Friday, 31 October 2014

Essential Marvel Horror volume 2

Essential Marvel Horror volume 2 is another example of the anthology Essential, this time collecting tales of a diverse set of characters and presenting them by character instead of chronology. We get the adventures of the Living Mummy, Brother Voodoo, Gabriel the Devil-Hunter, Golem, Mordred the Mystic and the Scarecrow. These come from Supernatural Thrillers #5 & #7-15, Strange Tales #169-174 & #176-177, Tales of the Zombie #2, #6 & #10, Marvel Team-Up #24, Haunt of Horror #2-5, Monsters Unleashed #11, Marvel Two-in-One #11, #18 & #33, Marvel Chillers #1-2, Dead of Night #11 and Marvel Spotlight #26. That's a lot of issues with a lot of characters and lots of creators so given the anthology nature of this volume I'll list the creators for each character individually. And there are labels posts for characters and creators 1 and 2.

The volume kicks off with the Living Mummy from Supernatural Thrillers #5 & 7-15. The writing is initially by Steve Gerber and then Tony Isabella before being finished off by John Warner, with plot contributions by Len Wein and Val Mayerik. Mayerik is the main artist on the feature with individual issues drawn by Rich Buckler and Tom Sutton. Supernatural Thrillers had initially adapted various famous horror stories but also ran a one-off original piece featuring an immortal mummy and overall only lasted six issues. It was then revived nearly a year later starring the Mummy with the cover of issue #7 proclaiming that he was back by popular demand. However it's very clear that there was no initial plan for the character who is originally introduced mainly in Egypt (although the opening scene is in the Gaza Strip, then under Israeli occupation) but then transported to New York when the feature becomes ongoing, only to almost immediately be returned to Egypt for the rest of the run. One side effect is that any plan to have guest appearances by the wider Marvel universe is set aside, bar a single appearance by the Living Pharaoh.

However there's a strong sense of history to the lead, established upfront as we learn he was N'Kantu, the chieftain of an African tribe known as the Swarili in ancient times. They were conquered and enslaved by the Egyptians under forgotten Pharaoh Aram-Set, but N'Kantu led a rebellion that freed the slaves and killed N'Kantu. However he was captured by the priest Nephrus who used a potion to paralyse him and then performed a transfusion that replaced his blood with a fluid that made him immortal. N'Kantu then spent three thousand years entombed until the paralysing potion wore off. This origin is quite dark for the time but gives a strong sense of history and tragedy as N'Kantu slowly comes to terms with being exiled from his home by the millenniums and completely unable to return home. In the present day he is drawn to Egyptologist Alexi Skarab, a descendent of Nephrus, who shares a psychic bond with the mummy enabling the two to communicate. Skarab, his two assistants, Janice Carr and Ron McAllister, and thieves Dan "the Asp" Harper and Miles Olddan form a small supporting cast for an epic involving a search for and struggle over a Ruby Scarab of immense power sought by the Elementals - four beings Magnum, Zephyr, Hellfire and Hydron with powers based on earth, air, fire and water respectively. Zephyr initially takes control of the Mummy to find the Scarab but when N'Kantu breaks free the other Elementals turn on her, leading to a prolonged struggle in which modern day Egypt is conquered. It's easy to see the roots of this story - the lead character seems to have been inspired by the contemporary fad for zombies since the end result is once again a living corpse wandering the Earth, unable to communicate substantially with other people and for a period being controlled by the magic of a woman. However the main elements are drawn from Egyptian history and mythology, with some brief acknowledgement of the modern day political turmoil in the Middle East, and the result is a good little epic that doesn't feel too forced or take the lead out of his natural environment. N'Kantu may be one of many horror characters who is unable to converse with those around him but he is able to think, understand and recall and the result is a noble being both in flashbacks and the present day.

Next we have the tales of Brother Voodoo (who gets the cover) from Strange Tales #169-173, Tales of the Zombie #6 & #10 plus an introductory text feature from issue #2, and Marvel Team-Up #24. The Strange Tales and Marvel Team-Up issues are all written by Len Wein who also plots the first Tales of the Zombie story which is scripted by Doug Moench who writes the second. The art on Strange Tales and the first Tales of the Zombie is by Gene Colan, the second by Tony DeZuniga and the Marvel Team-Up by Jim Mooney. The introduction feature is written by Tony Isabella and drawn by John Romita. It's clear Marvel had big hopes for this series, launching it in a monthly series and even reviving the "Strange Tales" name. (Though it's slightly odd to see "Fantastic First Issue!" on issue #169.) But the insurance policy of being able to keep the title and replace the strip proved wise as by issue #171 it was bimonthly and then Brother Voodoo was dropped after only five issues. It's possible the strip ended prematurely for non-sales reasons. Issue #173 ends on a cliffhanger with a caption stating that the story will be concluded in Tales of the Zombie and its place here will be taken by the Man-Wolf. As we'll see the slot was in fact filled by the Golem, which was so rushed issue #175 had to be a general reprint issue and the Man-Wolf instead appeared in Creatures on the Loose. The fact the Brother Voodoo story was concluded in a magazine suggests that there were problems with the Comics Code Authority over the portrayal of some of the voodoo elements in the series.

When I first encountered Brother Voodoo in the pages of Marvel Team-Up I did a double take as the character seemed rather stereotyped. His solo adventures show a more rounded character with a determination to avoid stock tropes so we get Jericho Drumm, a psychiatrist, who returns to Haiti and has to take on the role of his dead brother Daniel - with Daniel's spirit co-inhabiting him. Brother Voodoo shows some efforts to get away from being a black Doctor Strange - he may have a manservant, Bambu, and a mansion but he's a much more physical character. He faces a string of foes, all voodoo inspired but with some superhero twists, including a man claiming to be Damballah the Serpent God who has killed Daniel, and another impersonating Baron Samedi but actually an agent working with AIM. Baron Samedi is an understandably popular villain in voodoo fiction but to find him with a secret layer beneath a cemetery on a Caribbean island just a few months after the release of Live and Let Die does show a degree of unoriginality. A fight with the Cult of Dark Lord introduces potential romantic interest Loralee Tate, a nurse, and her father, local police chief Samuel Tate, but once again the foe is illusionary with the "Black Talon" another man in a suit, here being manipulated by his mother, Mama Limbo. The final solo story is more overtly magical, with Dramabu the Death-Lord raising the dead as "zuvembies" on Haiti, including Brother Voodoo's mentor, Papa Jambo. The team-up with Spider-Man brings a different twist on foe types as they tackle Moondog the Malicious, a spirit currently possessing the body of an accountant.

