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)

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