Pulp and Dagger

Graphic Novel Review


The Curse of Dracula

2005 - available in soft cover

Written by Marv Wolfman. Illustrated by Gene Colan.
Colours: Dave Stewart. Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft. Editor: Scott Allie.

Reprinting: the three issue, 1998 mini-series.

80 pages

Suggested for Mature Readers

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Cover price: $9.95 USA

In the 1970s, arguably the longest running, most successful horror series comic (as opposed to horror anthology) was Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula, with the lord of vampires alive and well in the modern world, and a motley collection of vampire hunters allied against him (including Blade, later to be featured in some motion pictures). Almost the entirety of the comic was drawn by Gene Colan, and most of it was written by Marv Wolfman, and many regard it as a peak for both men. Modern fans have a chance to see what was what, as Marvel has collected the complete run in a series of mammoth, black & white Essential TPBs (one of which the Supreme Plasmate himself reviewed here).

Wolfman and Colan reunited a few times over the years, both for a revival of Tomb of Dracula as a prestige format mini-series, and for a short-lived horror title from DC, the uneven but promising Night Force. Then, they reunited once again, once more with Dracula...but with a difference. Now they were at Dark Horse Comics which meant that, although they could use Dracula (as he's in the public domain) they had to create a new supporting cast, and even reinvent their titular villain himself so as not to rouse Marvel's lawyers.

Still, for fans of the Tomb of Dracula, a new mini-series couldn't help but be regarded with enthusiasm. And now, a few years later, that mini-series has been collected as a TPB. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a misplaced enthusiasm.

Curse of Dracula is an oddly constructed, somewhat slap dash effort.

Part of the problem is that Wolfman and Colan, perhaps trying to capitalize on their Tomb of Dracula history, and evoking that comics' penchant for long, winding stories, jump into this as if we're in the middle of an on going series. But it's not an on going series, it's a mini-series, and therefore demands a beginning, middle and end. Instead, Wolfman tosses in a colourful collection of vampire hunters -- introduced by captions as each one appears in the first scene -- but never really makes them people we care about. Meanwhile, Dracula is already in the middle of a scheme to gain political power so, again, it feels a little like we've missed an issue or two.

As Wolfman and Colan created Blade, but saw none of the money from the Blade movies (something Wolfman alludes to in his introduction) one can't help wondering if Wolfman went into this more with the intent of creating marketable properties he and Colan would retain the rights to, rather than telling a story. He's clearly thought up histories for his protagonists -- one's part vampire, another talks through a voice box after a vampire destroyed his vocal chords -- but often it's of little relevance to this story (in fact, we learn more about these characters reading Wolfman's introduction than in the comics themselves!)

It's an ensemble story but one where Wolfman has trouble giving each character something to do, as we have scenes of the four or five vampire hunters crashing vampire dens en mass, and a four or five page fight scenes ensues with a lot of flames and explosions, but where it's hard to tell what's going on, or to care much.

And if the heroes are ill-defined, Dracula is worse. Not wanting to repeat themselves by recreating their dynamic Tomb of Dracula arch fiend, this Dracula is a rather bland, colourless figure, both in the character design by Colan, and the writing.

The plot is extremely thin, with the first two of three issues having the heroes run about, not even aware Dracula has any big scheme (in fact, when they do learn about his political ambitions it seems to be in a scene that isn't depicted!). Worse -- it doesn't end! Maybe I should've stated that at the beginning: the most unforgiveable aspect of this "mini-series" is it's not a mini-series. Clearly Wolfman and Colan were hoping to use it as a spring board for a whole new series. But as it's only being collected now, some seven years after it first saw print, one suspects sales didn't warrant any further adventures. So you've basically got a story with no beginning, and no real end.

And if Wolfman's writing is shallow and thinly plotted, Colan's art can also be problematic. Bear in mind, I'm a big fan of Colan's work, and the art can be quite good here. But in recent years the master has become more indulgent and experimental in his panel arrangement and the like, so there are a few sequences which are just hard to figure out. In fact, the entire climax just left me scratching my head, almost as if Wolfman and Colan were envisioning two different scenes, the words and pictures not quite gelling. I suspect that some of Colan's recent work is reproduced directly from his pencils (rather than making use of an inker), a technique that allows Colan more nuance to his lines. But it also makes some of the images a little too vague, where some sharp definition might've helped. The comic is in colour, which normally would be a plus, but after reading Tomb of Dracula reprinted in black & white, I almost wonder if Colan isn't an artist better suited to black and white.

This is also very much a mature readers comic, with brutal violence and some nudity and sex, though nothing titillating as Colan depicts a lot of the latter in a stylized way, or with lots of shadows.

To be honest, Wolfman and Colan's earlier Tomb of Dracula had its problems, with Wolfman often stretching out vaguely developed plots that then petered out as often as they built to climaxes, and with inconsistent characterization. But read as a group, such as in the Essential collections, the mood and ambition of that series forgives some shortcomings. Maybe confined to three issues, Wolfman just couldn't focus his ideas into a shorter page count. But in this three issue mini-series, the shortcomings stand naked and unconcealed -- the heroes, for all their superficial quirks, are ill-defined, the villain bland, and the "plot" thin, the story structure awkward, leaning toward drawn out fights and "gore" scenes, and the series offers no real resolution.

Wolfman and Colan may've been hoping to ressurect their vampire king...but they might've accidentally staked him through the heart instead.

Reviewed by D.K. Latta

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