Overall this strip is a bit hit and miss. It would be churlish to pick on Brother Voodoo for being a product of riding on the latest cultural fad even though this one is now more forgotten than most. And there's a clear attempt to establish a status quo for ongoing adventures in and around New Orleans but it never quite gets there. The problem is there are a lot of overt voodoo concepts in these tales, whether set in Haiti or New Orleans or even a pursuit to New York, and at times it can be a little hard to following if terms like "loa" and "houngan" aren't fully explained - the Marvel Team-Up does a good job at this but the solo stories less so. Otherwise the stories feel rather run of the mill and not as spectacular as they were built up to be.

Third up in this volume is Gabriel the Devil-Hunter from Haunt of Horror #2-5 and Monsters Unleashed #11. Everything is written by Dough Moench with the art handled by Billy Graham, Pablo Marcos and Sonny Trinidad. This is another character whose creation rode the wave of a fad - in this case The Exorcist movie. Information about Gabriel is only slowly revealed and it's not even clear if that is his first or last name. The final story - presumably rescued when the original series was cancelled - fleshes out the background of how a scholar found his wife Andrea dead, seemingly at her own hand, and turned to the priesthood only to be subject to a possession but he drove the demon out with force of will, burning a crucifix mark onto his own chest. Now working as an exorcist from the thirteenth floor of the Empire State Building and accompanied by his mysterious assistant Desaida, Gabriel faces a succession of possessions and drives out the demons, with repeated signs this is part of a greater struggle as the demons know Gabriel. The Devil-Hunter is no pure priest, having turned his back on the Roman Catholic Church and at times turns to drink. Desaida is another source of mystery until it's revealed she is possessed by the spirit of Andrea. At the end Andrea's death certificate spontaneously combusts and Gabriel accepts Desaida as his wife. All in all this is a rather slight series, with the mysterious elements cleared up rapidly when Marvel's black and white horror magazines started ending in close succession though it's good to see a creator getting a chance to control the revelations in time. The settings are mixed with exorcisms in homes, churches, cemeteries and even at Stonehenge (although Sonny Trinidad clearly had no idea what it looks like). But the whole genre just isn't one that appeals much and this strip doesn't reach too well beyond it.

The fourth lead character is the Golem from Strange Tales #174 & #176-177 and Marvel Two-in-One #11. The first Strange Tales issue is written by Len Wein and drawn by John Buscema, and the other two are by Mike Friedrich and Tony DeZuniga with the Marvel Two-in-One by Bill Mantlo and Bob Brown. The Golem is a creature taken from Jewish folklore with this particular representative being the one created by Judah Loew Ben Bezalel in 16th century Prague. The stone monster saved many people from oppression and tyranny before going immobile in the desert. In the present day he is rediscovered by archaeologist Abraham Adamson, his nephew Jason, niece Rebecca and Rebecca's fiancé Wayne Logan. When a group of bandits steal from the campaign, killing Abraham in the process, the Goldman comes to life, seemingly animated by Abraham's spirit. The rest of the strip sees the Golem accompanying the three survivors back to New York, saving them from danger and facing off a series of demons sent by Kaballa the Unclean who desires the Golem's power. The strip soon came to an end with the story becoming one of many to be wrapped up in a team-up with the Thing. All in all there's not much to this strip or character at all. There's an attempt to flesh out the mythology of the stone creatures and show how they can be killed, but the main character has neither the ability to converse with others nor the stature and charisma of other silent monsters and so isn't that interesting. Nor are the supporting cast. This leaves the piece as a curiosity that fortunately doesn't outstay it's welcome.

The penultimate strip in the volume is Mordred the Mystic from Marvel Chillers #1-2 and Marvel Two-in-One #33. The two Marvel Chillers issues are written by Bill Mantlo and the sole Marvel Two-in-One by Marv Wolfman with art by Yong Montano & Ed Hannigan, Sonny Trinidad & John Byrne and Ron Wilson respectively. This is a very slight series, telling how a sorcerer’s apprentice at the time of Camelot had rejected being assigned to the unseen Merlin, who had reportedly turned bad, and instead sought dark magic to overthrow the wizard. However it threw him into suspended animation until found in the twentieth century. The rest of the series is a mixture of fights with various magic and demonic beings including the strange "the Other" and four representatives of the elements, and a culture clash battle with a stereotyped cliché pretending to be the Metropolitan police in some Hollywood executive's idea of London. There's clear potential for this character, and also a sub-plot laid of a romantic triangle involving him and the two archaeologists who found him, but the strip is over before it's really begun and the practical implementation is nothing to write home about. Yong Monano's art is particularly fine though, with the lengthy flashback to the days of Camelot having a real olde worlde feel. The story is nominally wrapped up in Marvel Two-in-One in what is also the conclusion of the first Spider-Woman epic, but all we get is a battle with the elemental demons sent by the wicked Merlin rather than an actual showdown.

The final character highlighted is the Scarecrow from Dead of Night #11, Marvel Spotlight #26 and Marvel Two-in-One #18. The first two are written by Scott Edelman and the third by Bill Mantlo with Edelman co-plotting. The art on the three issues is by Rico Rival, Ruben Yandoc and Ron Wilson respectively. The letters page for Dead of Night #11 is reproduced and it's an essay by Scott Edelman outlining early ideas for the character and the various titles he was considered for. This is frankly a highly confusing series with key mysteries never resolved. The Scarecrow seems to inhabit a painting and comes to life when attempts are made to steal said painting by agents of the demon Kalumai. The painting is obtained by collector Jess Duncan, with multiple hints of a connection between the Scarecrow and Duncan's brother Dave Monroe. Beyond that we have multiple fights, an attempt to sacrifice Duncan's romantic interest art critic Harmony Maxwell, and no actual origin. The Marvel Two-in-One issue reveals that the painting is an portal to a dimension where Kalumai is trapped with the Scarecrow as gatekeeper but the other questions are left unresolved and the painting seemingly destroyed. All in all this is easily the worst of the six different characters' appearances collected here but fortunately it doesn't outstay its welcome.

Of the different characters it's the Living Mummy which works the best, having a clearly defined character and soon finding a strong direction. The Brother Voodoo tales are so-so but the rest of the volume is really a demonstration as to why these characters never took off and I wonder how Marvel Two-in-One readers felt about that series being so often used to wrap-up such obscure properties. However the general concept of this book is a good idea. There have been many short-lived characters and series that are too short to collect in a standard continuous run edition and here is a way to rescue them. The idea could be carried forward to other features - there have probably been enough short-lived series and limited series featuring various Avengers that would allow for multiple volumes bringing them altogether. However it's unfortunate that the title "Essential Marvel Horror" had previously been used for what was really "Essential Children of Satan" as there's no real direct connection between the two volumes and separate titles would have been better, though this one is far more deserving of the general "Marvel Horror" label.

