The Satanic Rites of Dracula. The film is set in contemporary times with Dracula operating mostly behind-the-scenes as the master of a Satanic cult and Peter Cushing as another member of the Van Helsing clan sworn to destroy the vampire.

Beyond the fashion and hairstyles there is something appealingly 70s about this film, what with the 1970s kitschy interest in the occult. However, much of this film is taken up with uninteresting police drama as the Secret Service cautiously and politely investigate the cult of killer vampires. The henchmen of the cult are motorcyclists which causes one to perk up - vampire bikers? - but they don't do much and it would take 1998's Blade to mine that territory. There's also a cellar full of chained-up vampire brides which is briefly thrilling.

Dracula's ultimate plan is to spread the bubonic plague. Dracula's first confrontation with Van Helsing - wherein Dracula is behind a desk, his face hidden in shadows - is the most effective in the film. The climax features Dracula being caught in a hawthorn bush, which I suppose the filmmakers employed because they wanted to exploit a different vampiric weakness than those previously employed, but Dracula has to seriously cooperate with Van Helsing in order to wind up in that predicament. It's not his finest hour, nor is this picture as a whole.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dracula Month Day 21: Horror of Dracula

There's no way I could let my Dracula Month theme slip by without delving into at least a couple of the Hammer horror films. Depending on who you talk to, people's definitive Dracula on film could be Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman or Hammer's Christopher Lee; Lee certainly played the role more times than anyone. The one which began it all was 1958's Horror of Dracula (the original UK title was simply Dracula).

This film is the most truncated film adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel that I have seen. Considerable departures were made from the novel so as to amp up the action and violence, while at the same time keeping the cast trimmed down (no Renfield, no Quincey Morris) and the locations kept relatively few. It's interesting that like the 1931 film, Jonathan Harker & Renfield are somewhat merged, only this time instead of Renfield going to Castle Dracula the change is that Harker becomes Dracula's servant.

The film is very breezy and easy to watch - not particulary faithful if that troubles you, but the action holds one's interest. Christopher Lee has virtually no dialogue in this film but he has a commanding presence, while Peter Cushing's Van Helsing was reimagined into an action hero, leading to a particularly show-stopping finale where Van Helsing pins Dracula back with a makeshift cross while waiting for the sunlight to destroy the vampire. This is my pick as best of the Hammer Dracula flicks.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Dracula Month Day 20: Planetary #13

For one bright and shining moment, Warren Ellis was the creator with his finger on the pulse of 21st century comic books; then his hard drive crashed and nothing was ever the same.

Throughout Ellis and artist John Cassaday's series Planetary they made interesting observations about the tropes and traditions of comic book series. Sometimes it was affectionate, sometimes it was acidic. In 2001's Planetary #13 and the story "Century", Ellis & Cassaday delivered a riff on Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, revealing Planetary's chief protagonist Elijah Snow had at one time encountered the likes of Frankenstein's Monster, Sherlock Holmes and Dracula.

I bring up the story "Century" because of all the appearances Dracula has made in comic book form this is probably the least respectful; Ellis & Cassaday didn't seem to find Dracula particularly menacing or tragic, but rather played out and tiresome. Thus, Dracula's encounter with Elijah Snow ends with the vampire being turned into ice then having his crotch kicked off. As Snow himself observes, Dracula truly did have that kind of humiliation coming to him.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dracula Month Day 19: Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre #6

I have blogged about Batton Lash's delightful Supernatural Law comic books many times before. To celebrate my Dracula Month theme I'm looking at one of his best uses of Dracula, found in Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre #6 (1995): "It Stalks the Public Domain." (It was also collected in the trade paperback Tales of Supernatural Law)

The story concerns a sideshow owner named Lampini who exhibits the skeleton of Dracula along with a Frankenstein Monster and a werewolf. Unfortunately he has competition from a certain Dr. Hammer, an English sideshow owner who also claims to have the remains of Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster and a werewolf; Dr. Hammer claims his House of Horrors is more authentic than Lampini so Lampini has only one option: revive his Dracula and prove who the one true vampire lord is. Thus, Wolff & Byrd are brought in on the case!

This is a very fun tale for fans of horror pictures with many visual gags involving the Universal films, Hammer films and even Blacula. It's a fun story, especially for those fans who like to argue about which version of popular film monsters is the definitive one.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dracula Month Day 18: Dracula: The Company of Monsters

Dracula: The Company of Monsters was a series published in 2010 by Dynamite Entertainment; 2010 was quite a year for Dracula comics! This series lasted for 12 issues and was based on a concept by Kurt Busiek with writer Daryl Gregory and artist Scott Godlewski bringing it to life. Busiek's name definitely helped attract attention to this series which might have been otherwise lost among the glut of other Dracula comics.

