The horror comic book died a horrible death when E.C.'s celebrated lineup of "Tales from the Crypt, "The Vault of Horror," and "The Haunt of Fear" fell victim to the creation of the Comics Code of America, a censoring board created in 1955 in response to Dr. Fredric Wertham's book "Seduction of the Innocent" and the resulting public outcry against horror and crime comics. A decade later a few publishers but out black & white magazines with color covers, such as Warren's "Creepy," "Eerie," and "Vampirella," to evade the Comics Code. If anything, they were more violent than the precode comic books. DC Comics continued the anthology tradition with "House of Secrets" and "Tales of the Unexpected," and eventually released "Swamp-Thing." When Marvel introduced "The Tomb of Dracula" in the early 1970s it was a rather modest entry into the horror market. But because of the success of this comic book it would be followed up with "Werewolf by Night" and "The Frankenstein Monster." But it was "Tomb of Dracula" that would end up proclaiming on its cover that it was "Comicdom's Number 1 Fear Magazine" (starting with issue #43).
The first issue of "Tomb of Dracula" was scripted by Gerry Conway, who gave way to Archie Goodwin on the third issue, who was then replaced by Gardner F. Fox on the fifth. It was not until Marv Wolfman took over the writing reigns with issue #7 and continued for the rest of the comic's run that the title really took off. But "Tomb of Dracula" had the advantage of having the perfect artist from the start with Gene Colan. The penciler inked the first issue but for the third issue Tom Palmer did the chore, and he would ink the vast majority of issues, although there were gaps. Palmer's best work was over Neal Adams' pencils, but he gave Colan an edge he had never enjoyed before. Nobody could draw Dracula's transformations any better than Colan, master of the swirling lines that showed the vampire morphing into a giant bat. He was also very good at figures in shadows, as well as drawing rain, and when it came to drawing women only John Romita, Sr. came close (note, the cover of this collection, taken from issue #1, is by John Buscema).
"Tomb of Dracula" began with a standard love triangle. Frank Drake, an American descendant of the infamous Count Dracula, who has inherited Castle Dracula. He shows up in Transylvania to check out the property, along with his girl friend Jeannie, and his supposed friend Clifton Graves, Jeannie's ex-boyfriend and a guy out to make a buck. Cliff sees Castle Dracula as a tourist trap that he expects to end up with, along with Jeannie. But Cliff is so stupid that when he finds Dracula's skeleton with a stake sticking out of it (a major find) he pulls out the stake. The next thing we know Cliff is doing the Renfield act as Dracula's slave and Jeannie has been turned into a vampire. By the end of issue #2 Frank has to stake her and the comic is looking for a new direction. Goodwin adds a major element by having Drake hook up with Rachel Van Helsing, the great-granddaughter of the professor in Bram Stoker's novel, and Taj, her mute servant from India, which establishes the idea of a group of fearless vampire slayers. Wolfman adds the final member of the core group in issue #7, Quincy Harker, the son of Jonathan and Mina Harker, now an old man in a wheelchair (because of an encounter with the Count), who brings a scientific approach to vampire slaying.
Thus, "Tomb of Dracula" becomes a quest, with this core group and their associates tracking down the King of the Vampires. Among those associates is Blade (#10), who actually manages to stake Dracula (#13). Of course, one of the great things about having a vampire as the villain is that just because you kill him does not mean the ball game is over, and the story of how Dracula ends up undead (i.e., alive) by the end of the next issue (#14), is one of Wolfman's better tales. What made Wolfman so good was that he took the long view with these characters and this comic book. During those same issues where Dracula gets killed, we start getting brief scenes involving
Chinese minions acting out the orders of the mysterious Doctor Sun. You will not find out about who Doctor Sun is and what he wants by the end of this volume, which means you will have to just keep on reading.
Wolfman and Colan also throw in some stories in which Dracula is reduced to a supporting character (e.g., #16, #23), and there is a crossover adventure with "Werewolf by Night." But one of the strengths of "Tomb of Dracula" was that it was out of the mainstream Marvel Universe. There would be another crossover with Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, and a visit by the Silver Surfer, but these limited examples mesh nicely with the supernatural aspect of the series. This collection ends on a high note with "Night of the Blood Stalker" (#25), in which we are introduced to Hannibal King, Private Investigator. Too bad there is the letter page where they explained all the clues in this one, but once you know the "secret" you can figure them out for yourself. By the time you finish this volume you will be more than one-third of the way through the comic's 70-issue run and you will be hooked.
Volume 1 of the "Essential Tomb of Dracula" contains issues #1-25 of "The Tomb of Dracula," along with a crossover story in "Werewolf By Night" #15 and the "Giant-Size Chillers" #1 story that introduced Lilith, Dracula's daughter. Volume 2 has issues #26-49 of "Tomb of Dracula," a crossover with "Dr. Strange" #14, and a quartet of less than stellar stories from "Giant-Size Dracula" #2-5. Volume 3 has "Tomb of Dracula" #50-70 and stories from "Tomb of Dracula Magazine" #1-4. I understand there is going to be a Volume 4, which hopefully would continue to reprint some of the stories from Marvel's black & white "Dracula Lives" magazine. Obviously you need to get all three volumes of the "Essential: Tomb of Dracula" so that you can appreciate how Wolfman, Colan, and Palmer crafted the best "fear" comic book since the days of E.C.