There’s no doubt that Dracula is, in our cultural subconscious, a classic and modern literary phenomenon and one of the most enduring characters in all of fiction and film. The count easily matches the cultural clout of such heavy-hitters as Sherlock Holmes, Superman, Tarzan, Mickey Mouse, and Harry Potter without breaking a sweat. When author Bram Stoker introduced him to the world in 1889, he scared the living hell out of machismo pugilists, colonial hardasses, the literati, overprotected royalty and just about every warm-blooded vixen that got their hands on a copy. A few decades after the Count made his debut, interest briefly waned until the world of film breathed new un-life into his story and he was re-energized for a new age. His popularity hasn’t waned since. Countless works of fiction and film have featured him after he entered the public domain, and comics are no exception. So let’s look at the various iterations of ol’ Drac in sequential art – you’ll be amazed at just how few versions of him exist on the comic book page.
The first and best comic book version of Dracula can be found in Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula series which ran from the 1970s to the 1980s. Originally a strange mixture of the characters Christopher Lee and Jack Palance portrayed in the movies, Marvel’s Dracula soon developed his own totally unique persona, courtesy of the brilliant scripts of Marv Wolfman and the jaw-dropping visuals of artist Gene Colan. The comic book Count was more loquacious and intelligent than his movie counterparts, displaying a knowledge of literature, history, alchemy, science and magic undreamed of in the films. Though dressed in the familiar vampire attire popularized by Lugosi in the movies, Dracula eschewed the frills and lace, opting for a formal black suit and heavy cloak. He was also more ambitious that his movie doppelgängers, relentlessly seeking to augment his already considerable might in order to rule a world where vampires dominated and humanity was relegated to a mere food source. Unfortunately (and this disappointed me quite a bit as a youngling) Drac was firmly ensconced in the Marvel Universe, often encountering superheroes such as Dr. Strange and the X-Men along the way. This detracted quite a bit from the overall horror of the series. Blade, the famous vampire hunter played by Wesley Snipes in three big budget movies, had his genesis in the pages of TOD, but instead of becoming one of Dracula’s greatest foes, he played the role of a throwaway character in most of the stories. These were minor disappointments, however. Marvel’s Dracula himself was a true villain, a force of evil that swept all from his path. His prodigious strength, arcane knowledge and shape-changing abilities caused his opponents no end of frustration and fear. Though most of the horror was implied and not specifically shown on the page, it still managed to convey the thought of death and eternal damnation at the hands of a vampire viscerally, making it one of the scariest all-ages comics in history.
DC Comics also briefly tackled the character of Dracula and introduced him as one of the villains of the warrior Beowulf, who had a short-lived series lasting only six issues in the mid-seventies (Beowulf: Dragon Slayer, May-Oct 1975). Here Drac was portrayed as more of a turban-wearing Turkish saracen-type warrior with only the barest hint of Romanian ancestry. Beowulf: Dragon Slayer was one of the best sword-and-sorcery titles of its time though, and had some truly unique characters and stories. Dracula himself was a sadistic and savage fighter, with a character-arc where he died on the battlefield after an epic swordfight with Beowulf, stabbed through the heart by an underling. His evil was so great, however, that Satan himself resurrected him and chose the vampire lord as his heir. The series finished before we got to see more of DC’s Dracula, but the brief panels featuring him in the Beowulf comic were spectacular.
Next we get the Buffyverse version of Dracula, a foppish dilletante who possesses watered-down character traits hijacked from Bela Lugosi and Gary Oldman’s portrayal of the character. As you can tell, this is most definitely my least favorite incarnation of the Count. In fact, all versions of Dracula incorporating even a hint of the comedic annoys me. He is the quintessential embodiment of HORROR, and should be treated with more respect. A vain, shallow celebrity and ally of The Scooby Gang (even mentioning Dracula and the name Scooby in the same sentence is galling) Buffy’s Dracula was nothing more than an Oscar Wilde/Dorian Gray pastiche with a strong whiff of racism thrown in. Though his powers in this fictional universe was almost godlike, his personality was irksome and offensive, making this one of the more regrettable incarnations, as evidenced by the fact that The Slayer’s (Buffy’s) other antagonists far outshone him.
Image Comics and IDW Publishing gave us a version of Dracula that was totally unique at the time: The idea of Dracula as an international terrorist on par with Osama Bin Laden in Sword of Dracula (2004). Here the vampire lord wielded a completely different set of powers, among them an ability I term haemokinesis – the total control and manipulation of blood on a psionic level. Dracula even displayed the ability to craft entire structures out of bloodwood, a congealed form of blood strengthened by his powers to mimic the consistency and durability of actual wood. His personality was that of a fanatic, someone driven by a cause, which was to see humanity fall at all costs and ensure the liberation of his vampire kin. This was one of the more interesting visual takes on the Count. A variety of artists were called in to pencil the series, giving the vampire a blond Nordic appearance and traditional royal attire. Definitely one of the best modern versions of Drac in comics, and the story itself was not half bad either.
The most terrifying modern take on Dracula would have to be in the pages of Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque’s American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares mini-series from Vertigo. In a story where different species of vampires exists, The Count is a unique entity; the only one of his kind who possesses the power of complete telepathic control over the minds of other vampires. Unlike the previous incarnations of the comic book Count, this monster is in love with genocide, seeking the destruction of the world at the expense of vampirekind. He uses his victims as pawns to enact horrific scenarios to sate his sadistic pleasures, and this is what makes him the best incarnation of Dracula in the 21st century, at least on the comic book page; a merciless monster with an unstoppable lust for destruction.
Though this list is by no means a comprehensive account of ALL Dracula’s appearances in comics, it definitely highlights some of the Count’s most notable appearances in four-color print. Here’s hoping that newer incarnations won’t disappoint and that we will live to see much more of Vlad Tepes in future comics.