Essential Marvel Horror volume 2 - character labels

We have a volume with lots of lead characters so here's a separate post to carry the labels for them.

Essential Marvel Horror volume 2 - creator labels 1

We have a volume with a huge number of creators, so here's a separate post to carry the labels for some of them.

Essential Marvel Horror volume 2 - creator labels 2

We have a volume with a huge number of creators, so here's a separate post to carry the labels for some of them.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Essential Werewolf by Night volume 2

Essential Werewolf by Night volume 2 consists of issues #22-43 plus Giant-Size Werewolf #2-5 (issue #1 was under the title Giant-Size Creatures; it's not clear why "by Night" has been dropped from the title) and Marvel Premiere #28 which contains the first and only appearance of the Legion of Monsters. All the regular and Giant-Size issues are written by Doug Moench with the Marvel Premiere issue by Bill Mantlo. The regular issues are all drawn by Don Perlin who does some of the Giant-Sizes as well; others are by Virgilio Redondo and Yong Montano. The Marvel Premiere issue is drawn by Frank Robbins.

Giant-Size Werewolf #3 brings a return visit to Transylvania to free Topaz who has been captured by a gypsy woman wielding magic and in the process face a mob of outraged villagers clutching torches and pitchforks so cliched that the captions actually comment on this. But in the process it's revealed that the woman is Jack's grandmother and all the confrontation and hate stems from the reaction to the curse first visited upon Jack's father. Jack only discovers the woman's identity as she lies dying, having realised who he is and that he is not responsible for all the anger and hatred that has flowed from the werewolf curse. The issue also tries to tidy up the confusion of the multiple family castles - one is apparently a summer home that was left in Transylvania and the other a winter home transplanted to the States.

The other Giant-Size issues are fairly inconsequential to the regular series. Two of them are standard team-up issues, bringing the Werewolf into conflict with first the Monster of Frankenstein and then with Morbius the Living Vampire. After the already crossed-over-with Dracula these two are the most natural to appear with the Werewolf. The Frankenstein Monster is searching for a real body and succumbs to the claims of a Satanic cult, only to wind up turning on them when he realises the cult are using the sacrifice of the Werewolf to bring forth the spirit of Satan in the Monster's body. The Morbius story is a rare appearance by the Living Vampire that actually works, telling the tragic tale of how he found a formula that could cure him only to lose the only copy in a fight with the Werewolf. The series rounds out with a past set story as Jack and Buck try to obtain help from a demonologist only to get caught up in a struggle on another world. In general these tales are as non-intrusive as possible and sensibly placed but the final Giant-Size is placed between issues #31 & #32 that not only have a direct continuation of story between them but also come at a critical stage in Jack and Buck's friendship. It feels odd to jump from the events of issue #31 to a fairly run of the mill adventure even though Jack's narration is at pains to point out that this happened some months back. But overall this isn't a terribly great set of Giant-Size issues and there's no great sense of loss at the line coming to an end.
Dear Bill, I have an idea. Let's capitalise on the popularity of the monster books by teaming them up. Can you put together an issue combining Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, the Werewolf and Morbius? We'll stick it in one of try-out books and see how it goes. Cheers, Marv.
Dear Marv, This isn't a workable idea at all. Half the monsters can't even talk, one's based in Los Angeles while another is in Florida, most of them are violent loners who get into pointless fights whenever they have or are a guest star, and only Ghost Rider comes close to being someone who would hang around in a team for the common good and even then we're stretching things to include him in the Champions. Still you're the editor and what the editor wants he gets. Here's an issue that brings the four of them together and shows why they just won't work as a team. Yours, Bill.
I have no idea if an exchange like that ever took place, or whether the idea came from the editor, writer or even the sales department, or even if Marv Wolfman was the editor at the point of commissioning (as a try-out book, Marvel Premiere stories could easily sit around for months or even years on end to be used as and when there was a space available). But the Legion of Monsters feels like a concept produced on order from someone who didn't think through the fundamentals and the issue is pushing back to show why this can never work as a regular series. With only eighteen pages there isn't room to show all the problems and so how the Man-Thing makes it all the way from the Florida swamps to downtown Los Angeles must remain one of those questions we just weren't meant to ask. Otherwise this is a rather dull tale of a lost civilisation returning with no consideration for those who have built over their old home's location in the meantime. The powerful Starseed seeks a paradise Earth but the hostility on the monsters leads to a fight that fatally wounds him. There's no attempt to even give a stock "Think of the good we could achieve by working together" speech and the monsters all go their separate ways, showing why the Legion of Monsters could never work. It's surprising that this issue was included here when it isn't included in the Essential Ghost Rider volumes, given that he rather than the Werewolf is the lead character. (For that matter it's also not in the Essential Man-Thing volumes.) This may be down to timing and a lack of foresight as this issue came out during the run covered by Essential Ghost Rider volume 1 but it really doesn't feel like a Werewolf story and above all others and could easily have been left out from here.

Of the regular issues in this volume the best known are probably #32 & #33 which introduce Moon Knight, here working as a mercenary on behalf of the unimaginatively named organisation called "the Committee". On the face of it a moon themed villain is a natural foe for a man suffering from the werewolf curse, and Moon Knight's use of silver on his costume means that the fight between the two of them feels like a suitably level pitch. But the storyline takes a twist when Moon Knight realises the Werewolf's inner innocence compared to his corrupt paymasters and turns on them. The character's depiction here will surprise those who are only familiar with his later adventures and indeed an awkward retcon had to be introduced to explain away his origins and actions shown here. At this stage he's just a mercenary for hire with a supportive helicopter pilot and the costume is developed entirely by the Committee for the purpose of handling the Werewolf. It's easy to see why this had to be changed to open the character out for his own adventures but it also means this series is deprived of a strong and resourceful foe who proves able to capture the Werewolf and hold him past dawn. Still the Werewolf's villain's gallery's loss is herodom's gain and an illusion of Moon Knight appears in  Belaric Marcosa's house as projections of the Werewolf's three greatest foes. The other two are the Hangman, who makes a brief reappearance in the flesh early on, and new foe Doctor Glitternight, a magician who initially tries to control Topaz through stealing her soul and subsequently turns out to be the exiled member of a quintet all-powerful beings from another dimension. One-off foes include Atlas, an actor out for revenge after his face was burnt on set, DePrayve, a scientist whose experiments on controlling human aggression turn him into a modern day Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and the Soul-Beast, a monster created by Doctor Glitternight out of Topaz's soul.