This series was set in contemporary times and featured a powerful business empire run by a family dynasty with an interest in the occult; they revive Dracula in the hopes of utilizing him as an asset, but Dracula isn't a man easily controlled. The series drew parallels between Dracula's royal pedigree and that of the contemporary business people. Easily the most interesting element of this series is that Bram Stoker's novel Dracula does not appear to be the series' primary text of reference, instead delving into the historical record of Vlad Dracul, intermixed with lore of Vlad's life and death from his native land. This gave Dracula: The Company of Monsters a different texture than many other Dracula comics.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dracula Month Day 17: Death Ship #1-4

My favourite portion of Bram Stoker's Dracula novel is the log of the captain of the Demeter, the doomed man who unwittingly transports Dracula's coffin (and boxes of Transylvanian soil) into England, during which Dracula picks off the Demeter's crew one by one, leaving the captain for last. The story is strong enough that it could stand on its own; ergo, we have the 2010 IDW mini-series Bram Stoker's Death Ship.

Death Ship was a four-issue limited series by writer Gary Gerani and artist Stuart Sayger. As in the account found in Stoker's novel, the crew are shown being killed one by one. However, throughout the series Dracula is obscured, usually half-glimpsed. Most of Dracula's attacks involve him tricking the crew with hallucinatory visions, something he wasn't capable of in the novel.

Four issues is more than enough room to tell the story of the Demeter from the crew's perspective but the crew are barely fleshed out, with only two receiving particular focus as characters. I found the idea of Dracula dispatching his enemies through hallucinations less interesting than scenes of him simply stalking and cornering the crew would have been. I think I was unclear about what Dracula's powers were, which made the suspense of the story hard to pin down. This concept remains a popular one as for years now there's been a film in-development called The Last Voyage of the Demeter. Perhaps a film account would be more to my liking,

Monday, October 16, 2017

Dracula Month Day 16: The Complete Dracula #1-5

How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact.

So reads the preface of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. This too is how the 2009 Dynamite Entertainment comic book series The Complete Dracula opens. This five-issue limited series was an attempt at adapting the full text of the original Dracula novel plus Dracula's Guest, the adaptation was performed by writers Leah Moore & John Reppion with artist Colton Worley and covers by John Cassaday.

The irony of Moore & Reppion including the preface is that when they type "All needless matters have been eliminated" they do err - including the short story Dracula's Guest for the sake of being complete is to include an entirely irrelevant piece of data which is an interesting supplement to the novel but which doesn't truly belong in the body of the novel. Seeing Dracula's Guest adapted within Dracula does serve to make this adaptation a little different than most comic book versions of Stoker's text, but it remains a curious sidebar to the actual story of Dracula.

Beyond that, Moore, Reppion & Worley's dedication to delivering a faithful adaptation of the original text is one I heartily approve of and this may well be the definitive comic book adaptation of the original text. I don't find Worley to be entirely satisfactory as an artist as his facial expressions feel unconvincing, but the story is laid out immensely well. I'll be looking at yet more comic book adaptations of the novel before the month is out; this is the one which would best serve the reader who prefers comic books to prose.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Dracula Month Day 15: Mercury Theatre on the Air - Dracula

In the 1930s, Orson Welles & John Houseman's Mercury Theatre became a New York sensation and that led CBS to bring them to radio in 1938 for The Mercury Theatre on the Air. Welles had lofty ambitions for the kind of stories which the program would tell, a mix of plays and adaptations of popular novels. Welles intended the premiere broadcast to be an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island but ultimately shifted it ahead one week and instead wrote a very quick adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula for the July 11th premiere.

Although the most famous broadcast of The Mercury Theatre on the Air would be their version of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, the series didn't tread very often into the realm of science fiction/supernatural; in that sense, Dracula doesn't entirely make sense as a premiere broadcast. It's also remarkable that, considering his stage background, Welles wanted to adapt the novel, not the play. But as I've said before, the novel is so very much superior to the play and although every account of the adaptation process states it was a grueling one because of the sheer volume of prose Stoker wrote, Welles seemed to know the book was the correct source material.

The radio episode condenses the entire novel to an hour very faithful. Poor old Quincey Morris is omitted (as he often is) but the rest of the major characters are present. Welles performed Dracula and Dr. Seward with various sections narrated by the particular point-of-view characters, as in the novel. My favourite performance belongs to Martin Gabel as Van Helsing, who belts out his lines with tremendous fury (particularly at the climax as he screams "Strike, Harker!"). In all of old-time radio, this is just about the only time Dracula was adapted to the medium. Go check it out at archive.org, it's one of old-time radio's best horror broadcasts.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Dracula Month Day 14: Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned

Having spent the past five days of Dracula Month looking at Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula series it seems fitting to move on to the Tomb of Dracula movie. "Tomb of Dracula had a movie?" you might be asking. And no, I'm not referring to Blade. One year after the comic book series wrapped Japan unleashed the animated film Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned for television. It's a mess.

