We did it, friends! We’ve made it to the last page of my Marvel Value Stamp Book!
It has been a house of horrors, to be sure, but it has also been a bit cathartic, confronting the sins of my comics collecting past, one grim page at a time.
I’ll also admit that it’s been a little … fun? Nostalgic, at least. Sure, I lament the damage done to my old Marvels, and even if I never would have sold any of them, the “replacement cost” I’ve incurred still rankles.
But this survey has also taken me back to the Summer of 1974, and that kind of remembrance is really what Longbox Graveyard is all about.
there’s some karma … my very own social media icon turns up on the last page!
I was new to comics in 1974, and my first exposure to many Marvel characters came through those Value Stamps. On that level, at least, the scheme was a marketing success. I might never have known about Byrrah, or Puppet Master, or even (yes!) the Mole Man if not for finding these portraits on the letters pages of the books I read and re-read that lazy summer. Along with those pithy little marketing messages typed in the footer of most pages (“You’ll gasp at THE ASP!”), Marvel Value Stamps helped alert me to the warp and woof of a larger Marvel Universe … an imaginative tapestry that obsesses me to this day.
So, yeah, Marvel Value Stamps cost me some money, but they also helped cement me into a lifetime hobby. I guess we can call it even.
- #89 Hammerhead: Captain America #178 – $9
- #90 Hercules: Marvel Team-Up #24 – $8
- #93 Silver Surfer: Marvel Two-In-One #25 – $5
- #95 Mole Man: Amazing Spider-Man #136 – $51 (1st app of Harry in Goblin costume)
- #96 Dr. Octopus: Avengers #130 – $19
- #99 Sandman: Amazing Spider-Man #137 – $37
- #100 Galactus: Sub-Mariner #72 – $9
That brings the grand total for replacing my defaced Marvels to … $3274. To be honest, that’s less than I thought it would be. Sometimes looking at facts rather than emotions can put your fears to rest.
Something I haven’t touched on much, though, is the violence Marvel Value Stamps did to the comics collecting hobby as a whole. Even when these books were new on the stands, I remember coming home one day and opening a brand-new issue to see some jackass had ripped the stamp out of my book and put it back on the rack, without even paying. And raise your hand if you’ve ever sourced a Marvel comic through eBay only to find a chunk of the letters page removed! It’s been decades, and we are still dealing with the fallout!
It just goes to show, as much as I’ve exorcised my Marvel Value Stamp demons with this month-long blog series … these are a dark gift that will keep on giving. You never know where the Curse of the Marvel Value Stamp will … pop up … next!
TOMORROW: Tournament of Terror Winner Announced!
Our championship final is set! In our Final Four, Swamp Thing easily swatted aside Werewolf By Night, while Dracula recovered from Ghost Rider’s fast start to at least make a fight of it, but Ghost Rider prevailed in the end!
- Swamp Thing over Werewolf By Night 78/23
- Ghost Rider over Dracula 53/47
I felt a little bad for Dracula going down … but defeat is part of his DNA. He’s always getting staked or baked to ash, and always rising again. Dracula is the Comeback King. He’ll return soon enough to call us all “miserable clods” or “cretins” or “dolts.” (On second thought, maybe I don’t feel so bad for him, after all).
On to the title match! Get your votes in EARLY this time … unlike previous rounds, voting is open only through Tuesday night!
Here’s our bracket:
The Title Bout!
Swamp Thing vs. Ghost Rider: Our month-long tournament concludes with a DC vs. Marvel match-up! Swamp Thing has yet to be seriously tested in this tournament … is Ghost Rider the fiend to do it? Or will Ghost Rider’s skid marks terminate unceremoniously at the edge of the swamp?
Who ya got?
Remember to vote early. Polls close TUESDAY NIGHT — we want to get a result before Halloween.
TOMORROW: Marvel Value Stamps!
The late, great, Gene Colan was a signature Marvel artist, and aside from Daredevil, the two characters with which I most associate him are Doctor Strange and Dracula. So it seems only natural that those two characters would clash in a two-part story starting inside the pages of “Comicdom’s Number 1 Fear Magazine” — Tomb of Dracula!
This 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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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 …
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!
So, who do you think would win, in a battle between Dracula and the Sorcerer Supreme? Please let me know what you think of this story and Steve Englehart’s Strange cosmology in the comments section below!
MONDAY: Tournament of Terror Championship Round!