Powerful Panels: Tomb of Dracula #2 by Gene Colan

About the only constant in Tomb of Dracula is Gene Colan's artwork. Writers came and went--especially early on--but he's there from #1's clever re-telling and updating of the Dracula story to those late issues when for some reason, Dracula and the Silver Surfer are hanging out. Like so many of the post-Kirby/Ditko 60s and 70s mainstream artists, a superficial look at the art leads to the assumption that it was all very similar. This wasn't helped by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein's immediate appropriation of comics art, turning it into kitsch before it ever really go to breathe, but the real excitement of the era's art lies in the details; subtle differentiations between artists, what they did to make an end-run around the brutal, bottom line demands of comics. Colan's work stands out for being a little darker, with thicker lines, more black and a penchant for Ditko-esque, quasi-psychedelic imagery to punctuate a scene of action. This is what made him ideal for both Howard the Duck and Tomb of Dracula.

Of course, in a lot of ways, the two series weren't that different. There's a over-the-top edge to Tomb as the series navigates being really fascinating and scary and a little goofy and over-the-top too. And the series was smart to not shy away from that absurd stuff because putting Dracula at the center of the comic basically sucks him of all his mystique and turns him into a melodramatic, old-as shit weirdo.

On the the final page of issue #2, in the panels building up to the issue's end, Dracula sees dawn approaching and makes his way back to his coffin. Main character Frank Drake though, isn't even concerned with Dracula because he just had to kill Jeanie, his girlfriend who got bit at the end of issue #1. There are other moments like this that cuts Dracula down to size or like, temporarily demand him irrelevant to the narrative. In the first issue, Drake thwacks Drac in the head with a silver make-up compact and we get a pretty hilarious close-up of Dracula angrily holding his temple.

Here, Dracula has a giant, villain-like speech and no one cares: "Know this Frank Drake--you've won but a battle...in the final analysis, the game is mine--as it always has been--will always be--Mine! Forever mine!". I won't get snarky and make fun of comic book melodrama, but what is strange there is how Dracula has to tell him that "in the final analysis", Drake will lose. It's weird and obsessive and sort of confounds his own threats. It's like how in the song "My Way", Sinatra talks about how "the record" will "show that [he] did it [his] way". The record?! This rugged individualist guy is going to defer to "the record"?

But again, this whole scene isn't about Dracula, it's about Frank Drake, whose whole life just got fucked the fuck up. He stabs his girlfriend and then watches her melt from the very dawn light that Dracula split to avoid. Colan, in the first of the three panels directly above, shows her melting by little dashes of ink, like particles of life spreading and dissipating. Some real E.C Comics style stuff, especially her swirling word balloon, but she's not screaming in terror, even in these final moments, she tries to comfort Frank, telling him, "It's better this way...I don't hurt anymore...". The next panel goes wide and we see Jeanie as a disgusting mess on the floor. Drake sobs and his best friend--and the guy Drake stole Jeanie from--Clifton Graves holds tight to a curtain, in his own way equally shocked. There's nothing really "comic book" about this frame, it's just real. It's clear something very horrible happened, but their posing is awkward and realistic and not melodramatic. The narration reads like the action slug in a screenplay, succinctly and vaguely poetically describing exactly what we see in the frame--"Drake sinks to his knees..."--and then adding a note about "understand[ing] the full meaning of futility..."; for that frame at least, it's some black and white, sad-bastard Scandanavian movie contemplating "the full meaning of futility".

And then the comic does something very odd. For the final panel of the issue, it goes to an exterior shot of Big Ben and a horse statue with rays of sun peaking out, as the narrator pontificates on "revenge". The image and the narration have no obvious connection and it has little to no relationship to the previous panels either. Showing Big Ben and the statue is not working on some symbolic level and so, there's no direct correlation between what's happened and where the comic book leaves you. It's almost like the horrible scene we just experienced was too much and the comic had to leave the room with two grief-stricken guys and a melted girlfriend in it and get some air.

By the way, the Gene Colan Tribute book comes out tomorrow and although it's $9.99, it's probably worth picking up. If not for the bunch of Colan-illustrated stories and artist reminisces, for the fact that the money made on the book will go towards Gene Colan's medical bills. All roads lead back to Robert Kirkman's silly "vlog" manifesto thingy as of late, but this book's a pretty good example of a big evil comic book company helping out one of their aging slaves...

1 comment:

samuel rules said...

whoa dude, thanks for the heads up on this Gene Colan thing. I'll probably pick it up. I'm really happy you got into this series that litterally changed the way I read comics!