I often complain about films being too liberal with their original source material, deviating in unnecessary ways from the established text. In the case of Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned, the problem is fidelity. Namely, that the picture has to tell the origin of Dracula, introduce the vampire hunters who pursue him and condense a complete storyarc from 25 issues of the comic book series into a 90 minute film. The result is trash; occasionally amusing trash, but nothing more. The Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan comic books which were adapted into this film told an engaging and dark story of Dracula claiming leadership of a Satanic cult, taking one of the worshipers as his bride, fathering a child with her, the child dying during a raid on Dracula's church, Dracula then waging war against both Heaven and Hell as Satan strips Dracula of his powers and God sends an angel to inhabit the body of Dracula's dead son to oppose him as Janus. That great "Batwings Over Transylvania" story I blogged about on Thursday? It's in here too and it has no room to breathe.

The animation in this film is better than most US cartoons circa 1980 but it's too bright for such sombre material. The story of Dracula, the cult, Satan and Janus could be told as a moody anime program, but as a series, not a feature film. Even the appearance of Dracula's daughter Lilith was retained in this adaptation so that every few minutes the story has to stop and introduce someone everyone in the story already knows about; the film never gains traction.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dracula Month Day 13: Tomb of Dracula (magazine) #2

To close the lid on my look at Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula I'm moving to the black & white Tomb of Dracula magazine which succeeded the comic book series. Specifically, I'm interested in looking at Tomb of Dracula #2 (1979): "The Dimensional Man" by the usual Tomb of Dracula scribe Marv Wolfman but joined there by the legendary Steve Ditko!

Dracula is virtually a guest star in this story as instead the point-of-view character who carries most of the action is the Dimensional Man, a member of a cult who worship the demon Asmodeus. The Dimensional Man was exposed to demonic energies during a ceremony and became a succubus, feeding on other people's life energies - in that sense, not unlike Dracula. Now against the cult who raised him, the Dimensional Man tries to save his sister from being sacrificed to Asmodeus. Fortunately, the Dimensional Man has help - in the form of Dracula, who had befriended the sister.

Steve Ditko is not Gene Colan; while Colan was a master of the shadows with moody artwork well suited to black & white, Ditko was and is a very bright artist, one whose weird imagery is accentuated by colour. Despite this, Ditko did a fine job adapting himself to the style of a Dracula comic. The Dimensional Man feels like the kind of character Ditko was more comfortable writing about, right down to the hat & coat visual found on other Ditko heroes (The Question, Mr. A). This story stands on its own, not tying into the rest of Marvel's Dracula comics even with Wolfman as the scripter. However, I think it's the best story from the brief 6-issue magazine run simply because Ditko committed himself so readily to this format; if you enjoyed Ditko's other black & white horror magazine work (Creepy, Eerie) you'll want to check this out. As to the Dimensional Man, he's actually turned up a little outside of this story; check out his profile at the Marvel Appendix.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Dracula Month Day 12: Tomb of Dracula #69

Today I'm looking at another issue of Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula series. This time it's Tomb of Dracula #69 (1979): "Batwings Over Transylvania" by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan & Tom Palmer. The ongoing plot in the later issues of Tomb of Dracula concerned Dracula losing his vampiric powers; by #69 he had regained his abilities but learned another vampire had claimed his role as vampire lord, making Dracula an enemy of his fellow vampires.

In this issue, Dracula returns to his homeland, Transylvania, with a heavy mob of vampires chasing him. Dracula finally flees into a farmhouse for shelter from his enemies, only to find the home is occupied by children whose devout mother has taught to defend themselves against vampires by outfitting them with garlic and crosses. For all that, however, the children don't realize their guest is a vampire.

It becomes an interesting situation as Dracula goes from looking to eat the children, to barricading their home against the attacking vampires and finally, to combat his foes, picking up a cross to ward the other vampires away, even as the cross burns his own flesh. The children are left thinking Dracula was heroic, little guessing his true nature. It's a clever situation and one of the best latter-day Tomb of Dracula tales.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dracula Month Day 11: Tomb of Dracula #30

Today I'm looking at another issue of Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula series. This time it's Tomb of Dracula #30 (1975): "Memories on a Mourning's Night" by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan & Tom Palmer. Similar to issue #15, this story features Dracula reminiscing about his past as a series of short vignettes bring to light his past misdeeds.

This time out, Dracula's memories are linked by a common theme of romance and loss; Dracula had just lost Sheila Whittier, a woman he'd been romancing (she ultimately jumped out a window to avoid him). First, Dracula recalls a noblewoman who claimed to love him and directed Dracula to murder her husband, but then had an army of men kill Dracula in return; when Dracula revived, he turned her into a vampire to serve him. Second, Dracula encounters a blind girl whose father has just murdered the girl's mother; Dracula kills the father and tells the blind girl he obtained revenge for her, but is shocked when the child isn't pleased. Finally, Dracula recalls his days in China when a certain fellow named Blade tricked Dracula into an ambush where Blade and his allies destroyed him.

"Memories on a Mourning's Night" is particularly significant within the series because it's the first look into Blade's past, but much like issue #15 it enhances Dracula's legend by demonstrating some of the battles he'd had in the past were as exceptional as anything he'd been involved in during contemporary times. Although Marvel's black & white magazine Dracula Lives ran alongside the colour comic and regularly told stories of Dracula's past, they never approached the grandeur of Wolfman & Colan's Dracula.