Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dracula Month Day 17: Death Ship #1-4

My favourite portion of Bram Stoker's Dracula novel is the log of the captain of the Demeter, the doomed man who unwittingly transports Dracula's coffin (and boxes of Transylvanian soil) into England, during which Dracula picks off the Demeter's crew one by one, leaving the captain for last. The story is strong enough that it could stand on its own; ergo, we have the 2010 IDW mini-series Bram Stoker's Death Ship.

Death Ship was a four-issue limited series by writer Gary Gerani and artist Stuart Sayger. As in the account found in Stoker's novel, the crew are shown being killed one by one. However, throughout the series Dracula is obscured, usually half-glimpsed. Most of Dracula's attacks involve him tricking the crew with hallucinatory visions, something he wasn't capable of in the novel.

Four issues is more than enough room to tell the story of the Demeter from the crew's perspective but the crew are barely fleshed out, with only two receiving particular focus as characters. I found the idea of Dracula dispatching his enemies through hallucinations less interesting than scenes of him simply stalking and cornering the crew would have been. I think I was unclear about what Dracula's powers were, which made the suspense of the story hard to pin down. This concept remains a popular one as for years now there's been a film in-development called The Last Voyage of the Demeter. Perhaps a film account would be more to my liking,

Monday, October 16, 2017

Dracula Month Day 16: The Complete Dracula #1-5

How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact.

So reads the preface of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. This too is how the 2009 Dynamite Entertainment comic book series The Complete Dracula opens. This five-issue limited series was an attempt at adapting the full text of the original Dracula novel plus Dracula's Guest, the adaptation was performed by writers Leah Moore & John Reppion with artist Colton Worley and covers by John Cassaday.

The irony of Moore & Reppion including the preface is that when they type "All needless matters have been eliminated" they do err - including the short story Dracula's Guest for the sake of being complete is to include an entirely irrelevant piece of data which is an interesting supplement to the novel but which doesn't truly belong in the body of the novel. Seeing Dracula's Guest adapted within Dracula does serve to make this adaptation a little different than most comic book versions of Stoker's text, but it remains a curious sidebar to the actual story of Dracula.

Beyond that, Moore, Reppion & Worley's dedication to delivering a faithful adaptation of the original text is one I heartily approve of and this may well be the definitive comic book adaptation of the original text. I don't find Worley to be entirely satisfactory as an artist as his facial expressions feel unconvincing, but the story is laid out immensely well. I'll be looking at yet more comic book adaptations of the novel before the month is out; this is the one which would best serve the reader who prefers comic books to prose.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Dracula Month Day 15: Mercury Theatre on the Air - Dracula

In the 1930s, Orson Welles & John Houseman's Mercury Theatre became a New York sensation and that led CBS to bring them to radio in 1938 for The Mercury Theatre on the Air. Welles had lofty ambitions for the kind of stories which the program would tell, a mix of plays and adaptations of popular novels. Welles intended the premiere broadcast to be an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island but ultimately shifted it ahead one week and instead wrote a very quick adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula for the July 11th premiere.

Although the most famous broadcast of The Mercury Theatre on the Air would be their version of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, the series didn't tread very often into the realm of science fiction/supernatural; in that sense, Dracula doesn't entirely make sense as a premiere broadcast. It's also remarkable that, considering his stage background, Welles wanted to adapt the novel, not the play. But as I've said before, the novel is so very much superior to the play and although every account of the adaptation process states it was a grueling one because of the sheer volume of prose Stoker wrote, Welles seemed to know the book was the correct source material.

The radio episode condenses the entire novel to an hour very faithful. Poor old Quincey Morris is omitted (as he often is) but the rest of the major characters are present. Welles performed Dracula and Dr. Seward with various sections narrated by the particular point-of-view characters, as in the novel. My favourite performance belongs to Martin Gabel as Van Helsing, who belts out his lines with tremendous fury (particularly at the climax as he screams "Strike, Harker!"). In all of old-time radio, this is just about the only time Dracula was adapted to the medium. Go check it out at archive.org, it's one of old-time radio's best horror broadcasts.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Dracula Month Day 14: Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned

Having spent the past five days of Dracula Month looking at Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula series it seems fitting to move on to the Tomb of Dracula movie. "Tomb of Dracula had a movie?" you might be asking. And no, I'm not referring to Blade. One year after the comic book series wrapped Japan unleashed the animated film Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned for television. It's a mess.

I often complain about films being too liberal with their original source material, deviating in unnecessary ways from the established text. In the case of Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned, the problem is fidelity. Namely, that the picture has to tell the origin of Dracula, introduce the vampire hunters who pursue him and condense a complete storyarc from 25 issues of the comic book series into a 90 minute film. The result is trash; occasionally amusing trash, but nothing more. The Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan comic books which were adapted into this film told an engaging and dark story of Dracula claiming leadership of a Satanic cult, taking one of the worshipers as his bride, fathering a child with her, the child dying during a raid on Dracula's church, Dracula then waging war against both Heaven and Hell as Satan strips Dracula of his powers and God sends an angel to inhabit the body of Dracula's dead son to oppose him as Janus. That great "Batwings Over Transylvania" story I blogged about on Thursday? It's in here too and it has no room to breathe.

