The year was 1972 and, nearly 20 years after Dr. Fredric Wertham had declared them to be a menace to young minds, horror comics were making a comeback.
The Comics Code Authority, which had been established in response to Wertham’s claim that comic books were creating deviants, had long banned not only horror-centric comic books but also vampires in general. However, with times changing and creators regularly challenging the antiquated rules of the code, the CCA relaxed its rules about horror comics. Monsters could once again exist alongside super heroes.
Marvel was among the first to launch a new line of horror comics. Using Dracula was no-brainer. Not only was he the world’s most famous vampire but he was also in the public domain so Marvel could use him without having to pay a cent for the rights. (When you’re a kid, you always think that comic book artists and writers get to do whatever they want. It’s when you grow up that you realize your favorite comic books only existed as long as they were financially viable.) Tomb of Dracula was launched in April of 1972 and, despite a shaky beginning, it would go on to become a classic. Speaking as a collector, it’s also one of my personal favorite titles from the so-called Bronze Age of Comics.
The 1st issue of Tomb of Dracula features Frank Drake traveling to Transylvania with his girlfriend Jean and his best friend, Clifton Graves. Drake is an irresponsible playboy who has lost millions due to his own bad luck. However, he is also one of the last living descendants of Dracula. He and Graves have decided to turn Dracula’s castle into a tourist attraction. What they didn’t count on was that Dracula would still be alive, trapped in the castle and waiting for someone to set him free. 20 pages later and Grave is dead, Jean is a vampire, Dracula has escaped, and angry villagers are surrounding the castle.
Other than featuring the characters of Drake and Dracula, the first issue of Tomb of Dracula doesn’t offer many hints of what would follow. There’s no mention of Rachel van Helsing or Hannibal King or, everyone’s favorite, Blade. It doesn’t even firmly establish that Dracula is a part of the canonical Marvel universe, though later issues featuring Dr. Strange and a host of others would clear up that mystery. Despite not being anywhere near as good as what would follow, it does what it needs to do. It sets Dracula free and set him on the road to becoming one of Marvel’s best villains. Subsequent issues of Tomb of Dracula would provide Dracula with a better supporting cast than just Drake, Graves, and Jean. They would also provide a more rounded view of everyone’s favorite vampire. By the time the series ended in 1979, Dracula had become a tragic hero and his story had gone from being just a modern vampire tale to being an epic of good and evil.
And it all started with three Americans flying to Translvania.
Tomb of Dracula (Vol. 1 #1, April 1972)
- Writer — Gerry Conway
- Penciler — Gene Colan
- Inker– Gene Colan
- Letterer — John Costanza
- Cover Artist — Neal Adams
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