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Doctor Strange vs. Dracula!

Longbox Graveyard #164

Super-Blog Team-Up returns with a Doctor Strange-driven look at magic in comics! Now, Halloween was last week, so I’m a couple days late for Dracula, but with his movie out this week, I’m right on time for Doctor Strange … and it’s always time for Bronze Age Marvel here at Longbox Graveyard. So let’s jump right in as Doctor Strange battles Dracula, Lord of Vampires!

Tomb of Dracula #44

This two-part crossover began in Tomb of Dracula #44, smack-dab in the middle of the classic run by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, and Tom Palmer. I’ve sung the praises of Tomb of Dracula here at Longbox Graveyard before (twice!) — it really might have been the finest Marvel comic of its age. And one of the reasons the book worked so well was that writer and editor Marv Wolfman largely kept Dracula and his tales sequestered from the rest of the Marvel Universe. While Drac would encounter Spider-Man and Thor in other titles, Marv jealously guarded the door of Dracula’s own book, ceding to editorial pressure to more closely connect Tomb of Dracula with the Marvel Universe only through crossovers with otherworldly and supernatural characters like Silver Surfer, Brother Voodoo, and (in our case) Doctor Strange!

The first part of the tale, written by Marv Wolfman, opened with Strange mourning the death of his faithful manservant, Wong, beneath the flashing fangs of a vampire!

Tomb of Dracula #44 by Wolfman, Colan, and Palmer

Just look at Gene Colan’s smokey pencils, beautifully illuminated by Tom Palmer’s perfect inks! There’s never been a better team for supernatural comics storytelling!

But this wasn’t just any vampire — this was Dracula, the Lord of Vampires, as Strange discovered when his sorcery allowed him to experience Wong’s final moments.

Tomb of Dracula #44 by Wolfman, Colan, and Palmer

Harnessing the fathomless powers of the All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto (which then, as now, could do about anything the writer needed it to do), Doctor Strange tracked the “life-patterns” of Dracula from the scene of the crime to Dracula’s lair in Boston.

Tomb of Dracula #44 by Wolfman, Colan, and Palmer

I love how Colan’s “camera” pushes in on Dracula, starting with his open coffin, then Dracula in repose, and then Dracula alert to Strange’s intrusion. Looking at this sequence, did you “see” Dracula’s eyes snap open between the last two panels? That’s the magic of comics, boys and girls — like Scott McCloud noted, comics are as much about what you don’t see between the panels as what you see in the panels themselves.

After that? Well, it’s on!

Tomb of Dracula #44 by Wolfman, Colan, and Palmer

But this battle between Dracula and Strange wasn’t the usual Marvel Comics Fist City beat-down, and it wasn’t even a garden-variety Doctor Strange ectoplasmic duel of ghosts.

No, to battle Dracula, Strange invoked the “Images of Ikonn” to delve into Dracula’s “passions and fears,” taking Dracula back to the moment his mortal self fell on the battlefield in a cavalry duel with Turkish invaders.

It’s kind of dirty pool, to be honest.

Tomb of Dracula #44 by Wolfman, Colan, and Palmer

For a couple panels, there, we could almost sympathize with Dracula, and this was intentional. Marv Wolfman considered Dracula the “protagonist” of Tomb of Dracula, rather than the hero, but as readers we still needed to get on board with Dracula, and moments like this served to humanize him. We see Dracula as a mortal terrified of his pending (un)death, we see his noble sacrifice in defense of his homeland, and can kind of feel bad for him … but it doesn’t take much for Dracula to revert to form, showing the dark side of his noble nature with his incredulity that this conflict originated with the death of “… a mere hireling … a cretinous menial … a whimpering domestic.”

(Don’t take a job with Dracula, folks).

Taken aback by Dracula’s sudden recovery — and reluctant to use his “more potent magics” for fear of rendering Dracula incapable of restoring Wong to life — Doctor Strange was quickly mesmerized by Dracula.

Mesmerized … and slain!

Tomb of Dracula #44 by Wolfman, Colan, and Palmer

How’s that for a vintage Marvel shock ending? Doctor Strange is dead? Say it isn’t so!

Fortunately, we needn’t wait even one week to see how this one turns out … the tale continued in Doctor Strange #14!

Doctor Strange #14

While this issue was written by Steve Englehart (who firmly put his stamp on the story, as we shall see), the book was illustrated by the self-same team of Colan and Palmer, and also edited by Marv Wolfman, resulting in an unusually coherent crossover, at least by Marvel standards.

The issue opened with Dracula gloating over his fallen foe, casting Strange’s body into a dungeon, where he might rot until rising, three days later, as Dracula’s undead slave.

