Greetings from the Odinson,
The Odinson continues his countdown to Halloween with a list of his all time favorite vampire stories in comics. Last week I discussed the vampire and his role in the world of comic books. This week I want to share with you my all time favorite tales featuring the Children of the Night.
Saga of the Swamp Thing #3 – When I hear fans talk about the Swamp Thing, I hear them shower praise and speak in haughty tones about Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s original run (see Roots of the Swamp Thing) and Alan Moore’s character defining run (see Saga of the Swamp Thing). And there’s no arguing that these are fantastic pieces of comic book literature. But what I don’t hear enough of is the adoration for the highly underrated run on the series by Martin Pasko and Tom Yeates (see Saga of the Swamp Thing #1-13). There’s no greater example of this slight than the fact that DC Comics has yet to collect this run into trade paperback or Archive format. Pasko and Yeates weave a tale of mystery, intrigue, and good old fashion horror with an outstanding cast of characters into an epic that culminates with the Swamp Thing facing down the Beast of the Apocalypse. And the issue that got me hooked and beautifully illustrates the creators’ mastery over this genre is Saga of the Swamp Thing #3.
The story begins with Swamp Thing and his companion, a young child named Casey, riding cross-country in a freight train when they are suddenly set upon by a pack of vampires. During the struggle, Swamp Thing topples out of the boxcar and he and his charge are separated. Seeking information that might lead to her destination, Swamp Thing enters the nearby town only to find it dark and deserted. As the story unfolds, Swamp Thing, and the reader, learns that the town has been taken over by the undead and only a handful of survivors remain. What follows is a desperate fight for survival and the revelation of the extreme lengths one man will go in order to prevent a vampire plague from spreading. This tale has a very eerie Salem’s Lot feel to it. In twenty-two short pages, Pasko and Yeates squeeze in all the action, pathos and tantalizing horror that one could expect to get from a full-length feature film.
Action Comics Annual #1 – When this issue hit the stands in 1987, the Odinson was overjoyed because it featured a super star creative team pitting the World’s Finest against the dark power of the vampire. This modern horror story was written and drawn by Modern Masters John Byrne and Art Adams, two of the Odinson’s all time favorite comic creators. The tale opens with a beautiful young girl running for her life through the swamp as she is pursued by a mob of men seeking her death. Batman, who is in town to investigate a murder mystery, contacts Clark Kent for some information. In a scene reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho, the Caped Crusader comes across this seemingly innocent and extremely attractive young woman (Does Adams draw anything but?). Batman, along with the readers, quickly realizes that there is something far more to this girl than meets the eye.
Meanwhile, in Metropolis, Kent gets a bad feeling and decides to check in on his friend. After a quick change, Superman streaks across the country and also comes face-to-face with this girl. The problem is that this seemingly innocent woman is in fact a blood-sucking vampire and thanks to her hypnotic vampire-stare, the Man of Steel may just become her next victim.
SIDE NOTE: I’ll admit it. I’m a huge fan of continuity. I like to know that what I’m reading is going somewhere and when I get there, the road taken to get there has meant something. The thing that makes horror, fantasy, and science fiction stories work is that, even in a world with a man who is faster than a speeding bullet, there are rules. As long as the mythos stays true to these rules the readers and audience can usually buy the rest.
DC Comics has been very sloppy when it comes to their rules for vampires and the Man of Steel. In Action Comics Annual #1, we the readers are told that Superman’s vulnerability to magic and the supernatural will leave him susceptible to the bite of a vampire. However, in the pages of Superman #180, the solar radiation contained within Kal-El destroys Dracula, the strongest vampire of all, when the fiend bites him on the neck. Meanwhile, in the tale The 10th Circle, more specifically JLA #95, the Last Son of Krypton is brought under the thrall of the villain of the story by a vampire’s bite. So which is it? Is Superman vulnerable to the vampire bite or not?
Angel: Not Fade Away – Yes, yes, I realize this one is a bit of a cheat, but I can’t help myself. This is the adaptation of the final episode to the television series Angel. Before Joss Whedon directed the Avengers movie he had Angel Investigations and in this swan song, in true Earth’s Mightiest Heroes form, Angel and his allies assemble to take down the foes no single hero could possibly stand against alone.
The beautiful gem that is Angel Season 5 had all led up to this moment. For weeks Angel’s friends had thought that the lure of Wolfram and Hart had finally gotten to him and turned him toward the dark side. But Angel is a crafty fellow, and he reveals that he has been playing the game so that he could find out the identities of the Circle of the Black Thorn, the secret cabal of evil doers that pull the strings on the mortal plane for the Senior Partners. Angel has come to realize that he can never truly wipe evil from the face of the earth but by destroying the Circle of the Black Thorn, he can deliver a huge blow to the bad guys and score a huge victory for the good guys.