The volume sees the tackling head on two of the most basic questions of the series. Early on Lissa's eighteenth birthday approaches, sparking the fear that she too has inherited the curse and an unsuccessful search for ways to prevent her ever changing. To make matters worse Doctor Glitternight's interference means that on her first night she transforms into an even fiercer monster - a Were-Demon. However Taboo's soul intervenes and sacrifices its remaining life essence to free her, curing her of the curse in the process. It was probably inevitable to avoid having two werewolves regularly running about but it's a little too neat a solution for my liking. Meanwhile Buck Cowan starts to get some happiness when he meets single mother Elaine Marston and her daughter buttons. Unfortunately a skiing holiday turns to tragedy when Buttons wanders out into the snow near to where Jack has transformed to the Werewolf. Buck comes to her rescue, risking his own life to protect the child despite a fight that both he and Jack have long feared. Buck is nearly killed and only recovers with the help of a spirit, and is still confined to a wheelchair at the end of the volume. Despite this he forgives Jack.

As part of the search for a cure for Buck's near death state, Jack, Topaz, Lissa and Elaine venture into the haunted house once inhabited by soul eater Belaric Marcosa and spend several issues fighting against the spirits and madness there in a tale of full on horror where friends find themselves literally at each others' throats and it becomes impossible to know what is real and not. At the time spread over multiple months, made worse by the series going bimonthly midway through, this storyline must have seemed a drag and the ending not quite the series climax it was briefly billed as, but when read altogether it hold up well and fits in with the dark magic themes of the series.

The last issues of the series show panic buttons being hit with the book going bimonthly and taking a new direction with guest-stars. Initially it seems as though issue #37 was going to serve as a conclusion but instead the series went on for another six issues in a team-up with Brother Voodoo. A very long running subplot involving Raymond Coker's affairs in Haiti, and Lieutenant Northrup's investigations pursuing him, is resolved in a battle with Glitternight and his "zuvembies". It's a dramatic conflict on an interdimensional basis but it feels well outside the norm for the series. There are some good individual moments - my favour one pokes fun at the inability to say "zombie" in a Comics Code approved book as Jack asks what is a "zuvembie" and upon being told by Brother Voodoo the reply is "You mean they're zo--" before an interruption prevents the full word coming out - but overall this doesn't feel like a natural Werewolf story. It's a pity because this tale finally sees both the end of Northrup's pursuit of the Werewolf, having seen Jack as a hero, and Jack get control over the transformations, allowing him to control his lycanthropic form.

The final two issues see Jack temporarily in New York where he teams up with Iron Man against the Masked Marauder and his latest creation, the Tri-Animan, a robot that combines the abilities of a gorilla, an alligator and a cheetah. It's not the most spectacular point for the series to suddenly be cut off at, but it presumably shows the intended new direction of making the Werewolf a more conventional superhero with Jack in full control now. This may have been deemed necessary to overcome a sales slump as the initial fad passed, but it's not a direction I care much for. In any case it was too little, too late as the series suddenly ended. A subplot is left dangling involving a mysterious being breaking into Buck's house and kidnapping him with a caption added at the bottom of the page for this edition stating that the plot is resolved in Essential Spider-Woman volume 1. It's nice to have an actual pointer but it's a forewarning that the volume itself is going to end unsatisfactorily.

Overall this volume is a letdown after the first. There's a few too many stories that drag on for longer than they should and a move away from the basic concept. There are some good moments and a few good storylines but a lot of this is turgid. There's also a few too many attempts to team-up one of the ultimate loner characters with others but fortunately the Marvel Premiere story proved to be the Legion of Monsters' sole appearance. All in all this is not one to remember.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Essential Man-Thing volume 2

Okay let's deal with the usual laughter straight away. This volume contains more Giant-Size Man-Things. Pause for laughter.

[Lengthy pause.]

Essential Man-Thing volume 2 contains issues #15 to #22 of the character's first series, the complete #1 to #11 of his second, Giant-Size Man-Thing #3 to #5, plus what may be a leftover issue from the first series run in Rampaging Hulk #7, wilderness years appearances from Marvel Team-Up #68 and Marvel Two-in-One #43 and a crossover from Doctor Strange #41. That's a lot of issues so here go the credits. All the issues from the first series are written by Steve Gerber and drawn mainly by Jim Mooney with individual issues by John Buscema and Rico Rival. The Giant-Sizes are from this period and all are written by Gerber and drawn by Alfredo Alcala, Ed Hannigan and Ron Wilson. The Rampaging Hulk issue is written by Gerber and drawn by Jim Starlin. The second series is written first by Michael Fleisher and then by Chris Claremont, with one issue by Dickie McKenzie and a short back-up story in another by J.M. DeMatteis. The art is mainly by Jim Mooney then Don Perlin with individual issues by Larry Hama and Val Mayerik and the back-up by Ed Hannigan. The Marvel Team-Up is written by Claremont and drawn by John Byrne, the Marvel Two-in-One is written by Ralph Macchio and drawn by Byrne "& Friends", and the Doctor Strange issue is written by Claremont and drawn by Gene Colan. That's an awful lot of labels so naturally some have been put in a separate post.

The first series ends with leaps between the sword and sorcery fantasy that the title has often experimented with to the down to earth social commentary that Steve Gerber is more normally associated with. I've never really felt the former style is a good match with the Man-Thing and the material here continues to confirm that view, though it's less of a struggle to get through compared to the first volume. This one kicks off with a Giant-Size Man-Thing with a battle to liberate the homeworld of Korrek the barbarian from the sorcerer Klonus. In the process Dakimh is killed but the world is liberated.

The sword and sorcery is then put aside for a number of issues that instead deal with social commentary about changes in society and those who seek to resist them, starting with a tale of Sainte-Cloud, an ex-girlfriend of Ted Sallis's who persuaded him to move into more values based research. Using a hallucinogenic candle carved in the shape of the Man-Thing she seeks inspiration for her writing, leading to events becoming more real than they seem. Then there's the introduction of the Mad Viking, a forcibly retired man disgusted at what he sees as a decline in masculinity so he adopts a costume in commemoration of their perceived manliness and launches a crusade against modern "wussy" men, including slaughtering a rock singer and many of his groupies. Meanwhile a school pupil has died and his friend is about to publish his diary, revealing his loneliness and misery at the hands of bullies both at school, including on the staff, and in his family for being different and fat. The Man-Thing gets caught in the confrontations and burns the school coach to death. These events spark terror in Citrusville and a house wife decides the problem is rooted in what is taught in schools, having glanced at a text book and panicking that it discusses Communism and sex education. The result is a book burning riot outside the school where the Mad Viking is so blinded that when his granddaughter tries to stand up for the freedom of the young to make their own choices in life, he hits her so hard she falls and cracks her head, dying.

