Monday, May 30, 2005

Today's Retro-review is: DRACULA LIVES! #1

It's 1973 and after two unsuccessful forays into the B&W magazine format (Savage Tales and The Spectacular Spider-Man) Marvel tries once again, this time with a publication featuring the Lord of the Undead, Dracula. While Gerry Conway and Gene Colan finished the first issue of The Tomb of Dracula at the last minute, Marvel decided to turn the book into a full color 20 cent comic instead.

It wasn't too long afterward though that (and this is taken directly from Marvel's editorial page) "It's our firm conviction that at least a sizable portion of the future of comics lies in a larger, more expensive, even more mature product than today's color market is structured to allow. In a day when Playboy and other magazines sell for a buck - in a day when a forty or a fifty-cent cover price is possible only to a magazine of tremendous initial circulation- we felt that, even though Marvel's popularity is at an all-time high, we'd be fools and klutzes not to experiment with other prices, other sizes, other formats."

Yes, that's what Marvel said in 1973. Of course that was long before the creation of Comic Book Shops and as for the future of comics as mentioned in that editorial.... well, that's for another day to discuss.

This is supposed to be about Dracula Lives! #1.

First, the cover. Much like the cover of Tales of the Zombie #1 we're once again treated to another painting by the prolific Boris (see picture above).

Inside the 74 page magazine (wow, 74 pages for 75 cents) this premiere issue contains 6 stories and 1 text feature. Our first tale is titled "A Poison of the Blood". An 11 page tale written by Gerry Conway and illustrated by Gene Colan & Tom Palmer, the same art team that handled Marvel's monthly color title, The Tomb of Dracula.

Dracula has just traveled to New York where he seeks Jackson Kubbard a founder of a "Mysticology" group, that he believes is in fact the reincarnation of the sorcerer, Cagliostro, his old enemy. During his pursuit Dracula needs to feast, unfortunately for him his victim is a heroin addict and the blood is so tainted that the vampire lord ends up in jail!

Actually this is probably the only interesting aspect of this story. Dracula strung up on drugged blood would had made for a different take on a vampire tale, instead his addiction is quickly discarded and the finale is pretty predictable.

Along with a pretty blasé script, I was disappointed with the art. I've recently read a few of the TPB collections of The Tomb of Dracula and I love how great Colan & Palmer's work looks in B&W, even though the original were in color. The art for "A Poison of the Blood", intended for B&W looks rushed and not up to Colan & Palmer's standards.

Up next, also at 11 pages, is "Suffer not a Witch" by Roy Thomas, Alan Weiss & Dick Giordano. This story was.... lame. Dracula (for some reason) becomes obsessed with a young woman named Charity Brown, who lives in America circa 1691. While in his castle in Transylvania, Drac "calls out to Charity" across the ocean and brands her bosom with a vampire bat! (I ain't making this up) Of course this is America in the late 1600's and a woman is found to be branded with a "sign of Satan"- so I think we can all see where this is heading....

Making up for a lackluster story (Dracula pining for a mortal woman? Huh?) is Weiss & Giordano's artwork. Especially Giordano's inks, which are particularly strong. (geez, you'd think I would have included a picture of the art here.... d'oh!)

After that is the 2 page editorial, which I mentioned earlier, and then, the first of THREE reprints!! Now I'm a fan of the old 50's & 60's horror tales. Most are fun, short reads and rendered by a lot of great artists, but THREE reprints?? (in that editorial, it's mentioned that these magazines cost Marvel so much to make that they have to include all these reprints.)

The first reprint is titled "Zombie" (Which is not to be confused with Bill Everett's, "Zombie!", a reprint that was printed in Tales of the Zombie #1 . You see Bill's story has a "!" in the title, so it was more exciting) The artwork is by Tony DiPreta and is about as listless as the story itself.

Next is a two page reprint called "Ghost of a Chance". There are no credits for this story, which is just as well, since they give away the "shock" ending in the damn title itself!

Before the final reprint is a text piece written by Marv Wolfman, "What can you say about a Five-Hundred-Year-Old Vampire who refuses to die?" Despite the long ass title it's neat little, picture filled, 6 page history lesson about Dracula in the cinema. Well, Dracula's films up until 1973 that is.

The final reprint, fortunately, is better than the rest, thanks in part to the artwork by Russ Heath. It's called "Fright!" and the story is credited to Stan Lee. A seven page morality play that sees the bad guy meet his fate in the end.

Before I tell you about the last story I should mention that all these early Marvel B&W monster mags used the "photo-funny" technique to present each story. They'd grab some old monster movie stock photo, put in word balloons and have the characters say some (usually) unfunny stuff. What can I say, this was 32 years ago, they were simpler times.

We finish issue #1 with "To Walk Again in Daylight" by Steve Gerber, Rich Buckler & Pablo Marcos. This...... is a bad story. (and by bad, I don't mean good!) I've always been a fan of Gerber's work, but boy, he has NO handle on the character of Dracula here! The story involves Dracula searching for a cure for his vampirism (?) and he's written as desperate and pathetic whiner. Buckler here, early in his career, oddly enough doesn't look like a Kirby rip-off. He has some very sharp close-ups, and even though his Dracula at times looks more like Dr. Strange, it doesn't detract too much.

For some reason though, in this story and sprinkled throughout the magazine, the color red is added. Now this could be an effective technique, like how it's used in the panel below, but for the most part the inks were seemingly just thrown in and had no purpose (that I could see) in the telling of any of the stories.

To summarize this week's stroll down memory lane, I was disappointed with Dracula Lives! #1 (especially when I compare it to Tales of the Zombie #1 which I read last week). The main stories were mediocre at best and I was unimpressed with the reprints.

One again, for those who care, Overstreet lists a near mint copy for $60.

Hopefully next week's read will be better. Return next Monday when Retro-review takes on: Monsters Unleashed! #1.

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