Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan gave readers some of the greatest horror comics ever published with their epochal run on Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula. That much-reprinted series is perhaps the apex of serial horror comics in America, presenting a spectacular collection of fully-realized men and women, with a surprisingly empathetic version of Dracula at its center.
Tomb of Dracula was a great series when it was published in the 1970s, but as we’re all acutely aware, time marches on relentlessly. Things change over time. What worked in Tomb of Dracula in the 1970s might not work as well in a different era.
So when Wolfman and Colan were tapped by Dark Horse Comics editor Scott Allie in the early 1990s to create a new series featuring the world’s best-known vampire, the creators decided to create a new vision for Dracula. This new version of Dracula presented in The Curse of Dracula would be less emotional but no less passionate than his 1970s counterpart.
The ’90s Dracula was still cool but vicious, now playing in the realm of politics and the real, grounded world as a way to advance his goals. This new Dracula no longer was a vicious hunter — at least in the way he once was. Rather, this Dracula worked more behind the scenes, with a team of acolytes devoted to supporting their master in his plans to put a servant in the Oval Office itself!
I love Marv Wolfman’s writing as much as the next comic reviewer, but I have to be honest that the real reason I wanted to check out this book was because of Gene Colan’s artwork. Colan’s work on Dracula comics, and on horror in general, was as perfect a fit of artist to character as comics ever provided, and that perfect fit is well on display here — despite the fact that this new Dracula is radically different from the older vision of the great vampire.
In order to draw good horror, an artist needs to ground their work reality and then fracture that reality that they create. An artist with a real affinity for horror will first create realistic characters and then break their world, shatter their experiences with the sheer sensuous horror of the world that he creates.
So in the page above we see Dracula in a tight embrace with the politician’s wife that Dracula is using to expand his influence on the US government. Colan creates a thoroughly sensuous scene in the page above, full of passion and a true sense of escape from the real world into a world of bliss. In its sensuality, this page could come from a romance comic.
But a subsequent page breaks up the romantic reverie with the horrific implications of the romance. The large image atop the page above is intense and terrifying, the vampiric teeth standing like terrible warnings of the terror and danger soon to come. With the jagged, strangely shaped panels and the look of sheer terror on the woman’s face, we are clearly shown that a master is in the house, that the great Gene Colan is once again creating a scene of pure, unadulterated, great comics horror.
This book is filled with scenes like that, moments that brilliantly emphasize the horror of Dracula’s plans in ways that only a master artist like Gene Colan could create. I should also say that Dave Stewart’s wonderful coloring really makes Colan’s art come alive in ways that weren’t remotely possible in the 1970s. Stewart does a brilliant job of providing depth and mood to the breathtaking scenes throughout the book.
The only downside of The Curse of Dracula is that this book reads like a pilot for a series that never continued. Wolfman and Colan to go great pains to introduce a roster of new characters, from political advisors to vampiric acolytes to frustrated police officers, who seem ready to pop into action but who never had the chance to really become alive in the long term. If you’re the kind of person who needs conclusions for their stories, this is not the book for you.
But if you’re looking for a deeply, darkly, terrifying book with sensational artwork by a true comics master, you really need to check out the new beautiful hardcover collection of The Curse of Dracula.