At last it can be told! The never-before-revealed ORIGIN OF DRACULA!
What a catchy blurb. What a great cover! I was sent this as a surprise gift recently and was waiting for the right time to share some thoughts about it. There is no significance to today other than Roger not having a Sunday article!
The cover art is great fun, but I was looking forward to reading it. Alas the inside is all black and white and sort of clunky, but that was ok, I can appeciate a story beyond the visuals; I was a classic Doctor Who fan, after all. I was instantly reminded of one of the classic Dracula movies where our vampiric friend is found with a stake through his heart. Upon removing the stake, the vampire comes back to life. Bit of a cheat if you ask me but I always loved that scene, so I was willing to turn a blind eye. Especially since this is a 1974 publication. That said, the scene is the first image that we see when opening the book so it’s hard not to feel like maybe I missed something… and I’ll talk about that later. Then the big surprise hit me: up at the top of the page, the very first 3 words are Stan Lee Presents. This told me everything I needed to know.
Look, Stan Lee is largely responsible for some of the greatest characters in fandom. I recognize his contributions to our fan-boy and fan-girl world and respect the things he helped create. I take no issue with his works. But like H.P. Lovecraft, I am not a huge fan of Stan the man. I’ve heard too many stories over the years from people who did work with him that made me lose respect for him. I try not to let things like this impact my view of an artists work, viewing them very much as two separate entities, but sometimes it’s hard when the words themselves come off as so juvenile. It’s the dreadfully outdated format of “–and with maddened frenzy–” next panel, “–put it to FLAME!” Comics have come a long way since those days “when all of a sudden… BAM” had to be the line to capture our attention. We now rely far more on a little thing called storytelling and another important part of graphic work: artwork. We don’t need it spelled out with big letters and jagged word bubbles.
Now if that’s not enough, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the origin of Dracula! He’s already been killed once by the time this story opens. In fairness, I do think this is the only time I’ve seen someone throw a compact at Dracula’s head and clock him one, so there is that. Amazingly I did laugh at that. And while Dracula takes up about 14 of the 30 pages, Stan was riding the wave of Universal Horror monsters by giving us more than a Dracula story. We get a very brief story about a werewolf. I’m a big fan of werewolves and don’t discriminate against them like I do with Zombies but Wolf Vs Wolf is literally a 5 page story about a werewolf fighting an actual wolf and it ends up on a cliffhanger that was so out of the blue, I didn’t see why we needed it. Again, we get our share of silly dialogue considering we are following the thoughts of a man who is a wolf, fighting an actual animal, but still, I like werewolves, so I will accept it as a fun roll down a cliff with one.
The last story features what looks like a bulkier Vincent Price as he discovers that The Monster Lives! We spend a lot of time with Vincent/Victor in hiding while the Monster takes too many panes to find him but we get there in the end. This is one of those horror stories that disgust me and have since the original Frankenstein when a “father” rejects his son simply because he’s different. The nature/nurture question is answered easily for me with these stories: the nurture is what created the monster when daddy drove hand-made monster to loneliness and desperation. Victor deserves everything he gets. There is again the promise of continuation at the end of the story but really it felt stand-alone enough with that vague understanding of a question mark ending that says “could he have survived?” without ever really needing to follow up. Not all stories need a sequel.
The caveat to this whole affair is that it says right on the cover: No. 2. But the Dracula story did not feel like it was a continuation and the Frankenstein story began with the birth of the monster. What did we need beyond that? Yes, the werewolf story might have been the result of a previous story, but it too could have been a “slice of life of a werewolf” all on its own. I think the Dracula one probably did have a prequel in No 1. but having seen the movie version, this works just as well as a starting point. It’s a weird affair, probably exacerbated by how far we’ve come from comic books to graphic novels.
All told, it’s still a fun romp but that’s all it is. Sometimes, it’s hard to go back. As they say, “you can’t go home again” and that was never so true as when you try to read old comic books that filled us with wonder in our youth. I still don’t know the never-before-revealed origin of Dracula; my information may be outdated! I would love to know it… but hey, I did love the blurb at the top of the comic: play charades the Marvel way and win a colour TV! I try to envision what that would entail: when I smash my room apart, am I pretending to be The Hulk or the Thing? When I stretch to get something on the counter without getting up, am I Magneto or Mr. Fantastic? I deserve to win that TV if I pull this off… ML