Ask Chris #214: DC’s Dracula Comics
Q: Aside from the amazing cover for Superman #180, what’s the best DC Comics story featuring Dracula? — @brendan42
A: October is the month where I always find myself thinking about Dracula even more than I usually do, and just the other day I was thinking about how weird it is that there’s never been a really good story about Batman fighting Dracula. They’ve tried it a couple of times, sure — including a direct-to-video movie that takes a premise like Batman vs. Dracula and ends up committing the cardinal sin of being boring — but it never really takes. Once I got your question, though, I started thinking about it, and I realized that there aren’t many good stories about any DC Comics character fighting Dracula.
It turns out that dude just doesn’t show up a whole lot in the DC Universe. And that’s pretty weird.
DC has, after all, never really shied away from using public domain characters. Heck, The Brave and the Bold, the comic that would eventually give us the Justice League before turning into a Batman team-up book that contained some of the weirdest stories of all time, started out with stories about Robin Hood in #5, and characters like Beowulf and even Santa Claus have shown up on and off throughout their entire publication history. Dracula, however, never really made it in — presumably because he wasn’t invited.
I think there are a couple of reasons for that, too, and it starts with our old pal, the Comics Code. The Code was, after all, built specifically to cut the wildly popular horror genre off at the knees, and to that effect it had language that specifically prevented vampires, along with other traditional monsters. There’s that one great story about how Gerry Conway credited one of DC’s spooky “mystery” stories as being told to him by a “Wandering Wolfman” and had to prove to the Comics Code Authority when they complained that it was, in fact, written by Marv Wolfman, and that was actually his name. The CCA ended up demanding that they put in a credit to clarify that comic book stories were not being written by actual werewolves, and that’s how Wolfman became the first writer to receive a creator credit at DC.
Point being, while DC had nominal “horror” titles like House of Mystery and House of Secrets and Secrets of Sinister House and Sinister House of Secret Love (all of which are actually real titles; that last one started off as gothic romance), they never really did much with the classic horror tropes. It wasn’t until the ’70s that the cracks started going, thanks largely to Marvel pushing back against them, but even then, they passed on Dracula in favor of a character that they would actually own. Namely, this dope:
That’s Andrew Bennett, who is quite literally a pale imitation of Dracula — though not quite as pale as the original. He has the special ability to cry. We shall speak of him no more.
As for why they didn’t go for the genuine article, I think that’s all a matter of timing. I, Vampire starts in 1981, and by that time, Dracula was already a going concern across town at Marvel. I mentioned above that they’d started pushing back against the Code (mostly in the infamous drug stories in Spider-Man), and once the cracks were there, there wasn’t much that was going to stop them from chipping away even more. Marvel has, after all, always succeeded by jumping on trends, and when the horror movie craze kicked into high gear in the ’70s, they were all over it with as many werewolves, Frankensteins, mummies and demonic bikers as they could throw in.
And then there was Tomb of Dracula.
Thanks to Marv “The Wandering” Wolfman and Gene Colan, Tomb of Dracula was a huge success, and it succeeded the same way most of Marvel’s books succeeded: by bringing Dracula into the Marvel Universe. This was a Dracula who met the X-Men, fought the Silver Surfer and got blasted into dust by Dr. Strange. He was a Marvel character, who was very strongly identified with the Marvel Universe in a way that it was difficult to get around. DC could’ve easily tried putting out their own version — that’s what the Public Domain means, after all, and both companies had their own Frankensteins running around at various times — but at that point, I doubt that it wouldn’t have been worth it. Marvel had that Dracula game on lock.
But while he never became the major character that he was at the House of Ideas, DC still used him a couple of times over the years, even if you’re not counting the characters like Count Dragorin and Nocturna that were clearly Dracula-inspired. The first one that comes to mind is that amazing Ed McGuinness cover that you mentioned earlier:
And that cover is amazing. Unfortunately, the story underneath it, written by Jeph Loeb with art by Ian Churchill, isn’t actually that good unless you want to see a chalk-white Lois Lane wandering around Transylvania in her underwear, which I’m sure some of you do. I comes at a weird time in that post-2000 Superman run where everything was built around leading to these big stories that were both terrible and forgettable, so while it does have Superman punching out werewolves and battling Dracula, that’s not actually what it’s about. Instead, it’s about Lois and Clark’s marital problems stemming from the events of Our Worlds At War and setting up the upcoming conflict with General Zod — no, the other General Zod. No, the other other General Zod. The Eastern European dictator with the stupid armor.
In other words, it’s mainly a connection between a crossover nobody cares about and a villain nobody cares about, and Dracula’s just a quick side-trip that ultimately has no consequence. So little consequence, in fact, that it introduces a new team of Creature Commandos on the last page that never show up again. It does, however, have one saving moment, which I am almost sure is the entire reason the issue was written in the first place: Superman is, of course, powered by Earth’s yellow sun, which means that he’s basically a living solar battery, which means that when Dracula bites his neck, Dracula promptly explodes.
That’s not the first time that Superman encountered Dracula, though, although the other one I’ve managed to scrounge up is actually even worse. It happens in 1980’s Superman #344, in a story by Paul Levitz, Len Wein, Curt Swan and Frank Charamonte.
There’s a medium named Cassandra Craft who performs a seance that gets interrupted when Dracula and Frankenstein show up for no reason. Fortunately, Clark Kent is in attendance, and ends up driving them off before they show up looking for him in Metropolis.
On a high note, the book does contain the line “Frankenstein’s monster — eating my cakes!” from a very distressed baker, but it also has a resolution that’s alarmingly stupid: Superman confronts Dracula with a yellow ballon that he bought in a park in Metropolis, and then uses his heat vision to TURN IT INTO THE SUN.
Because it’s a hydrogen balloon. Because that’s what you fill balloons with, right? Like balloons that you would give to children? Hydrogen? That’s the one that makes your voice high and not the one that violently explodes if exposed to flames, right? Right. Anyway, he does that, and then the Phantom Stranger shows up, makes Dracula and Frankenstein disappear, and then tells Superman that none of this ever happened. It is not a good comic book.
DC’s other major Dracula story is, of course, Doug Moench and Kelley Jones’s Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, which kicked off a whole trilogy about Batman being a vampire (get it????) that a lot of people are pretty fond of. To be honest, I’ve never really cared for it, although I have to admit that it contains one of the best Batmobiles of all time:
It’s not exactly a murderer’s row of great stories, so when you’re trying to figure out which one’s the best, there’s not a whole lot to choose from. There is, however, one pretty great comic that stands out above the rest: Bryan Q. Miller and Lee Garbett’s “Terror In The 3rd Dimension,” from Batgirl #14:
I’ll be honest with you, folks: I skipped this run entirely when it came out, owing to the fact that I just could not get over how much I hated Batgirl’s costume in this run. The weird padding, the seams, the thigh-pouches — it was like a protptype for the New 52’s fixation on armor and high collars. That said, there was a lot of good stuff in there, and this issue’s about as good as they get.
The one problem is that they don’t fight the “real” Dracula — it’s actually a movie version come to life through bizarre science! — but the book makes up for that by having Supergirl and Batgirl fight twenty-four Draculas in a single issue, all while teaming up and basically being best friends, meaning that it’s a comic set in Gotham City that features multiple Draculas and friendship-based crimefighting. They’ll have to do a lot to top that.