It’s a suicide mission, for each member of the Black Thorn is an extremely powerful demon, wizard or monster. It’s like if all the Boss Fights of your favorite video games were gathered together in the same place. Angel can’t order his friends to take on this harrowing challenge. But in true heroic fashion, they’re all in. What follows is one of the coolest super hero smackdowns ever caught on film. Gunn takes on Senator Helen Brucker and her nest of vampires, Wesley confronts the warlock Cyvus Vail, Lindsey and Lorne take on the Sahvrin Clan, Spike saves a baby sacrifice from the Fell Bretheren, and Illyria takes care of the other members. Meanwhile, Angel, already having disposed of Archduke Sebassis, confronts the hulking Marcus Hamilton, and with Connor’s help, proves victorious.
It’s a classic struggle of good vs. evil and the victories are not without casualties. For the final scene, the surviving members of Angel Investigations regroup in the alley where the series began and as the armies of hell rain down on them the TV series ends on one of the coolest notes in the history of television. Beaten, bloodied, wounded, exhausted, hopelessly outnumbered and overpowered, the surviving heroes regroup one last time and their fearless leader, Angel, says, ”Let’s go to work.”
That’s how heroes go out.
Batman vs. Vampires – Long before Batman’s vampiric adventures in the Elseworld tales Red Rain, Bloodstorm, and Crimson Mist, there was Batman #349-351. As the Dark Knight Detective investigates a murder he is suddenly set upon by a vampire monk and quickly learns that his vaunted crime-fighting skills are all but useless against the power of a true creature of darkness. Batman is bitten and the story becomes a race against the clock for him to find a cure before he succumbs to the growing thirst within him.
More than any other non-supernatural hero in comics, Batman lends himself to this style of storytelling. He is a man who dresses up as a bat and prowls the night terrifying the criminal element of Gotham City. There’s just something really cool about seeing the Caped Crusader matching wit and brawn against vampires, werewolves, monsters, ghosts and other things that go bump in the night.
Dracula vs. the Marvel Universe – If there is one thing that I’ve learned over the many years I’ve been reading comics it’s that super heroes make the worst vampire hunters. Sure Blade, Buffy, and Van Helsing make vampire-slaying look easy, but for some reason, the guys that can bench press automobiles just don’t have what it takes to take down the undead. In the Marvel Universe, Count Dracula is a true monster and a diabolical super villain on par and every bit as dangerous as Magneto, the Green Goblin and Doctor Doom. I dare say Dracula has racked up more victories against the super hero community than any other super villain in the business.
Dracula has fought Doctor Strange on several occasions and even tasted the blood of the Sorcerer Supreme! Spider-Man barely survived his encounter with the Dark Prince. The combined might of the Uncanny X-Men proved insignificant when confronted with the macabre powers of Dracula. Even the Power Cosmic of the Silver Surfer was challenged in ways it had never been before when Norrin Radd came face-to-face with the Prince of Darkness. In the pages of The Contest, the mystic Doctor Druid attempted to pit his psychic abilities against the indomitable will of Dracula, Druid loss. And Blade, arguably the greatest vampire hunter in the world, has had his teeth handed to him by Dracula more time than I can remember.
Dracula’s dominance in the Marvel Universe isn’t just over the heroes. No, the Prince of Darkness has proven on more than one occasion that he is a force to be reckoned with in the super villain and monster community as well. He has crossed swords with the mutant tyrant Apocalypse. He has gone claw-to-claw with the Werewolf by Night. He has matched wits with the diabolical mechanical menace known as Dr. Sun. And he has traded blows with Frankenstein’s Monster.
In fact, of all the legendary names in Marvel’s great pantheon of characters there has only been one hero who has ever truly humbled the Lord of Vampires – the Mighty Thor. Once upon a time, the Dark Prince sought the greatest prize of all, the blood of a goddess. When fair Sif found herself uncontrollably drawn to the arms of Dracula, her betrothed, Thor, the mighty Prince of Asgard, rushed to her rescue. Dracula opened up the playbook and threw everything within his macabre power at the Mightiest Avenger but to no avail. Then it was Thor’s turn and he showed the Lord of Vampires the difference in battling mortal super heroes and a god of thunder.
Another really sweet story that spawned out of Dracula’s battles with super heroes is What if Wolverine were Lord of the Vampires? In Uncanny X-Men #159 and Annual #6, the Children of the Atom barely survived their encounter with the Dark Prince. But what if they hadn’t? In this “What If” tale, Dracula kills the X-Men and turns them into vampires. Usually that would put them under his control, but Wolverine not being one to toe the line challenges Dracula for the belt, and wins. As Wolverine and his super vampires spread out across New York City, Manhattan Island becomes the feeding ground for the undead. The island is quarantined and even Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are powerless to stop this supernatural threat. As Wolverine makes plans to expand his power base, only one man is left standing in his way – Frank Castle. It seems the Punisher’s war on crime has shifted and he’s become even more efficient at taking out the undead than he was at taking down mobsters. Long before Marvel Zombies and the cannibals of Marvel Universe vs.… there was this supernatural thriller that pits two of the deadliest men alive against each other in a macabre showdown with the future of mankind hanging in the balance.
Those are some of my all time favorite comic stories featuring the king of all monsters, the vampire. Join the Odinson next week when I conclude my countdown to Halloween 2012 with a salute to the ultimate monster – the Boogeyman.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell