Monday, October 14, 2019

Spider-Man vs. Dracula #1

Halloween 2019 Post-A-Day 15
Spider-Man vs. Dracula #1

Webs and neck wounds

Again, we dip into those Marvel reprint books that featured a hero versus Dracula. Here, however we have a reprint of the book that launched it all: Giant-Sized Spider-Man #1.

"Ship of Fiends & The Masque of the Black Death”

Story – Len Wein
Artist – Ross Andru
Inker – Don Heck
Colorist – John Kalisz
Letterer– John Costanza
Editor – Roy Thomas
January 1994 (Reprint from July 1974)

This was the story that launched them all, putting Dracula in the Marvel Universe and moving him from being a periphery character who only interacted with other mystical or supernatural characters, to being the guy that took out the X-Men almost single-handedly in their Annual number 6. This took Dracula into Marvel mainstream.

The funny part is, the interaction between the two main characters is at a bare minimum. The two share about two panels together. They don’t even FIGHT! Which is saying something for a story that is 30 pages in length. What are the pair doing for the rest of that page count? Well, read on McDuff and I’ll illuminate it for you.

We begin with Spidey investigating a break-in at Faversham Jewelers. It has NOTHING to do with the story, and the crook gets away when Spider-man slips on a patch of ice.

As will become obvious later, this plot thread dangling here was to be picked up in Marvel Team-Up #23 where the Torch meets up with Iceman to battle Equinox, a villain with the powers of both heroes. Marvel Team-Up featured both Spider-Man and Torch at first, sometimes together and sometimes teamed with other heroes. In fact, the idea of Spider-Man Giant #1 was to feed off the team-up popularity.

How we get from point A to point B was simple: through Aunt May. Poor dear had another bout of illness that could only be cured by…well, I’ll let the doctor explain.

Yeah, so the only way she will live is if she gets this medicine (which no one can reproduce if given instructions) that is being brought in to the country by a doctor on an ocean liner. Can you say “Hack-Kneed?”

So, Spidey needs a favor from the Torch to get to the ship fast…

…and as he borrows the craft, he leaves the Torch a hint about the villain he sought in the first three pages of this issue which ties around with Marvel Team-Up #23. See! Not a stretch at all.

Fifteen minutes later, Spider-Man is at sea on an ocean liner, with the FF’s jet-thingie hovering close by. We are at page 8 and finally all of our pieces are in place, right? NO? Oh, yeah. We are missing one major one.

DRACULA! He has flown to the boat in the middle of the ocean as a bat.

Yeah, I’m gonna go with that’s a stretch. I have no clue what the average air-speed velocity of a vampire bat IS, but I’ll warrant it isn’t fast enough to get from the European continent to wherever the heck this ship is AND back BEFORE sunrise (remember, Drac’s got a time limit for these things). And that's not counting if it is carrying a coconut. It. Is. Just. Not. Possible.

But we have to go with it because THAT IS THE EXPLANATION. There are many plot holes in this, but this one takes the cake. And that’s a three-tier wedding cake of plot hole. 

WHY has Drac flown all this way and risked not beating the sun? To kill the very same doctor that Spidey has come to nab. Seems Dracula thinks the doctor’s formulas could somehow be used against him at some point in the future. Yeah, that is ALSO a very thin plot string.

And this is when it happens! Spider-Man in his Peter Parker persona bumps into (literally) Count Dracula. And what happens next is…

…very much a complete and total letdown. Parker apologizes and moves on. Dracula doesn’t mesmerize him and suck his blood. Nothing happens. Nothing. That is their one and only interaction this whole book. So much for “Versus”.

However, if you can get beyond that, the story is an enjoyable enough Spider-Man story. His main adversaries are these guys: Anthony (The Whisperer) Cavelli and his gang of Maggia thugs dressed as band members. The bandleader position is covered by Seymour (Simian) Simms.

Cavelli sees the doctor as his ticket back into the country, so we have a three-way tug of war about to start. Probably should check back in with one of the other participants. This is Drac, cruising the decks for a quick “bite” before getting down to business. He spies this little pretty dressed as a tasty Viking shieldmaiden.

But before he can put the fangs to her, this other chap shows up and ruins the fun. We do get a bit of vampire lore in the “doesn’t photograph” bit, but this really doesn’t move our plot forward much.

What does get interesting is a few of the Maggia bandmembers crossing paths with the vampire lord, getting a few potshots off after he doesn’t intimidate easily enough, and causing Drac to get a real mad on.

After tossing them around like dolls, Dracula uses his hypnotic gaze to cause them to practice marching…right off the deck and into the ocean.

And finally Drac finds an easy victim and time alone to put the whammy on her. Her screams alert Parker, who notices the odd appearance of a bat at sea. 

Parker takes the woman to sick bay, even though it blows his cover. Our two party-goers arrive, and we learn that ONE of them is the doctor everyone is seeking. Before our shell game is quite complete, the Maggia show up with guns drawn to steal the doctor away.

Fisticuffs ensue and Parker dives out a porthole while the Maggia make off with the good doctor.

Which brings us to the halfway point of our story. Parker is now back in Spider-duds and we have all the parties pretty much in hand and ready to rumble. 

Spidey’s fleet feet allow him to block Simian’s efforts to deliver the good doctor to The Whisperer, forcing the gents to take him all the way up on deck. They find a familiar figure waiting for them there.

Who turns out to be a costume party Red Herring, allowing the REAL deal to swing into action against the fellas.

I’m just going to post these fight pages in full, because this is the height of the book. Coasting on Wein’s plot, Andru and Heck are the real standouts of the book.

