Dracula looms over a gothic scene. Artists: Gil Kane and Tom Palmer.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1972
Creators: Gerry Conway (writer) and Gene Colan (artist)
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In 1971, the Comics Code Authority, which had dictated the standards in the American comic book industry since the mid-1950s, relaxed its strictures on the horror genre. The following year, …

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Marvel Comics launched Werewolf by Night, Ghost Rider and Man-Thing's first ongoing series. Tomb of Dracula #1, the company's first use of vampires since the Code had come into effect (and no relation to either a Dracula series Dell Comics had done a few years earlier or another Hanna-Barbera was to do a few years later), had a cover date of April, 1972.

Like the average Dracula movie, this comic book used Bram Stoker's famous novel as part of its back-story, but opened with the re-animation of the vampire in modern times. Gerry Conway (The Punisher, Power Girl) wrote the script, which involved a latter-day descendant of Dracula, an American named Frank Drake. The initial storyline skipped around a lot, as writers came and went, but settled down when, with the seventh issue, Marv Wolfman (Teen Titans, Dial H for Hero) took over the scripting, and continued to write the series for years. He and artist Gene Colan (Daredevil, Sub-Mariner), who had been on the title since the beginning, made Marvel's Dracula one of the most highly regarded series characters in the history of horror comics. And it was popular enough with readers to be the all-time longest-running comic book with a villain as its main character. Shortly after it ended, the same team tried to duplicate the success at DC, with Night Force.

During the first few years of its run, Tomb of Dracula had a companion title, Dracula Lives, which was published in magazine format (i.e., packaged like Vampirella or Mad). This title switched writers and artists around a lot, and didn't have nearly as much impact as the regular comic book.

A vampire slayer named Blade was first seen in the 10th issue of Tomb of Dracula (July, 1973, many years before Buffy made "Vampire Slayer" a recognized category of fantasy hero). Blade's unique qualification for the position was that his mother had been bitten by a vampire just as she was giving birth to him, which rendered him immune to vampiric depredation. Blade proved so popular as a supporting character that as recently as 1998, New Line Cinema produced a feature film about him. (When Wolfman tried to claim his financial due from the film as Blade's creator, Marvel, in a story that's become all too familiar, forced him to go to court to establish his rights.) The Blade movies (a second and third followed) are the only American media spin-offs Tomb of Dracula ever had, other than a book-and-record set published by Power Records.

The Wolfman/Colan Dracula ran seven years as a regular-size comic, then was resurrected in magazine format two months after it ended. The magazine almost immediately went into writer/artist roulette, with Steve Ditko (Spider-Man), Jim Shooter (Legion of Super Heroes), Frank Robbins (The Invaders) and several others working on various stories. It ended with its August, 1980 issue.

The usual fate of Marvel characters that have lost their series is to make the rounds as a guest star. With Dracula, this was relatively easy, since every superhero story needs a villain anyway. In the mid-1980s, tho, a lengthy story in the Doctor Strange series involved putting a permanent end to vampirism itself, and that was the end of Marvel's Dracula. After that, he wasn't spotted in the Marvel Universe for years. (But that didn't prevent Marvel doing a few sporadic Dracula reprints during the 1990s, or Wolfman and Colan reprising their collaboration in a 1991-92 Tomb of Dracula mini-series for Marvel's Epic imprint.)

Since then, a couple of loopholes have been discovered in the magical formula that got rid of them. Drac was back in time for the Blade movie. But then, death has always been even less of a barrier to him than to the average Marvel villain.


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Text ©2003-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.