Rory has been a rare voice of reason in the town, for which he gets the sack from his radio station job, and he leaves in disgust, taking with him Carol Selby, the daughter of the town's Mary Whitehouse, and the Man-Thing, who thanks to an extended dip in chemicals is now able to move away from the swamp. The last few issues see a move to Atlanta for a more magical storyline, with Rory written out when he discovers Carol is underage, making him legally a kidnapper. She is injured in a car accident and returned home whilst Rory is arrested, leaving the Man-Thing alone for the end of the run.

Issue #22 marks the end of Steve Gerber's run on the title, a point acknowledged in the strip, and also for the series itself, which is not acknowledged in the strip, which was cancelled and revived only four years later. This was just a few months before the launch of Howard the Duck so it's not hard to see why the writer was moving on but was this also a very early example of a publisher linking a series so heavily to an individual creator that they opted to end it when that creator left rather than replace them? It was a practice that happened more commonly in later decades but I'm surprised that it could be even considered at this early stage. And it's particularly ironic given the disputes Gerber would later have with Marvel that included his removal from the Howard the Duck series and comic strip. Of course Marvel was notoriously disorganised at this stage in its history so it may be overreading the situation to assume the end of the series was linked to the end of the run. Nevertheless it's a sign of how prominent creators were becoming, with appearances moving beyond the odd scene as a nod and wink to the audience to a much greater point of participation.

The issue is not as well known as one of Gerber's Howard the Ducks but it deploys an interesting narrative approach, presumably suggested and approved as a way to economically incorporate more events than usual in order to wrap up existing storylines whilst the writer was still on the book, rather than leaving them for another writer to take on, usually at very short notice and without any real idea as to what had been planned. But it also seeks to establish the authenticity of the stories through the appearance of Gerber himself, with much of the issue an illustrated letter to Len Wein. Jim Mooney's depiction confirms what many had suspected, namely that Richard Rory is based on Gerber himself. Within the letter Gerber explains how he wrote the series at the instigation of Dakimh, and how this continued even after the sorcerer’s apparent death. There's a summary of most of the incidents from Gerber's run and then an extended explanation of Thog's plans and methods before a final showdown in which the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. Finally Dakimh gives his blessing to the writer's departure. As an exercise in concluding the storyline in a limited space this issue works. As a comic less so, with three of the eighteen pages resorting to prose text with illustrations, a format I've never liked to see in Marvel comics. It's also not really a Man-Thing issue with the monster only coming into the action near the end, and again suggests that the writer's priorities were elsewhere. Still as an experiment that both pushes at the barriers of convention whilst also harking back to the conceit of the Lee-Kirby days, it's a sign of a willingness to do things differently and expand the frontiers of the medium.

The only non-Gerber authored issue from this period is the final issue of Giant-Size Man-Thing, in which a young Ted Sallis and his wife Ellen visit a carnival fortune teller and witness three visions of the future, all of which involve horror and despair including a cult trying to sacrifice a baby, a young couple coming to grief because of their families' disapproval and mercenaries in the swamp turning on each other. It's an interesting way to showcase what are ultimately fill-in pieces from a variety of creators but overall the issue doesn't add much.

The second series shows a title setting out to be a bit different from its predecessor but rapidly retreating into some of the old tried and tested methods and then ending in a similar way. Although the social commentary is notably almost completely absent, there's once again a book that starts off as a reasonably conventional monster series but which steadily dips into the world of magic and swords - although this time it's cutlasses. Also there's an early attempt to enhance the Man-Thing but it's largely gone by the second issue.

At the start there's a short-lived effort to stick to science and monsters, starting off with a tale as a scientist is recruited by what claims to be the CIA to restore the Man-Thing's mind in the hope of recovering the Super Soldier Serum. However before the monster can be coaxed to adulthood the FBI attack, accidentally killing the scientist in the process. At first it seems the Man-Thing has retained his rudimentary intelligence but by the second issue the effects have worn off. What's also surprising is that the nature of the group representing itself as the CIA is never explored beyond the FBI statement that they're "enemy agents". Could this in fact be a squabble between agencies? Or was that idea too radical in 1979? We then get a change of location when another scientist accidentally teleports the Man-Thing to the Himalayas, where we find the old stereotype of a party of two men and a woman with one of the men sending the other to his death and making moves on the grieving widow. Add in an encounter with a tribe of Yeti - here established as an offshoot of Cro-Magnon Man who have survived in the mountains - plus a high priest figure foretelling doom and the clichés are complete.

A crossover with Doctor Strange brings a new writer to the series and another round of magic as the Man-Thing and Elaine, the woman from the Himalayas, get swept back to the Florida swamp to find Baron Mordo's latest scheme. After this we finally get a recurring supportive cast in the form of Barbie Bannister, a spoilt rich girl who finds she has to fend for herself when her parents are killed by modern day drug smuggling pirates, and John Daltry, the local sheriff. After Daltry and the Man-Thing deal with a bunch of college students trying to destroy the monster for kicks and fame, we get the first and only epic of the series as Captain Fate returns with his sky pirates. Fate is ultimately freed from the curse of immortality but instead the curse engulfs Daltry and nobody seems able to break it leading to Barbie searching for anything to do it. After a couple of one-off tales of the Man-Things encounters with those who find themselves in the swamp, including a tragic young couple who flee their parents and give birth to a child, only to die of poisoned water whilst the grandparents confront the Man-Thing, and a isolated boy who joined a cult and then got "deprogrammed" by his parents. The latter is a short story by J.M. DeMatteis and in its take of the obessiveness of some religions it's about the only sign of social comment in the run. The main plot gears up with the arrival in the swamp of John Kowalski, a mysterious man who is the personification of Death and who offers to free Daltry if Barbie will join him.

The final issue is once again told in flashback by a writer to his editor, although this time it's done in the pub and we see not just editor Louise Jones but also assistant editor Danny Fingeroth and editor-in-chief Jim Shooter. Chris Claremont relates how he got taken away to a realm for a final battle with the force behind Daltry's curse, Thog. Once more Thog is destroyed and everyone returns home with Barbie freed from her Death obligations but the Man-Thing proves impossible to cure. Claremont announces his resignation as writer and Shooter agrees to cancel the series. As they leave we discover that once more Dakimh has been directing the writer.

This second series is brief and ultimately unsatisfying. There was clearly an attempt to do something different early on but it fizzled out and we're left with a relatively mundane series that eventually winds up wallowing in the memory of the first, as shown most notably in the final issue. It feels like it was being written by numbers and just didn't know where to go. The end of the first series included here has the reverse problem - it's trying to go to almost too many places, riding waves of fantasy and realism at the same time. But it does at least try to say something. All in all this volume and the series as a whole is rather inessential. The central problem is that very little can ever be done with the main character and most of the events around him don't easily fit the genre. This is not one to search high and low for.

