Daily Archives: October 16, 2016

And Don’t Get Me Started on Hotel Transylvania

monster-month14 Series, Stories and Episodes That Suggest a Certain Transylvanian Count Should Fire His Agent  

dracula-superhero1. Dell’s Dracula (1966)
He is the dread Lord of the Undead, a dark and seductive creature of the night who embodies the very essence of evil… in other words, the kind of guy you do not want to mess with. And yet all too often comic writers seem to think it’s perfectly fine to put Dracula in ridiculous situations, or attach his public-domain name to the most hare-brained projects you can imagine. The best/worst example of the latter is Dell’s Dracula, a mercifully short-lived attempt to use famous movie monsters to cash in on the Batman ’66-fueled superhero craze. But no Legosi homages here, thank you very much: this Dracula is (I kid you not) Al U. Card, a direct descendant of the original count who moves into his old family castle to work on a bat blood-derived serum that can cure brain damage. Of course, he accidentally ingests his own bat blood formula and gains vampire-like powers (superhuman sight and hearing, plus the ability to turn into a bat), which naturally leads to his decision to become a superhero after a run-in with a local Communist evil overlord type named Boris Eval. This mercifully short-lived series included such exciting tales as “Dracula Comes to America!” and “Dracula Finds His Specialty!” — making him sound more like the star of a series of children’s books than a Z-list superhero. Come to think of it, Dracula Finds His Specialty sounds like a great idea for a book on college prep courses; this comic, on the other hand, was complete rubbish, and Dell threw in the towel after just three issues.

2. “Where Soars the Silver Surfer!” (Tomb of Dracula #50, 1976)
Dracula’s best comic-book gig to date is Tomb of Dracula, one of the better books put out by Marvel in the 1970s. Written by (oh, irony) Marv Wolfman, the series got around the logistical problems of having a headlining villain by introducing a huge cast of vampire hunters who regularly team up to foil Dracula’s eeeee-vil plans. But having your adventures published by Marvel comes with a price, namely putting up with occasional guest stars who don’t always work within the supernatural universe created by Wolfman and friends. The Silver Surfer is probably the best/worst example of this, showing up in Tomb of Dracula’s 50th issue to do battle with the titular count. And while a lot of Marvel heroes would work fine in a story alongside the Lord of the Vampires, the Surfer isn’t one of them. In this tale, the Surfer is mind-controlled into attacking Dracula and… well, that’s pretty much it. The Surfer is billed as “a being as filled with righteousness as Dracula is with evilness” and the story does its damnedest to play up the Jesus v. Satan symbolism (artist Gene Colan even shows the Surfer emerging from a painting of Jesus at one point, just in case anyone missed the point). But in the end no one wins, the Surfer flies off to soliloquize somewhere else, and you’re left wondering what was the point to any of it.

3. “Attack of the Vampire,” Super Friends (1978)
Look, I get it: Super Friends was intended for children and you can’t have villains drinking blood or seducing the ladies in a Saturday morning cartoon. But that begs the question of why you would even want Dracula as a guest villain in the first place. The plot: after awakening from a 100-year nap, Dracula releases a glowing powder that turns a plane full of people into vampires. They use their eye beams (yeah, I know) to create more vampires as part of Dracula’s plan to turn everyone in the world into vampires. The Super Friends investigate, some of them get turned into vampires, the others find a way to reverse the effects, they fake out Dracula in the final act, the end. This is why Dracula needs to put script approval in all his contracts. Why would he want to turn all humans into vampires and destroy his own food source? How would an airplane whose passengers and crew have all disappeared manage to land safely at its destination? And most importantly: why would the Super Friends narrator tell us Dracula’s minions are “transforming the villagers into walking zombies”…? First, you don’t need to tell us they’re walking; that’s implied in the “zombie” part. Second: why are we calling them zombies when they’re clearly vampires? You do not want to get those two groups confused. I mean, have you seen what happens when the deli gets their lunch orders mixed up? Trust me, it’s not a pretty sight.

