First Published: December 2003
Contents: The Tomb of Dracula #1 (April 1972) to #25 (October 1974); Werewolf by Night #15 (March 1974); and Giant-Size Chillers #1 (June 1974)
Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Gardner Fox, and others
Key First Appearances: Dracula, Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, Taj Nital, Quincy Harker, Blade, Doctor Sun, Deacon Frost, Lilith, Hannibal King
Story Continues In: Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 2
Overview: In the early 1970s, the Comics Code Authority started relaxing its standards, opening the doors for comic book publishers to get back into the business of publishing horror titles. Having already introduced Morbius as the “Living Vampire” in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel was ready to get back into the monster business. First up was the king of the vampires with The Tomb of Dracula.
Perhaps as an indication of the madcap rush to get the title to press as quickly as possible, Tomb of Dracula went through a long list of writers over the first six issues. Gerry Conway is credited with writing the first two issues, but the bulk of #1 was actually written by Roy Thomas and Stan Lee. Conway left after the second issue because of better writing opportunities, and Archie Goodwin took over, but only for issues #3 and #4. He was followed by Gardner Fox, who wrote issues #5 and #6. Fox was relieved of his duties on the title, and Marv Wolfman took over. It took Wolfman a few issues to get comfortable with the title character and the supporting cast introduced by the previous five writers. But once he does find his footing, the series picks up and becomes a hard book to put down.
What does remain constant is the art duties of Gene Colan, who handles all of the pencilings for the issues in this volume (as well as this series). Colan’s art is just a breath-taking as his run on Daredevil, just with less spandex.
For the story itself, after a hundred years of a stake-induced slumber, Count Dracula is revived and begins his quest to reclaim his spot in a changing world. But Dracula’s return to action does not go unnoticed, and a group of would-be vampire hunters is soon on his trail:
- Frank Drake is a descendant of Dracula, from his days before he became a vampire. Nothing would make Drake happier than putting his forefather back in the grave.
- Rachel Van Helsing is the granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing, the first vampire hunter. She is still in the “family business”, and is often accompanied by her mute assistant, Taj Nital
- Quincy Harker is a wheelchair-bound expert on vampires and has a wealth of weapons at his disposal.
- Blade, the vampire hunter, is a living vampire who blames the monsters for the death of his mother.
- Hannibal King is another vampire hunter and also another living vampire.
Outside of a crossover with the Werewolf, there is very little about this book that ties it into the Marvel Universe proper. In future volumes, we will see appearances by Doctor Strange and Brother Voodoo, but in general, this is not a title that you have to read a lot of the other Marvel titles in order to understand. Conversely, characters like Blade and Hannibal King will become more prominent in other titles, with Blade actually crossing the break-out success point in the 1990s to warrant his own series, a trilogy of movies, and a syndicated television show.
What makes this Essential?: Once Wolfman takes over, I really liked the book, which came as a great surprise to me. I only picked up this book a few years ago because I found it for a good price on eBay, and the collector mentality in me is obsessing to get all of the Essentials. I’ve never been a big fan of the monster concepts, either in the original novels, the classic films, or these legendary comics. So, for now, at least, I am hooked on this concept, this presentation. I should have known that with my great love for Gene Colan’s work, I should have picked this book up earlier! I do think that the black-and-white format works better for this title, even though I know it was presented in color with it was first published. I like that this story feels timeless, in that this same story could be told today (albeit with slight differences such as replacing cord phones with cell phones) and still be just as effective.
Footnotes: Werewolf By Night #15 and Tomb of Dracula #18 are also reprinted in Essential Werewolf by Night Vol. 1.
The entire 70-issue run of The Tomb of Dracula was penciled by Gene Colan, who used the image of actor Jack Palance as his model for Dracula.
Several issues in this Essential make reference to the events in Dracula Lives, a black-and-white magazine that ran for 13 issues. Those magazines are collected in Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 4.
If you like this volume, try: tracking down a copy of The Curse of Dracula, a three-issue mini-series from Dark Horse Comics in 1998. This series reunited Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan on the Dracula character, but it is not officially tied to their work at Marvel with the character. Jonathan Van Helsing leads a team of vampire hunters to the fog-covered streets of San Francisco to help solve a series of mysterious murders. It was reprinted as both a hardcover and a trade paperback, but this might be a series that is easier to find in the back-issue bin.
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