They say you can't go home again, but in the late 1990s, writer Marv Wolfman was asked by Dark Horse Comics to team up with frequent collaborator Gene Colan on an all-new Dracula book. The duo were once responsible for one of the all-time best runs on a horror comic, Marvel's Tomb of Dracula, in the 1970s. Dark Horse was looking to capture lightning in a bottle a second time with an all-new mini-series, The Curse of Dracula, but the book didn't find a break-through audience at the time. Colan passed away in 2011, ending any continuation that this version of Dracula might have had.
So, historically speaking, this is already an interesting book - the re-uniting of a dream team to re-invent the iconic horror character that helped define their careers. The three issues have been collected into a new hardback edition by Dark Horse, perhaps as a show of respect to Wolfman and Colan, but I'd also imagine the comics market is more receptive to vampire books now than they were back in 1998. Regardless, for fans of the creators or the titular blood-sucker, this is a win.
It's not as boldly different from Tomb of Dracula as Wolfman seems to think that it is, as outlined in his introduction to the book. Dracula himself has been updated into a younger-looking, hipper figure than Marvel's mustachioed menace, but Wolfman still assembles a core team of damaged-goods vampire hunters whose sole purpose in life is to vanquish the Prince of Darkness once and for all. By making it more contemporary, Wolfman changes Dracula's motivations somewhat, with political power, not the blood of innocents, driving his every decision.
Colan was 71 when he drew this, and clearly hadn't lost a bit of his magic. The art here is presented with modern computer coloring, but stripped of inks, allowing Colan's pencil marks to show through the mostly-blue palette. The artistic middle ground between impressionism and realism displayed here is uniquely Colan's. His figures are wispy sketches in perpetual motion, contained in skewed panels that are never aligned to a grid, yet the distinct faces of his characters and the moody lighting suggest the use of in-studio life models. At this age, his pages are still imbued with kinetic energy, and he's not afraid to get experimental when it comes to layout (one great panel with Dracula's head thrown back in a scream leads to a road spewing straight from his mouth to the scene of a driving car).
Wolfman feels slightly tentative as a writer here, despite more adult content than Marvel would allow in the 1970s, perhaps trying to straddle a line between creating something new while appealing to people who loved the old stuff (film critics have dubbed this "sequelitis"). The three issues collected here tell one story, but with a cliffhanger ending that I'm sure would've been explored in-depth had this series caught on with readers. If Wolfman could've found the balance between the old and the new that he was looking for, the book might've evolved into something really special for Dark Horse.
This is a worthy package, though, despite any whiffs of unfulfilled potential that linger around the book. The heroes are weird and flawed, Dracula is sexual and sinister, and Colan's art shines through every page. The older I get, the more I've come to appreciate him as an artist. Since we won't be getting any new work from Mr. Colan, it's up to Dark Horse to keep his memory alive through reprints like this one. I think they've done him proud.