4. “Vampire In the White House” (Prez #4, 1974)
No. Just… no, goddammit. Whatever indignities Dracula suffered by appearing in a Super Friends cartoon, at least he had the satisfaction of knowing he could stand on his own two feet. Not so much this Dracula, who appeared in one of the strangest titles DC ever put out. Conceived by Joe Simon at a time when the public’s faith in the presidency was at an all-time low, Prez stars Prez Rickard, the first teen president after the country ditches the age requirement for the job. With his Native American friend (and head of the FBI) Eagle Free by his side, Prez dealt with the typical kind of challenges first-term presidents often face: rampaging animals, chess-themed terrorists, evil descendants of George Washington demonstrating their right to bear arms by firing actual little people at the White House, that sort of thing. And then there’s this guy, His Royal Highness Count Dracula the First of Transylvania. Outraged by a U.S.-built irrigation system in a neighbouring country that inadvertently diverted water from his perpetually dark land, Dracula smuggles himself into the White House via a coffin-shaped suitcase(!) and tries to turn Prez into a vampire. Why does he have no legs, you ask? Excellent question! And one that no one involved in producing this four-color acid trip had any intention of answering. The story ends with Dracula plunging into the sea in a plane full of rabid bats (…of course?), and Prez and Eagle Free discuss how to help Transylvania — not that we’ll ever know what happens next, because the book was cancelled right after this issue went out.

5. “The Tomb of Drakula!” (Howard the Duck #5, 05/80)
To be clear, I’m not saying I’m completely against the idea of a story in which Howard the Duck believes himself to be a vampire. Nor am I dead set against the notion of a vampire biting Howard under the mistaken assumption he’s merely a weirdly dressed vertically challenged human. But Dracula…? In a Howard story that wasn’t even written by Steve Gerber? Granted, Bill Mantlo is no slouch in the writing department, but let’s be honest: when it comes to Howard, there’s Gerber and there’s everyone else. In this slight tale from Howard’s black-and-white years, our diabolical count not only gags on the taste of neck feathers for the sake of a cheap laugh, he’s also forced to slumber in the Cleveland sewers (um, ew) and be on the receiving end of one of the groaniest slaying quips this side of Sunnydale High (“Since you were stickin’ it to my girlfriend — I thought I’d do the same for you”). It’s times like this you wish there were another lesser vampire with some name recognition to handle the guest-star duties in stories like this, Shecky the Vampire or whatever.

6. “The Haunting of Thallus” (Star Trek #4, 07/80)
And then there was that one time when Dracula showed up on the bridge of the USS Enterprise. While transporting a dangerous prisoner back to his home planet, members of the crew are plagued with visions of monsters and ghosts on all decks. (“Even my Russian-made phaser was useless!” Chekov says. Shut up, Chekov.) The Lord of Vampires, of course, chooses to appear only before Kirk  himself, which he does briefly before knocking around a few of ship’s security guards — wait, where are their red shirts? This is goddamned Star Trek, and you’re giving me expendable guards in dopey Lazer Tag helmets? No wonder this series only lasted 18 issues. Anyway. Long story short, Dracula kills an alien ambassador, they find a haunted mansion floating in space, the Klingons show up — to be honest, it all ends up being a bunch of bollocks. But at least the story ends with McCoy needling Spock about how human emotions saved the day. Heh, those two and their bitching. It never gets old.

7. “The Vampire Strikes Back!” (The Defenders #95, 05/81)

The title of this story is “The Vampire Strikes Back.” In 1981. That alone should have warned Dracula to stay away. While investigating some supernatural something-or-other, the Defenders are attacked by Dracula, and it soon becomes clear he is being controlled as a puppet by someone — or something — else. Stirred to consciousness, Dracula reluctantly teams up with the Defenders and together they mount an attack on his own castle, which has been taken over by a traitorous underling serving a new demonic lord. First: super job with the employee relations, Drac. More importantly, though… this seems a bit beneath him, no? Put aside the fact he’s so easily mind-controlled against his will, he barely does more in this story than tell the female teammates to cease their prattling and pound on some turncoat vampires. This is supposed to be the embodiment of ultimate evil, and he comes off more like Tony Stark in Halloween make-up doing his best impression of a third-rate super-villain who shows up late to snarl and bust heads — he doesn’t even get to make the big move that wins the day (side note: when fighting an army of vampires, it’s handy having someone on your side who can sing “Here Comes the Sun” and mean it).