Their depictions of battle scenes make this book worth the cover price. I assume we have to give Wein credit for allowing us a distinctive setting and a reason that Maggia baddies would be dressed up as marching band members.

This three page fight scene is enjoyable, even if it does very little to advance the plot. The doctor runs at Spider-Man’s urgings, which means we still need to find him. 

And the master criminal behind Simian’s group is still at large. Plus there is Dracula to contend with as well…so, this really was just a bunch of punching for fun.

Speaking of Drac, he’s hiding out in a dark corner of the ballroom looking for clues as to his target. Our doctor wanders in unexpectedly, attempting to gain help from the shipboard security team. This allows Dracula to connect almost all of the dots, including connecting the Maggia to The Whisperer.

And it also allows The Whisperer to identify the good doctor. Seeing as to how his strongmen have failed him, the top dog takes matters into his own hands. He feigns illness so the doc will drag him off to sick bay, a plan that would have worked…

…except he is being followed by the lord of all vampires. Let’s see if Simian has anything to say about that?

Unfortunately, this henchman is no match for Dracula. He just has to look at him funny and Simian freaks the truck out. Which leaves Dracula the opportunity to make his move on Doctor Maxfield. The Whisperer isn’t having any of it, though and pulls a shank out on fang-face.

Of course against Dracula, this is like bringing a peashooter to a gun range. The Whisperer goes out with barely a sound…

…leaving Dracula with unobstructed access to the doctor. Drac skips the blood related theatrics and tosses Maxfield overboard.

And as the Prince of Darkness flies off into the night thinking his work is done, we realize that Maxfield actually collides with a ship-clinging Spider-guy. 

Spidey stops Maxfield from hitting the waves, swings him up on deck and then confronts a very delusional and scared Simian.

In short order, Spider-Man has the crook laid out on the deck, and that’s when a problem arises!

Well of course he isn’t. A. J. Maxfield is the young lady, who quickly overcomes her fear of flying to help Spidey save his aunt. And for those of you worried Drac might not make it back to his coffin on time, we even get a shot of that. 

Very short on Spider vs Bat action. I think that has to be said. There is virtually NONE in this book and that makes the title crawl of the mag an out-and-out lie. I did enjoy it though. And I noticed that this story is NOT covered in Volume 1 of Marvel Super Team-Up Essentials although it might be covered in one of the Spider-Man Essentials. Those facts alone make it worth the reprint purchase. Also there are a couple of silly little surprises to go along with it.

"Vampire at the Window”

Story – Stan Lee
Artist – Hy Rosen
Colorist – unknown
Letterer– unknown
Editor – unknown
Reprint from Astonishing Tales #18, October 1952

This is one of those odd pre-code stories that shows just how bad a writer Stan Lee could be. Now back in the day Stan had to throw down with many different genres and meet intense, ever mounting deadlines, not to mention the “Marvel style” was mostly him telling an artist what he wanted to see and then leaving storytelling in the hands of the artist’s pen.

So while we might sling stuff Rosen’s way, I don’t think it is warranted. This feels more like a quick filler story and Rosen’s art does with it what he can. The flat twist ending on the last page isn’t so much his fault as the fault of all of these other pressures which allowed a mediocre story to grace the pages of Astonishing Tales. Why it was reprinted? Must have been a shortage of Marvel vampire stories to take from.

Here we go, with a man seeing a vampire out his window. So he gathers up his bathrobe and runs to visit a private eye.

The skeptical private eye comes back to the guy’s apartment to take care of the “vampire” and when it appears…

…the private eye lets him kill the main character because….(big reveal in the final panel!) HE IS A VAMPIRE TOO!

This ending feels like so much of a letdown. Like those “it’s all a dream” or “they were all dead” cliché endings, it really doesn’t satisfy. I think it could have been worked into actual horror had the P.I. came forward earlier, then we could have had a last panel reaction shot of the victim realizing his fate. As it is, this just doesn’t work well.

"I Was a Vampire”

Story – unknown
Artist – Matt Fox
Inker – Matt Fox
Colorist – unknown
Letterer– unknown
Editor – unknown
Reprint from Uncanny Tales #6, March 1953

Here’s a story that starts off TELLING you that the main character is a vampire. And while we don’t have an author, we do have an artist: Matt Fox. I haven’t heard of Mr. Fox’s art anywhere else, but it is … unique.

These first three panels don’t really do it justice. But as the pages unfold, you find that Matt Fox has a very singular style of drawing faces.

Uh…sort of like a low-talented high school art student might. They are expressive, but this looks almost like one of those odd independent books that like to make a statement with their story, not a mainstream Marvel title. 

And I get that this was 1953 and possibly not the best time for art and printing techniques, but still. This art is very much not what I am used to. As for the story…It’s a simple tale of Vampire sees girl, Vampire loves girl, Vampire kills scientist to get formula to turn back to being a human…

…then ex-Vampire woos girl and asks for hand in marriage,…

Only to find out girl is ACTUALLY ALSO A VAMPIRE WHO NOW KILLS EX-VAMPIRE AND DRINKS HIS BLOOD. So yeah, same as last story the ending comes out of left field even though there should have been hundreds of tipoffs that alerted the protagonist. It’s a poorly orchestrated mess and those heads/faces are just so phony.

And that’s where we leave this one. The backups aren’t as good, although they are neat to read and reflect back on what Marvel in the 1950’s would have been like. The main story is great but you have to get over feeling gyped by the title. In all I’d recommend a pickup just to get a nice reprint of Giant Sized Spider-Man #1. Beyond that, there isn’t much to recommend this one.

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