Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The coolest vampire hunter this side of Peter Cushing

A few months ago, I wrote about Marvel's Tomb of Dracula comic from the 1970s--a series that numbered among its strengths a truly epic cast of vampire hunters.

It was with the pages of ToD, for instance, that we first met Blade the Vampire Slayer.  In his original incarnation, he hunted vampires armed with a bandoleer of wooden throwing knives. His M.O. has since evolved over the years--which is a tragedy. Because the idea of taking out vampires in hand-to-hand combat with wooden knives is astonishingly, breathtakingly, and majestically awesome. No other variation of the character has ever come close to being as cool.

It was in a black-and-white magazine called Marvel Preview that Blade got his first full-length solo adventure. The September 1975 issue (#3) had a story written by Chris Claremont, with the first half drawn by Tony DeZuniga and the second half by Rick Rival.

The story, like most of the Tomb of Dracula continuity, was set in London. It involves a plot by a vampire named Anton Vierken and a human allied with the bloodsuckers named Lady Marguerite D'Alescio. They want to get rid of Blade, so they kidnap his girlfriend to lead him into a trap.

The trap, though, isn't to kill Blade, but to frame him for murder. They do it quite effectively, because by the time Blade has sliced his way through a trio of Red Shirt vamps, he's convinced that a knife he threw at
Vierken instead killed a little girl.

One of the strengths of the story is Blade's reaction to this. He's horrified by what he thinks he's done and plans to take responsibility and turn himself in, but first he's got to rescue his girl.

Soon, he's teamed up with a psychic cop named Kate Fraser, who is able to pull the little girl's dying moments out of the corpse's mind. She sees Blade is innocent, but psychic evidence isn't admissable in court. (This is one of several minor weak points in the story--the cops also find some hard evidence that points to Blade's innocence, but this is ignored for rest of the story.)

Kate and Blade are eventually forced to team up, taking out vampires in clever ways--such as hanging a crucifix around the neck of one and tossing another onto an electrified rail in the London Underground. Actually, I'm not sure this last method would work. The vampire might be charred, but wouldn't he still be alive unless you used a more traditional method to finish him off? Oh, well, I guess Blade would know better than me.

Eventually, Blade needs to sneak into a remote castle to rescue the girl and prevent a scheme to develop a serum that would allow vampires to operate in daylight.

Despite the minor plot holes, it's a strong story, punctuated by some great fight scenes. The black-and-white pencil work provided by both the artists is strong. And it's the fact that it is done in black-and-white that makes the story work so well. There are some undeniably gruesome stuff happening. The lack of color still allows the horror to come through, but prevents the imagery from being graphic or too gross. If this story had been done in color, it would have simply been unpleasant. In black-and-white, it works as both an action story and a horror tale.

There was one bizarre glitch that happened when the story abruptly switched artists (and I have no idea why DeZuniga couldn't finish the job). At the end of one chapter, Vierken and Lady Marguerite are watching as Kate Fraser is about to be torn apart by vampires. Marguerite is wearing a sort-of Dark Victorian dress that's prim and proper while still giving an "I'm evil" vibe.

Then, at the beginning of the next chapter, with the story now being drawn by Rico Rival, Marguerite has apparently done a quick clothing change. She's now in full-scale Vampirella mode. I guess that's the correct fashion choice when observing a brutal murder.


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