8. “Night Screams!” (Uncanny X-Men #159, 07/82)
In this story, Storm is mugged while visiting New York City, her only visible injury being a strangely shaped throat wound. Later, she invites an unseen stranger to enter through her window, and the next morning Kitty Pryde notices a few odd things, like Storm’s sudden aversion to sunlight and how she recoils from Kitty’s Star of David necklace. Oh, and she’s also wearing a scarf “from an admirer” that’s monogrammed with an ornate D. Oh geewhatever could the big mystery be? Yes, of course it’s Dracula, slumming it in New York alleys and by sheer coincidence choosing one of the X-Men out of millions of New Yorkers to become his latest victim. When Storm flies away with him, the X-Men track them down to Central Park’s Belvedere Castle, where Dracula fights them for the right to keep his latest conquest. But alas, it’s all for naught because even though she is clearly showing the physical traits of a vampire, Storm is able to resist Dracula’s commands because… I don’t know, the secret ingredient is love? Storm goes from fangs-out ready to kill Kitty to sucker-punching (make that sucker-frying) Dracula and vowing to be no one’s slave. The story is wrapped up with a nice “I was never physically a vampire; it was just in my head,” which begs the question: did Dracula know that? Because it seems like the sort of thing he should have known. You know, him being Dracula and all.

9. Harvey’s Little Dracula series (1992)
“Drac, baby, it’s your agent. Call me. The guys at Harvey Comics want to talk about a business opportunity. Let’s set up a meet. Ciao!”
“You there, Drac? All right, here’s the deal: Harvey wants to adapt a bunch of British kids’ books titled Little Dracula — you remember I negotiated that deal for you, right? — but they want to make sure you’re on board. I think it’s a winner; I mean, these are the same guys who did Casper the Friendly Ghost, Wendy the Good Little Witch and Hot Stuff the Little Devil. The adventures of a kid vampire seems right up their alley, don’t you think? Listen, I’ll fax over some of their sketches and you tell me what you think.”
“Drac, baby, it’s me again. Did you get the faxes? I know it’s a little corny with the bat bow tie and all the undead puns, and I’m really not crazy about the green skin and red eyes, but the guys at Harvey tell me this is the stuff that sells. Listen, we missed the boat on that Twilight thing and that’s my bad, but I think this is a really great opportunity for us to go after a demographic you haven’t captured yet. I mean figuratively — I know you captured a lot of children back in the old days. But I’ll make sure we keep that on the down-low when we set up some interviews to promote this series, I swear. Call me!”
“Okay, Drac, I get it. You’re not responding to my calls because you don’t want to put your name on this project. Well, about that, I… um, may have already signed you to this project. Don’t worry! It’s strictly a name-licensing thing only. You don’t even have to show up, all we do is let them call their brat ‘Little Dracula’ and wait for the residuals to pour in. I mean, a dynamite idea like this, you’ve got to figure at least 10 years of comics on top of merchandising and — oh, wait, I just got a text. Huh, it’s my guy at Harvey — he says they’re cancelling this after the third issue. Well… nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? All right, I gotta run. Give my love to the succubi!”

10. The Batman vs. Dracula (2005)
Running for five seasons on The WB in the 2000s, The Batman is often seen as the inferior successor to the more critically acclaimed Batman animated series from the 1990s. And that’s a shame, because despite its flashier, more kid-friendly design The Batman boasts some impressive scripts and casting choices (I would make a serious argument for why Robert Englund ought to be considered the definitive animated Riddler). In 2005, the show’s producers created a TV movie set in show’s continuity called The Batman vs. Dracula, and it delivers exactly what the title promises. The story starts with Penguin accidentally bringing Dracula back to life while searching for stolen cash in a crypt. Why is Dracula’s body lying in a Gotham cemetery? Not important! Because we need to get to the scenes of Dracula enslaving Penguin and putting the moves on Vicki Vale. How silly is the whole thing? It’s actually not terrible, though it has its creakier moments — like how the count shows up at Bruce’s party as “Dr. Alucard” and it takes the world’s greatest detective more than five seconds to realize “Alucard” is Dracula spelled backwards. Or the fact the count is dispatched by a prototype solar energy storing machine that Wayne’s company just happened to be working on at the time, and all his victims are returned to their non-vampire selves by a vaccine the Batman just happens to whip up. Dammit, back in my day once you got bit you stayed bit, you know?