Essential Man-Thing volume 2 - creator labels

Yet again we have a volume with a lot of creators, so here's a separate post to carry the labels for some of them.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Essential Ghost Rider volume 3

Essential Ghost Rider volume 3 contains issues #51 to #65 of the series plus what appears to have been an unused fill-in issue that eventually saw print in Marvel Super-Heroes #11, and guest appearances in Marvel Two-in-One #80 and Avengers #214. Bonus material includes the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe entry for Arabian Knight. The main series is all written by Michael Fleisher, with the Marvel Super-Heroes fill-in by Tina Chrioproces, the Marvel Two-in-One appearance by Tom DeFalco and the Avengers issue by Jim Shooter. The art is more varied with a run by Don Perlin giving way to contributions by Carmine Infantino, Jim Shooter, Jack Sparling, Herb Trimpe, Alan Kupperberg and Luke McDonnell. The Marvel Super-Heroes piece is drawn by Greg LaRocque, the Marvel Two-in-One by Ron Wilson and the Avengers by Bob Hall. That's a lot of creators so there's a separate labels post.

The four Essential Ghost Rider volumes demonstrate a remarkable lack of forward planing considering the first only came out in late 2005 by which time Marvel had made a long term commitment to the reprint series. Of the eighty-eight core issues (including the initial bannered run in Marvel Spotlight), no less than fifty-seven, plus two crossover issues, were reprinted across the first two Essentials, whilst also leaving out some pretty major appearances in Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One that would have impacts on the regular series and would be often referenced here. This left just thirty-one core issues to complete the series - too many for a single volume even before considering a few other key issues that also merit inclusion, but really not enough for two separate volumes. Hence the resort to guest appearances that are frankly not needed here (especially when compared to the earlier omissions), and even then this volume looks and feels rather thin for one published on the slightly thicker paper the latter-day Essentials use. It's a good idea in principle to include standby material that was prepared for a series but not actually used for one reason or another without affecting continuity, but scraping around guest appearances can produce the most needless of filler material.

That said, Ghost Rider's appearance in Marvel Two-in-One does actually tie in well with the ongoing themes, even though it's a bit of a surprise to find Johnny in New York, performing major stunts before huge crowds at big stadiums when at this stage in his regular series he's still wandering the roads in the west or mid-west, surviving from job to job and suffering from a post-title reputation as yesterday's man. But both the regular series and guest appearance share the focus on how Johnny is increasingly losing control of his Ghost Rider self, who is lashing out at criminals for even minor offences. Here it falls to the Thing, who is also finding his monstrous form isn't always easy to control with bad results for those around him, leading to a fight between the two. (This is one of a number of Marvel Two-in-One issues that forgoes the original team-up concept and here actually bills the two characters as "versus".)

Also tying in with the series's themes but getting the status quo wrong in the opposite direction is Avengers #214. Placed during the period when Johnny is now working for a carnival, it instead shows him as a loner on the road who succumbs to taking up a low paying job at a petrol station. The Ghost Rider continues to be out of control, attacking his old ally the Angel which brings the Avengers (via a call searching for the now departed Beast) out to the west to hunt him down. Once again Johnny's situation is compared with a regular character, in this case Yellowjacket who has been suffering a breakdown, been expelled from the Avengers for his dangerous actions and is now being divorced by the Wasp after an act of domestic violence. Though Yellowjacket and Ghost Rider don't meet themselves, the comparison is all too clear between the two sinking in unhappiness and despair, leading them to act with ruthlessness and savagery. The resulting battle is unusual in that it's not a clear victory for the heroes in the book's title. Instead the Angel staggers from his hospital bed to confront the Ghost Rider about what he's become, causing the latter to calm down and revert to Johnny. It's an okay issue but not really essential. It would also have benefited from being placed before issue #63 instead of after it.

As for the "lost" issue, this also displays a problem of placement. The story in Marvel Super-Heroes #11 carries the caption "This story takes place prior to events in Ghost Rider, vol 1, #80" (yes "vol 1" - somebody had forgotten about the series starring the western Ghost Rider, but then Marvel Super-Heroes was published at a time when Johnny Blaze was usually billed as "the Original Ghost Rider") but otherwise gives no formal clue as to when precisely it's set. Here it's placed after issue #63 and before Avengers #214. But informally there's a lot in this story that suggests it would be much better placed later on in the run, at least after issue #65 but better would probably be somewhere in volume 4. Other than Johnny the only regular character to appear is Red Fowler, who is introduced in issue #63 but his relationship with Johnny shown here is much friendlier which would place it after events in issue #65. But what really makes the issue stand out as an anachronism are the uses of the names "Zarathos" and "Mephisto". Neither name has appeared yet in the regular series where the Ghost Rider is not given a name and the source of the power is still described in both dialogue and the intro box as "Satan" (though the actual origin hasn't been touched upon for a while) and their use here is frankly confusing. I wonder if this issue was commissioned around the mid #60s as a standby to go to print if the regular creative team missed their deadlines, and it was subject to minor rewrites over the next few years in order to keep the names up to date. That might perhaps explain why it's been placed at what is now clearly too early a point in the run. The story itself is rather functional as Johnny and Red arrive in a small town where they get caught up in a struggle between a cult leader planning to destroy a nearby nuclear power plant and his daughter who has rejected the cult's ways. But for the presence of Red in a sidekick role, it's a fairly typical example of the one-off adventures that take up most of this volume. It also appears to be the only credit ever for Tina Chrioproces. I wonder what became of her or if she was just a pseudonym for a more familiar creator.

Over in the regular series we're almost at the end of Michael Fleisher's run and it's starting to show. There are only really three significant developments throughout this volume. By far the biggest at first seems to be a one-off story but it soon proves to have had far deeper significance. Issue #53 introduces Azmodeus, another demon who becomes a recurring foe within these pages, who wants the Ghost Rider as his agent of chaos but needs to dispose of Johnny first. He sends his agent Tabicantra to do this and she uses her power to weaken Johnny's control each time he becomes Ghost Rider and the link ultimately destroyed so long as he changes enough times before an hour glass runs out. However she meets Johnny and has a change of heart before the final transformation, sacrificing her life as her magic prevents his transformation whilst she sees off a monster. In its own right this is a strong story but over subsequent issues it becomes clear that the Ghost Rider is becoming ever more out of control, getting ever more vicious whilst Johnny struggles to change back.