The animation in this film is better than most US cartoons circa 1980 but it's too bright for such sombre material. The story of Dracula, the cult, Satan and Janus could be told as a moody anime program, but as a series, not a feature film. Even the appearance of Dracula's daughter Lilith was retained in this adaptation so that every few minutes the story has to stop and introduce someone everyone in the story already knows about; the film never gains traction.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dracula Month Day 13: Tomb of Dracula (magazine) #2

To close the lid on my look at Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula I'm moving to the black & white Tomb of Dracula magazine which succeeded the comic book series. Specifically, I'm interested in looking at Tomb of Dracula #2 (1979): "The Dimensional Man" by the usual Tomb of Dracula scribe Marv Wolfman but joined there by the legendary Steve Ditko!

Dracula is virtually a guest star in this story as instead the point-of-view character who carries most of the action is the Dimensional Man, a member of a cult who worship the demon Asmodeus. The Dimensional Man was exposed to demonic energies during a ceremony and became a succubus, feeding on other people's life energies - in that sense, not unlike Dracula. Now against the cult who raised him, the Dimensional Man tries to save his sister from being sacrificed to Asmodeus. Fortunately, the Dimensional Man has help - in the form of Dracula, who had befriended the sister.

Steve Ditko is not Gene Colan; while Colan was a master of the shadows with moody artwork well suited to black & white, Ditko was and is a very bright artist, one whose weird imagery is accentuated by colour. Despite this, Ditko did a fine job adapting himself to the style of a Dracula comic. The Dimensional Man feels like the kind of character Ditko was more comfortable writing about, right down to the hat & coat visual found on other Ditko heroes (The Question, Mr. A). This story stands on its own, not tying into the rest of Marvel's Dracula comics even with Wolfman as the scripter. However, I think it's the best story from the brief 6-issue magazine run simply because Ditko committed himself so readily to this format; if you enjoyed Ditko's other black & white horror magazine work (Creepy, Eerie) you'll want to check this out. As to the Dimensional Man, he's actually turned up a little outside of this story; check out his profile at the Marvel Appendix.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Dracula Month Day 12: Tomb of Dracula #69

Today I'm looking at another issue of Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula series. This time it's Tomb of Dracula #69 (1979): "Batwings Over Transylvania" by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan & Tom Palmer. The ongoing plot in the later issues of Tomb of Dracula concerned Dracula losing his vampiric powers; by #69 he had regained his abilities but learned another vampire had claimed his role as vampire lord, making Dracula an enemy of his fellow vampires.

In this issue, Dracula returns to his homeland, Transylvania, with a heavy mob of vampires chasing him. Dracula finally flees into a farmhouse for shelter from his enemies, only to find the home is occupied by children whose devout mother has taught to defend themselves against vampires by outfitting them with garlic and crosses. For all that, however, the children don't realize their guest is a vampire.

It becomes an interesting situation as Dracula goes from looking to eat the children, to barricading their home against the attacking vampires and finally, to combat his foes, picking up a cross to ward the other vampires away, even as the cross burns his own flesh. The children are left thinking Dracula was heroic, little guessing his true nature. It's a clever situation and one of the best latter-day Tomb of Dracula tales.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dracula Month Day 11: Tomb of Dracula #30

Today I'm looking at another issue of Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula series. This time it's Tomb of Dracula #30 (1975): "Memories on a Mourning's Night" by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan & Tom Palmer. Similar to issue #15, this story features Dracula reminiscing about his past as a series of short vignettes bring to light his past misdeeds.

This time out, Dracula's memories are linked by a common theme of romance and loss; Dracula had just lost Sheila Whittier, a woman he'd been romancing (she ultimately jumped out a window to avoid him). First, Dracula recalls a noblewoman who claimed to love him and directed Dracula to murder her husband, but then had an army of men kill Dracula in return; when Dracula revived, he turned her into a vampire to serve him. Second, Dracula encounters a blind girl whose father has just murdered the girl's mother; Dracula kills the father and tells the blind girl he obtained revenge for her, but is shocked when the child isn't pleased. Finally, Dracula recalls his days in China when a certain fellow named Blade tricked Dracula into an ambush where Blade and his allies destroyed him.

"Memories on a Mourning's Night" is particularly significant within the series because it's the first look into Blade's past, but much like issue #15 it enhances Dracula's legend by demonstrating some of the battles he'd had in the past were as exceptional as anything he'd been involved in during contemporary times. Although Marvel's black & white magazine Dracula Lives ran alongside the colour comic and regularly told stories of Dracula's past, they never approached the grandeur of Wolfman & Colan's Dracula.