11. “Blood Feud,” Avengers Assemble (2013)
Okay, so let’s talk about Tony Stark and his refusal to believe in the supernatural. Never mind the fact he’s sharing living quarters with an actual god; by the time the team encounter Dracula in this episode he had already tussled with other-dimensional Space Phantoms and the Midgard Serpent. So why is a bloodsucking vampire so hard for our resident scientist to accept? A better question: when did Dracula become such a chump? “Blood Feud” explains that Drac was once uneasy allies with Captain America, fighting alongside the First Avenger to keep his Transylvanian homeland free from Nazi oppression. But that was then; as we find out in this episode, Dracula is attacking the Avengers because he’s goaded into doing so by the scheming Red Skull. And in his attempt to get what he wants, he not only suffers the indignity of Cap knocking out one of his fangs, he also suffers greatly when biting a certain Avenger doesn’t go the way he planned. When everything is said and done, his castle is destroyed, he’s physically incapacitated and the Avengers have discovered the secret to ending his existence forever — things that never would have happened if he had simply minded his own business and stayed home. Then again, if he had done that it would have been a pretty boring episode watching the Hulk accusing everyone of stealing his peanut butter.

12. “Wolves at the Gate” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight, 2008)
Fun fact: When Buffy writer Marti Noxon was writing the script for the fifth season’s opening episode, she originally envisioned the vampire who would show Buffy a darker side of herself as “just another vampire who rode a horse and was all cool… I kept saying, ‘Like Dracula.'” It took series creator Joss Whedon to say, “Why not Dracula?” It turned out to be a bit of brilliance, because it allowed the show to present a kind of Dracula that had never seen before: a “poncy sod” and “glory hound” (Spike’s words) whose fame among mortals caused resentment among his fellow vampires (Spike again: “His story gets out and suddenly everybody knows how to kill us”). Even better, his status as the world’s most famous vampire causes the Scoobies to act starstruck around him, but then his pretentiousness leaves them unimpressed. Though appearing only once in the show, he popped up a few times in comic adaptations of the show, including “Wolves at the Gate,” a multi-issue story in Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight. Yes, that’s him dressed like Gary Oldman’s Dracula from the 1992 film, a sly homage to the many pop-culture faces Dracula has worn over the years. In his Buffy comic appearances, Dracula has come across as self-pitying and lonely while drowning his sorrows in drink. In fact, in “Wolves at the Gate” we learn it was during one of his drinking binges he lost the secret of his super-vampire powers in a bet with a group of Japanese vampires. Whoops. 

13. X-Men: Apocalypse vs. Dracula (2006)
Liston vs. Patterson! Foreman vs. Ali! Bobby Riggs vs. Billie Jean King! Batman vs. Superman! The list of hugely anticipated match-ups between giants in their field is a long and storied list… that this 2006 mini-series will never, ever be a part of. As we’ve already seen, Dracula has faced Marvel’s mutants before, but this mini-series marked the first time he shared a marquee with one of them. And if this mini-series were titled Wolverine vs. Dracula or Deadpool vs. Dracula, then maybe — maybe — he might have survived the proceedings with his dignity intact. (Okay, maybe not with the Deadpool team-up.) But no, this dreary affair was an attempt to make Apocalypse seem way cooler than he is by showing readers how he and Dracula have clashed over the centuries because blah blah blah and it’s all just a prequel to the “Blood of Apocalypse” storyline beginning in X-Men #182. As one online reviewer put it, “Apocalypse is a lame villain with the world’s tackiest belt buckle, and Dracula is a classic character who never quite found his niche in the Marvel Universe. To me, that sounds like a better combination for a buddy cop movie than a comic crossover.” Word.

14. “Herbie Goes to the Devil!” (Forbidden Worlds #116, 1963)
If you haven’t introduced yourself to Herbie the Fat Fury yet, then you really should do something about that. Like, right now. Created in 1958 by Richard Hughes and Ogden Whitney for American Comics Group, Herbie Popnecker is a laconic, emotionless kid who uses magical lollipops to fly, travel through time, dispatch his enemies with ease (“You want I should bop you with this here lollipop?”), you name it. It’s as gloriously insane as it sounds. In this story, our hero signs a contract with the Devil to help his dad get back on his feet, and when Herbie decides he doesn’t want to go to Hell the Devil dispatches Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster to fetch him. Why? There’s no point in asking the point of anything in a Herbie story; you just roll with it. After the two monsters are scared off by angry sentient lollipops (no, really), they plead with Herbie to come with them by invoking the contract he signed. So he thinks about it, shows up in hell and… melts Drac and Frank like wax candles just by looking at them? The huh? I mean, I get it, a gig’s a gig and if I were Dracula I’d be super honored to appear in a Herbie strip, even in a role that’s barely a step up from playing a henchman on the old Batman TV show. But a green business suit with a purple cape? No self-respecting count would wear that.