Otherwise the series continues the theme of Johnny Blaze wandering the roads, occasionally entering races and undertaking stunt jobs as part of long term practice for an eventual challenge to regain his title. Issue #58 sees the long anticipated rematch with Flagg Fargo as Johnny challenges him to regain his title and would have achieved it but the tournament is cut short when the Ghost Rider's old foe the Enforcer hospitalises Fargo as a match fixing scam. Johnny saves Fargo from death and the two earn a degree of respect such that later on Johnny feels able to ask Fargo for a loan to visit Saudi Arabia to take on a sheikh with ambitions to take over all the oil states in the Middle East utilising the Water Wizard's powers which can also work on oil. Fargo provides the money albeit with an impossibly short repayment period but thanks to the Arabian Knight and his flying carpet Johnny is able to make it back just in time. The final development comes at the end of the volume as Johnny seemingly settles down for the time being. Although he's previously stayed around in first Las Vegas and then Chicago for more than a single issue, he now joins a carnival, acquiring a supporting cast in the process. Owner Ralph Quentin is primarily a background figure at this stage but of greater significance are the existing stunt bike performer Red Fowler and accompanying journalist Cynthia Randolph. Red is initially displeased at being displaced to become Johnny's assistant but changes his view when Johnny risks his life to save Red from loan sharks. Meanwhile Cynthia is travelling with the carnival to research a feature for her magazine and resists Johnny's advances but soon realises there is more to him and determines to find out his secret.

In the meantime Johnny starts off the volume as the wandering hero helping those in need whom he comes across and facing down a succession of local bullies, crimelords and more exotic foes. There are some return appearances by the likes of the Orb, the Weather Wizard and Moondark, with the latter two teaming up for revenge, though their egos undermine them. Meanwhile the Orb makes multiple appearances, even turning to Machine Man's foe Madame Menace for new weapons. One adventure sees the awakening of the Sirens from Greek mythology who have been long trapped in sarcophaguses hidden in a cave in the American wilderness. They promptly seek vengeance on the world and capture a nuclear missile then launch it at a city. Later in Chicago the Ghost Rider's attempts to prevent a bombing are hindered by the Destroyer of Demons, a reverend with a hereditary power to tackle demons.

Ghost Rider occasionally acquires allies in these adventures but the most surprising is a modern day incarnation of the Night Rider (who once again appears with no explicit reference to having originally been named "Ghost Rider"; I wonder if contemporary readers were told this in the letterspages). Issue #51 contains a back-up story with a further adventure of Carter Slade and then in the present day issue #56 sees Hamilton Slade, a descendant of Carter's brother and successor Lincoln, discover a burial jar in a desert burial ground which transforms him into a modern day Night Rider, albeit without Hamilton being aware of his alternate form. Once more the Night Rider comes to the aide of the man with his original name. Another brief ally is "Clem", an old-fashioned lorry driver who helps Johnny against a biker gang - and is revealed to be the ghost of a victim of an earlier gang.

The pattern of women being drawn to Johnny but repelled by the Ghost Rider continues with the return of Gina, the woman he met when amnesiac in the previous volume. She is horrified at his treatment of the Orb and further by the handling of Tatterdemalion in a team-up with the Werewolf by Night, and so leaves him. One of the few women who does not flee in panic is Nora, one of the team of an auto circus that Johnny briefly joins as part of the training for his rematch. However the circus is attacked by the Apparition, the ghost of one of the circus's former stunt drivers turned criminal and executed. Johnny thinks he's tricked the Apparition into believing all his targets are dead, but miscounted and although the ghost is vanquished, the issue ends with Johnny cradling Nora's body.

At 416 pages this is the shortest Essential volume of all, though not by much. Blame for this state of affairs lies firmly with volume 2, released to tie in with the first movie and being a little overlong in order to include the team-up between Johnny and Carter Slade. This left the awkward state of affairs that results in the rest of the run being stretched over two volumes and padded out with two inessential guest appearances plus a fill-in later rescued from inventory. The Marvel Super-Heroes issue really belongs in volume 4 and that would also have allowed this volume to complete the Fleisher run. The core issues are slight but do manage to advance Johnny's saga forward, finding a good new angle on the character amidst a run of relatively typical adventures. There's no sense of building towards anything but equally there are no real stinkers in this volume. It's a solid but not too spectacular collection that keeps the character afloat for now.

Essential Ghost Rider volume 3 - creator labels

Once more there's a volume with a lot of creators, so here's a separate post to carry the labels for them.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Essential Tomb of Dracula volume 2

Essential Tomb of Dracula volume 2 collects issues #26-49 plus Giant-Size Dracula #2-5 (a renaming & refocusing of Giant-Size Chillers hence no #1) and Doctor Strange #14. The regular issues are all written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Gene Colan. The Giant-Sizes are written by Chris Claremont then David Anthony Kraft and drawn by Don Heck then Nestor Redondo. The Doctor Strange issue is written by Steve Englehart and drawn by Gene Colan. Bonus material includes an extra page produced for the reprint of issue #45, and Dracula's picture from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

The original release of this volume was surprisingly fast, coming less than six months after volume 1. Was it a fast attempt to ride the Buffy wave, albeit after that series had ended? Or was there some now-forgotten major vampire movie in 2004 that Marvel were trying to feed off the interest? Or were the rights limited forcing a speedy release programme before they lapsed? Or was it just down to someone in the Marvel office with a sense of humour noting both the series's British ancestry and Michael Howard's leadership of the Conservative Party? (Now there's a reference that will leave my international readers scratching their heads.)

Whatever the reason this volume is a letdown after the promise of the first. Gene Colan's art remains great but the general direction of the series is rather meandering, with several plotlines taking an eternity to resolve. The Giant-Size issues are standalone and two of them are even set in the past rather than the present. Whilst it leaves Dracula in the present under the control of a single creative team, their placement here just add to the mess by intruding upon the flow. There's a small amount of crossover with the monthly series with Inspector Chelm of Scotland Yard popping up in both and later supplying the regular vampire hunters with information. Other than this and a brief use of Quincy Harker the characters and situations are all original, with Dracula encountering some especially scary examples of the occult such as the Devil's Heart, a giant disembodied organ that is possessing a small town in the American mid West. Other tales are more downbeat such as Dracula's pursuit of a French government agent across Europe or the vampire's own pursuit by Elainne, the daughter of one of his medieval victims who has gained immortality and assembled a militia to gain revenge. The one character of seeming long term significance introduced here is Inspector Katherine Fraser, a Scotland Yard detective with psychic powers, but she doesn't make the leap over to the monthly. All in all the Giant-Size series is a disappointment and shows that it takes more than the character's name to make a good spin-off series.

