I’m sure there’s a difference between a Gene Colan comic book and a Gene Colan art portfolio but damned if they don’t seem identical. Gerry Conway scripts this issue (from a Roy Thomas plot–according to Thomas), and there’s just the right amount of moody in the text to go with the Colan art. It’s perfect and terrifying and a done-in-one. It’s a first issue, but one without any setup for the series, other than Dracula (and his descendant, one Frank Drake of America).
Set in the present, the issue recounts down-on-his-luck blue blood Drake deciding the only way to get rich with what he’s got is turning his old family castle into a tourist location. Luckily, it’s Castle Dracula, so folks might want to pay for that trip. So along with his girlfriend, Jean, and his ostensible pal, Clifton, Frank heads to Transylvania and the castle.
The comic opens with the trio having car trouble, which forces them into town, where they meet villagers as superstitious as Jonathan Harker came across eighty-plus years before. After some guffawing, a villager agrees to take them out to the castle—for ten dollars American (eighty bucks today), bankrupting them—where they explore, Frank feeling a strange familial connection, Jean being miserable she tagged along, and Clifton scheming to get Frank out of the way both in business and romance. Clifton used to date Jean, but she threw him over for fellow richie Frank.
It’d be soapy if it weren’t for Colan’s truly breathtaking horror art. There’s impending doom in every panel; it’s magnificent.
And, credit where it’s due, Conway’s script is a fine accompaniment. He overwrites, but the wordy exposition means longer attention on each panel, which leads to Colan’s foreboding making more of an impression. There’s some backstory, too, with Frank reading an old family diary to fill everyone—reader, Frank, and Clifton—in on how Dracula works in Tomb of Dracula.
And once the Count arrives, he’s mesmerizing. There’s a lot of vampire horror action, Frank’s constantly defending with whatever baubles work, Dracula’s out to get Jean (the barmaid he feeds on is a little too low class), and Clifton’s pretty sure it’s all an elaborate gag to mess with the villagers.
The comic goes on longer than expected, running twenty-five pages, which Colan and Conway put to good use. Colan’s art is so good, Conway padding out the action doesn’t matter; you just want more panels. The wrap-up’s haunting as well, as everyone—visitors and villagers—start to understand how the world is all of a sudden very different than before.
It’s a great comic, entirely self-contained, and absolutely gorgeous. I can’t wait for the second issue, even though the first doesn’t make any promises of what it’ll contain.
Well, other than Dracula, presumably.
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