Doctor Strange #14, by Englehart, Colan, and Palmer

But in his arrogance, Dracula didn’t reckon that Doctor Strange might be “no stranger to death,” as we learn that Strange escaped death by leaving his body instants before Dracula killed him at the end of last issue. But now, Strange was trapped outside his body, in astral form, with only three days to concoct a solution to his dilemma.

So what did Strange do?

Why, he thought, of course!

Doctor Strange #14, by Englehart, Colan, and Palmer

But all the thinking in the world didn’t solve Doc’s trouble. After trying to distract Dracula with visions and spells — and nearly catching Dracula out in the daylight — Strange was still a helpless, disembodied spectator when Dracula returned three days later. But Dracula was taking no chances, and in an odd reversal of roles, he sought to put a final end to the undead Doctor Strange with a stake through the heart!

Doctor Strange #14, by Englehart, Colan, and Palmer

Right on cue, Strange rose as a vampire, and we finally got some fist-and-fang action, as Dracula battled with a thing that was not-quite-Strange: Doctor Strange’s body, given in to dark vampiric impulses, while Strange’s conscience was helpless to intervene.

And it didn’t take long for Dracula to gain the upper hand against a Doctor Strange reduced to bestial impulses.

Doctor Strange #14, by Englehart, Colan, and Palmer

I love it when Drac calls someone a “clod.” If your boss calls you a clod — or “cretin,” another favorite — then he’s probably a super-villian

It’s when Dracula had Doctor Strange on the ropes that something intriguing and even a little profound occurred. When Dracula asserted himself as “Lord” while strangling the life from Strange, from the depths of his possessed soul, Doctor Strange called on the power of the Christian god to save his life!

Doctor Strange #14, by Englehart, Colan, and Palmer

It’s a bold turn of events, and something Steve Englehart didn’t shy away from — he once featured God Himself in a Doctor Strange story, then authored a bogus fan letter to deflect scrutiny — but what’s most interesting to me about this moment is what it asks about Doctor Strange’s own spirituality.

Does Doctor Strange believe in the Christian god, or is He just another deity in the Rolodex, to be invoked like Cyttorak or Vishanti? In his moment of greatest extremis, it is the Christian god that Strange turns to for salvation. Is Strange a man of faith, or is he just happy to use the best tool at hand?

Either way, that cross-like burst of light sure did the job …

Doctor Strange #14, by Englehart, Colan, and Palmer

Strange’s body and soul become one again even as Dracula is sent down to defeat, but Englehart implies that the will and even the cruelty required to overcome Dracula’s evil doesn’t come entirely from the divine force Strange invoked — that the “… true Dr. Strange would find no pleasure in his (Dracula’s) pain … that his tormentor (Strange) has been touched with Dracula’s own evil …” This conclusion points to an (ahem) strange duality, with the power of God getting Strange back on his feet, but Dracula’s own dark power of evil being the special sauce that let Strange finish the deed and kill Dracula for all time.

(Or at least until the next issue of Tomb of Dracula!)

And with Strange’s (and Wong’s) souls miraculously restored through Dracula’s death (could Drac have died for their sins? Nah …), that brings this tale to a close, and with it this installment of Longbox Graveyard!

It’s been awhile since I posted here, and it feels good! I hope to make this a more regular occurrence — please let me know what you think of this story and Steve Englehart’s Strange cosmology in the comments section below!

But, before you go — it took the awesome power of Super-Blog Team-Up to wake Longbox Graveyard from its Odinsleep … assuming you view this as a welcome development, please pay your thanks forward by visiting these other Super-Blog Team-Up articles, all looking at some form of “Strange” Magic!

Super-Blog Team-Up: Magic!

NEXT: #165 I Shopped At An Amazon Brick And Mortar Book Store

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About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published once a month or so at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on November 2, 2016, in Super-Blog Team-Up and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.

  1. Snap! But a later encounter from the pen of the wonderful Roger Stern https://alastairsavage.wordpress.com/2016/11/01/doctor-strange-60-62/

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    • I actually didn’t know about that Stern story until yesterday, when I stumbled upon it researching this blog.

      How long did that no-more-vampires-in-the-Marvel-Universe thing last, anyway? And, most critically — was that really the end of Harold H. Harold??

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      • Vampires remained dead for a good long time so it had major repercussions. It’s a really cool little run. Do you also know the classic What If … Doctor Strange had never become the Sorcerer Supreme? What if # 40 with art by Jackson Guice. Also one of my faves!