Over in the main series things are really dragged out by a long running plot involving Dracula's powers steadily weakening, which ultimately turns out to be the manipulations of Doctor Sun. A disembodied brain may not seem the obvious rival to a vampire, although the name is fitting, but Sun's technology and cunning offers a good counterpoint to a primeval creature, upping the tension. Adding to the counterpoints is Sun's henchman Juno, who has a silver lance in place of a hand. The hunt eventually brings Dracula to the United States via an experimental spy plane and into a protracted showdown in which Quincy Harker and his vampire hunters find they need Dracula more than they realise, forcing them to take some drastic steps.

In the meantime, the vampire hunters are scattered across the globe. Taj has returned to India where his son has become a vampire, forcing Taj and his estranged wife to face the horror of having to kill their child before the local mobs do. Eventually he realises he can't but can only look on in horror as the mobs surge past him and perform the task. After this Taj drops out of the series as he opts to stay in India and rebuild his life with his wife. Perhaps somebody also realised how much of a stereotype a strong, silent Indian manservant is. Frank Drake is lured to South America by a friend who turns out to be working for Dracula who wants his descendent out of the way. This leads to encounters with zombies who are about to kill him when he is saved by a gratuitous guest appearance by Brother Voodoo. The crossing of genres just doesn't work and leaves the characters' presence all too exposed as a promotional puff piece, more so than the average guest appearance. Elsewhere Rachel van Helsing is reassessing her relationship with Drake whilst Quincy Harker is looking back on his long years of fighting the vampire and the huge cost to him both financially and personally. He remains ever resourceful, with his home containing no end of booby traps against Dracula, exploiting crosses, garlic, stakes and more, even right down to the crosses on the collar of his dog, appropriately named Saint. Quincy proves highly resourceful in luring the vampire to his lair and almost slays him but is forced to back down and save his foe when the nearly dead Dracula reveals he has had two other vampires take Rachel hostage.

Elsewhere Blade is used sparingly throughout much of the volume as he continues his own quest to track down and destroy Deacon Frost, the vampire that killed his mother, but this does eventually lead to his crossing paths with Dracula once more, actually allying against Doctor Sun. He then joins with Hannibal King, a detective vampire who refuses to feed on humans, to track down Frost, with the situation complicated by Frost's ability to create duplicates of those he bites, with Blade's duplicate actually absorbing him.

Arriving in Boston Dracula soon meets two more recurring cast members. Harold H. Harold is a hack writer suffering long term from Writer's Block when the appearance of a true-life vampire offers the prospect of an interview. He is also trying, with limited success, to date Aurora Rabinowitz, his editor's secretary. Both characters are played somewhat for laughs but Aurora defies expectations when she shows her resourcefulness when the pair raid the Harvard hospital blood bank to obtain supplies for a weakened Dracula. Harold nearly does get his interview from an amused and grateful Dracula, but the attempt is interrupted by Juno. However when it is all over Harold is able to overcome his Writer's Block and publish "True Vampire Stories" based on his adventure. But Aurora also produces a book called "I Loved a Vampire" and still takes a long time to see yes when Harold repeatedly asks her out on a date.

In the showdown with Doctor Sun, Dracula is actually killed by Juno's lance and then the corpse incinerated. For a few issues it seems as though the vampire is truly gone and all that remains is his legacy, with the vampire hunters left to stop Sun's plans to take over the world. But it soon becomes clear that only Dracula has the power to stop Sun, leading to debate about whether they should resurrect him or not. Soon Aurora's tears prove to be the ingredient they need and Dracula returns to the fight, allying with Blade and seemingly destroying Doctor Sun for good.

There's a continuation of the rewriting of Dracula's history since the events described in the Bram Stoker novel, with the establishment of a greater history of encounters with Blade, backdating them to the 1960s. Although the retcons may allow for a greater cast interaction with Dracula, it gets ever more confusing to try to understand just how long he has been out of operation and just what the consequences are of his actions. It might have been better to follow the lead of the Monster of Frankenstein title and start the series at some point in the past after the famous novel, then slowly bring the lead character to the present day with the back story more clearly set out.

Dracula is also forced to face up to the consequences of his actions when he meets Shiela Whittier, the owner of a castle he settles in during the day. Initially he hopes to use his host as a hypnotised slave to perform actions whilst the sun is up, but after banishing the ghost of her uncle (secretly actually her father) from the castle the two find themselves drawn together. However she subsequently discovers his true nature and turns instead to David Eshcol, a practising Jew and son of the owner of a pawnshop that contains an important magical artefact. David and Shiela fall for each other and flee Dracula after a defeat of Doctor Sun, but David is scared of reprisals and sets out to kill the lord of vampires, only to himself die in the process. Shiela then chooses suicide over servitude, leaving Dracula with two corpses and facing the very dark impact of his nature and actions. Later Dracula finds the pointlessness of revenge as he battles the Faceless Man, the reanimated corpse of a murder victim seeking his killers. Dracula gets caught up in the murders but the Faceless Man disintegrates before either his mission is complete or Dracula can gain his own revenge.

There are some nods to wider trends in society, most notably the encounter with Daphne von Wilkinson, a fashion designer and arch feminist who despises all men, especially her business rivals. She cuts a deal with Dracula to provide information on the location of Doctor Sun in exchange for the elimination of her main rivals. Dracula complies though starts to wonder if he's wasting his time, but both parties deliver their side of the deal. Only there's a twist as all the victims are now vampires who come to feed on von Wilkinson. Later on the 1970s growth in Satanism is reflected when Dracula takes over a cult and marries Domini, one of the followers, planning to create a child to be born on December 25th. Meanwhile the previous cult leader, Anton Lupeski, is secretly plotting to destroy Dracula.

The crossover with Doctor Strange is not especially memorable, being motivated by Dracula's attack on Strange's servant Wong. This leads to a battle as the magician tries to force the vampire to help resurrect the servant, in which Strange's body is transformed into a vampire though his astral self remains free. Eventually he seemingly destroys Dracula and cures both himself and Wong of the vampire curse, making in total for a rather slight crossover that doesn't really add anything to this volume.

The volume ends at a point when many of the story threads are still ongoing, with both Blade and King's battle against Frost's duplicates and Rachel, Frank and Harold's battle against the cultists in mid action. Dracula's plans are ongoing as well. Whilst there are often times when there's no simple clean point to bite off a chunk of a series for a collected edition, this one feels more ragged than most. When combined with the sheer tediousness of the Doctor Sun storyline that takes seemingly forever to resolve, the result is a rather disappointing volume that tries to do things with its main characters but doesn't really feel suitably spectacular. The series has a reputation as a great epic but a lot of epics have turgid middle sections and this is clearly one of them.
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