Friday, October 23, 2009

9 Days of Reviewin' #5: Entombed

Tomb Of Dracula

By Wolfman, Colan and others

The 72 issues of Tomb of Dracula published by Marvel in the gloomiest part of the 70s were, at times, sublimely shitty.

Primarily written by Marv Wolfman and entirely illustrated by Gene Colan, the series gave in to some serious excesses that pushed it over the line into extreme silliness, but also managed to be a moody work, a substantial slice of very particular horror.

Sometimes the comic was tacky to the point of idiocy, and other times it was just plain stupid.

With Wolfman's then-fashionable overwriting, no point was left unsaid, and then pointed out again four or five more times, before the point was shouted from the four-colour rooftops. Then Dracula would have his way with that point and leave it drained in the gutter.

The manic plot that helped the series speed through its six-year run saw it often veer off into unusual directions, from the birth of Dracula's golden child to the interminable cult storyline. And while there were plenty of spooky Marvel characters who were more than comfortable in the comic's pages, (including Brother Voodoo, Damien Hellstorm and Doctor Strange,) the Silver Surfer really wasn't one of them.

But Colan's art still took the title to terrifying levels. Capturing blind terror like nobody else and adding atmosphere that could be cut through a knife, Colan’s art was thick and substantial, and he always drew great impact shots when people were thrown at walls.

Colan’s line was loose and flowing and occasionally (and intentionally) vague, which helped build that atmosphere. Even if he wasn't in mist form, Drac was swathed in fog, death emerging from the gloom to claim another victim.

While Wolfman’s plots were often painfully pointless, the man came up with some seriously superb characterization. All of the main characters came from a tragic background and had their own demons to work through. Fortunately, they were given lots of demonspawn to take out their angst on. Nobody was safe, with characters often shockingly killed off and many of those that survived weren’t safe in other people’s hands. (Poor Rachel Van Helsing, killed off in an X-annual, after surviing years of Dracula’s worst.)

One nice touch was that level of characterization given to those who show up for a page or two before being dispatched. Dracula’s victims were often given names and sketchy backgrounds – purely perfunctory at times, but enough to add a special little dose of tragedy to the proceedings.

And then there was the title character. Dracula, prince of darkness, a supreme, arrogant creature who was often disgusted with the world, even if he was no longer part of it. Dracula could be honourable and courageous, even as he destroyed innocent lives, and led the narrative on its journey through mad scientists wanting his secrets and heroes driven by vengeance.

When the regular Tomb Of Dracula ended, there were a few black and white magazines before the character faded away, becoming another small part of the vast Marvel tapestry. There have been several returns to form, but nothing matches those original issues. While Tomb Of Dracula can seem tacky, overblown and ridiculous to the modern reader, it also offered something unmistakable and epic, as the best comics always do.


Adam said...

Always wanted to write Tomb of Dracula even though I've never read it. Such is the mindset of the geek.

Ah well, there's always Rogue's Reviews

Bob Temuka said...

A revamped Tomb of Dracula has so many great possibilities. Paul Cornell touched on a few interesting ones in his recent Captain Britain story.

But I just genuinely struggle to think of a modern artist who could create half the mood or atmosphere of Gene Colan. Leinil Francis Yu could be good, if he could give up the superheroes. Maybe Ben Templesmith or Ashley Wood, if they could keep up a grueling monthly schedule....