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  2. Good choice Paul.
    Wolfman and Colan’s Tomb of Dracula is without any doubt one of the finest bronze age comics run. No need of Cosmic Awareness to agree on it.

    And about Colan’s art… his pencils were quite something to marvel at (pun intended), so cinematic and idiosyncratic!

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    • Hey, Krackles, glad to see you’ve stuck with Longbox Graveyard through my long Odinsleep. Given your affection for Gene Colan and Captain Marvel, is it fair to assume Captain Marvel’s first appearances (under Gene the Dean) rank among your favorite books?

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      • I wish I could rank it among my favorites, unfortunately… if Colan’s first issue was decently inked by Reinman (Marvel Superheroes #13), all the fun was quickly trashed away on the second issue (Captain Marvel #1) with Colletta subpar inking.

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  3. I actually blogged about the first part of this fight back a ways back on my own blog, but yeah, hell of a battle, and that Gene Colan art made it all the better. Like it was an actual real Hammer Dracula movie.

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    • Gene Colan seems like one of those lines in the sand for comics fans … I know readers who just can’t get into him at all … but I love him. All those dark, impressionistic swirls especially suit noir stories, which is why Tomb of Dracula was the pinnacle of his work, but I think his superhero work is also pretty groovy (and not just on Daredevil). It’s a shame he didn’t do more sword & sorcery work, too — I think he did an issue of Savage Sword, but that’s about all I can remember. Love Gene Colan.

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      • Love it or hate it, Gene Colan’s unique art style was (and still is) standing head and shoulders above average comicbook standard.

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  4. I love Colan’s work on both titles. For me, the vagueness and murkiness of it added to the mystery and suspense. His style didn’t seem as effective to me on a straight superhero comic, but then I wouldn’t put, say, George Perez on a mystery comic like these.

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    • Good comment re: Perez — probably not great for a mystery title, but there was never a better soul for drawing every detail of a superhero team fight in a house of mirrors!

      I think where Colan and superheroes intertwine is with motion. Colan’s pencils are so fluid that they lend themselves well to acrobatic heroes like Daredevil and Captain America.

      (But to argue against myself, Colan’s Iron Man is also pretty awesome).

      I guess Colan is just awesome. Full stop.

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      • I was about to reply to MLP but you said it all Paul.
        Colan’s work with superheroes are awesome: Captain America (inked by Sinnott was just gorgeous), Iron Man (inked by Giacoia, simply jaw dropping) and of course Daredevil who became Colan’s signature work.

        Superhero, romance, horror, western… science fiction: He could do everything in his singular cinematic style!

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      • So far as Colan’s superhero work goes, Paul, his Black Panther was really exceptional too. It was hidden away in the pages of Marvel Presents at the end of the 80s and has been out of print ever since, so hardly anyone even knows about it. Well worth tracking down though.
        Enjoyed the post – always a pleasure to be reminded of both TOD and mid-70s Dr Strange. Real classics of their time. Funnily enough, I was never that keen on Englehart or Wolfman’s work on the regular superhero books, so its a pity they didn’t do more in the horror genre. Particularly Wolfman, as I recall his short-lived DC book Night Force (also with Colan) being a must-read too.
        And anyway, with a name like Wolfman… I mean, how come Marvel never put him on Man-Wolf?

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        • I don’t think I’ve ever seen those Panther stories — will look for them, thanks!

          And you didn’t like Wolfman’s Teen Titans? Or Englehart’s Avengers & Captain America runs …? Pretty good superhero stuff from those guys, although I agree they did their best work on non-superhero stuff.

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          • Maybe I’m being a bit unfair singling out Englehart and Wolfman, but generally I found the A-list Marvel titles to be a bit formulaic in the 70s; its not so much that I didn’t like theml, but given the choice much preferred to read comics with what you might call a more idiosyncratic approach – Gerber’s Defenders over Englehart’s Avengers, for instance.
            I put it down to an early encounter with Captain Marvel 29 spoiling me for standard superhero fare (and bear in mind the mid to late 60s Kirby/Lee FF and Thor were appearing in the British Marvels around 74/75)
            Couldn’t get into the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titles at all… but that was a bit later, I think. By then, Frank Miller and Alan Moore (remember, Marvelman and V for Vendetta were appearing here before he did anything for DC) were starting to make that approach to superheros seem a bit old hat.
            Let me stress I’m not knocking anything, or anyone else’s taste; its just how things seemed to me at the time (and I liked Kirby’s 70s Cap run way more than Englehart’s, so what do I know?)
            Apologies if I went on a bit there, but you did ask :)…

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            • No apologies necessary, these kinds of comments are bread & butter to me — and we have many preferences in common, as it turns out. I love Gerber’s Defenders, and I also had my mind blown by Stalin’s Captain Marvel.

