Sunday, July 18, 2004

The reason vampires rock harder than werewolves or mummies is that they're much more complex. I've been ripping my way through the great fun Essential Tomb Of Dracula Vol. 1 from Marvel Comics, collecting the first 25 issues or so of this seminal horror comic from the 1970s by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. I'd been eyeing it for a while and finally picked it up last week. It's a blast; I'd read some of the old "Tomb of Dracula" comics back in the '70s but was born a little too late for most of 'em. A lot of horror comics are dated, clunky things but most agree "Tomb of Dracula" may have been the best. It certainly holds up better than "Werewolf By Night" or "Ghost Rider" do today. The black-and-white 'phone book' style Essential books, more than 500 pages of comics for under $15, may be the format "Tomb of Dracula" was born for. Colan's dreamlike, rich art actually looks better without color I think, and Wolfman's scripts, while florid and occasionally overwritten, have fun and go in unusual directions. The stories basically follow the resurrection of Dracula in the 1970s and his battles with descendant Frank Drake, vampire hunter Blade, Rachel Van Helsing and more. Dracula becomes one of the great comic-book villains, and the best issues in this collection are the ones that give him a bit of a human side, such as #9, where Dracula winds up wounded and forced to seek refuge in a small fishing town, or the multi-issue sequence where Dracula and enemy Van Helsing are lost in a Transylvanian snowstorm and forced to rely on each other despite their hatred. Even though Blade has an enormous Afro and the very nature of the comic requires Dracula to escape his just desserts again and again, it's got the feel of an old-fashioned serial movie thriller, and holds up far better than some of Marvel's other 1970s comics. For $15, this weighty tome is a great bargain. Now if only I could stop dreaming about black-and-white vampires...

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