              It is strange to realize that Wolfman’s Titans were running at DC the same time that Miller & Moore were knocking over the table. I remember reading Titans, Watchman, Swamp Thing, and Dark Knight as monthlies, but you are right that Titans is the part that doesn’t really fit with the rest. At the time, I regarded Titans as “DC Does X-Men” (not an original observation), but re-reading Titans a couple years ago it seemed more like a Silver Age book to me (compared to the more Bronze Age-y X-Men).

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              • Yeah, although maybe its Miller and Moore that didn’t quite fit. After all, memory plays tricks and the best books aren’t really the most representative of their time.
                We think of the 80s as Miller’s Dark Knight but tend to forget that at the same time the regular Bat books were being produced by the very 70s team of Doug Moench and Gene Colan (Actually, I may well have nicked that insight from your post on their Bat-run:)

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                • That Moench & Colan Batman run was a long one, winding in and out of both Batman and Detective. I recall that it began before Miller’s Dark Knight, and then was contemporary with it, concluding with the valedictorian issue #400 before getting wiped away by the “Year One” quasi-reboot. The end of an era.

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                  • That sounds right.
                    And yet… did you read “Year Two”? Even after the re-boot the attempt to make Batman seem “dark” could often come across as more Denny O’Neill than Frank Miller.

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                    • The road to making good “dark” comics is littered with the corpses of Frank Miller imitators.

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                    • And even (sometimes) Frank himself!
                      (Couldn’t reply to you directly, Paul – I’ve gone on long enough to squeeze out room for the reply function! Which – along with being very off-topic – is a sign that I shoud stop now:)

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      • PS And on the subject of Gene Colan’s versatility, don’t forget his work on Howard the Duck…

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        • Howard benefitted from a parade of stellar artists, didn’t he?

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          • Pretty sure Colan drew most of the original HTD monthly of the 70s after taking over from Frank Brunner (who left after the second issue) as regular artist.

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            • Aside from a few odd fill-ins, you are right, the original Howard series was almost entirely by Colan. (I associate Val Mayerik with the series, too, but I think that was the Man-Thing days). I might have been more accurate to characterize Colan, Brunner, and Mayerik as an embarrassment of riches when it came to artists, rather than a “parade,” which implies too many artists passing through the book in too short a time.

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  5. This was a pretty good two-part tale. I read it several years ago. At first I was a bit disappointed that in the very next issue of Tomb of Dracula it was revealed that Dracula had faked his death to throw Doctor Strange off his trail. Later on I realized why Marv Wolfman had done that. He obviously wanted Tomb of Dracula to be as self-contained as possible, and not cross over into the rest of the Marvel universe. If this story had ended with Doctor Strange knowing that Dracula was still alive, it wouldn’t have made any sense for the Sorcerer Supreme to not attempt to stop the lord of the vampires again. Obviously Wolfman didn’t want Strange hanging out in every issue of TOD , so this is what we got. Maybe TOD is one of those series that might have worked better set outside regular Marvel continuity? What do you think?

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    • Wolfman was correct.
      How to write an horror title within the constraints of a fictional universe filled with super beings?

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      • I think the key is to zero-in on what makes that particular pocket of the super-universe unique by concentrating on new ways to do the old things. For example, while Shang-Chi is the “Master of Kung Fu,” it’s really no big deal to watch a guy leap around and punch people in a world populated by Spider-Man and Captain America. So, instead, the series delved into Shang-Chi’s philosophy and method of fighting (and, increasingly, his disgust with the whole thing). So, too, did the book develop its supporting cast and build out a world of intriguing adventure that only very lightly touched the rest of the Marvel Universe.

        On the horror side, Wolfman’s approach was to keep his Dracula adventures largely hidden from the costumed characters, and that works as long as you can keep it up (and so long as editorial will let you get away with it). In later decades, guys like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman would show us another way to do it. Moore, in particular, was a master of showing us the “regular” DC costumed heroes through the funhouse mirror lenses of his horror work in Swamp Thing. Swampy is a pure horror book, but Swamp Thing’s interactions with Batman and the Justice League were among my favorite parts of the series.

        In effect, a horror book in a superhero world becomes all about viewpoint. The horror book sees things a certain way, and the superhero book sees the same things in a different way. We are left to believe the truth is somewhere in between.

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  6. A few years ago I purchased a trade containing these issues, and the aforementioned Roger Stern stories. An overall stellar collection.

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