HERO HISTORY: Dracula

by

Or – “He Doesn’t Even Drink…  Wine.”

In the years since 1938 (technically even earlier, given the existence of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, the Green Hornet and others who predate the technical era of the Superman) there have been hundreds upon hundreds of publishers that create comic book adventures, with hundreds of THOUSANDS of characters involved.  In all that time, there have been more than a few heroes whose existence is due mostly to bad ideas, high concept or some sort of drugs.  In the case of today’s Hero History entrant, a strong case can be made for all three.  His powers are unique, to say the least, his costume not-so-very fearsome, and his code-name?  Well, it’s a long story.  Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages…  sit right back and you’ll hear a tale of a man fighting to overcome his family’s legacy of evil and forge a new path to greatness.  This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Aloyisius Ulysses Card of Transylvania, who took his ancestor’s name in his heroic identity of…  DRACULA!

A long time ago, comic book publishing was a pretty major deal, and many companies had their hand in comics as a way to make some money.  One such company was Dell Comics, which in the 1930′s struck up a deal with Western Publishing to sell and distribute the books that Western created.  Once the 600-pound gorilla of the comics biz (Dell even had the pull to hold out when the Comics Code Authority was being created in the 1950s), by the late 1960′s, Dell was mostly in the business of licensed characters and movie adaptations.  One such adaptation was “Dracula,” an adaptation of the Tod Browning/Bela Lugosi movie, which was at the time more than 30 years old.  It went pretty much the way you remember the story of Dracula going…

Taking place in the late 1800s, that story ended with the death of the titular character, seemingly ending the curse of Dracula forever.  Unfortunately, his bloodline does continue (although how is not clear) and by the mid-1960′s, his last living descendant has taken up a career in science, (SCIENCE!) working to find a cure for brain damage.  I am taking this as a shout-out to the creators of the book…

His special bat-derived serum ends up getting mixed into his celebratory glass of mineral water, and Doctor Dracula accidentally downs a massive dose of (literally) his own medicine.  He suddenly turns into a bat and flaps away into the night, terrified that the curse of his ancestor his returned to capture him as well, though this time there’s poetic justice in that his powers come from SCIENCE! (SCIENCE!) He goes into hiding in his familial castle in the mountains, avoiding all civilization as he tries to come to terms with his horrible new afflication.  Unfortunately, the world doesn’t intend to pay him the same courtesy, as a mad rebel called Eval wants to set up his new base of operations at Castle Dracula!

Doctor Count Dracula is thrown into his own dungeons, but finds the first useful application of his new were-battery, fluttering through the steel bars to freedom, and vowing to tell the authorities about Eval’s plan to fire rockets at the major cities of the civilized world from Dracula’s home in the mountains.  Eval even booby-traps the peace conferences, hoping to throw the whole world into disarray by murdering the world leaders. Dracula flaps like he’s never flapped before to save the day!  (SCIENCE!)

The world leaders don’t believe him, but with the power of SCIENCE (SCIENCE!) Dracula saves the day, calling upon a flock of bats to scare Eval out of the castle and over a cliff to his inevitable doom.  Realizing that the world needs protectors, even if their only power is turning into a sky-rat, and dedicates himself to becoming the hero the world needs.  Cue up the Bonnie Tyler as we get our training montage…

“I need a hero!  I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night!  He’s gotta be cool, and he’s gotta be brave and he’s gotta have fangs and the power of flight!”  Doot doot doot dooo!  (SCIENCE!) Having enduring  his own Charles Atlas origin, Dracula vows that no one will ever endanger innocents or threaten the Transylvanian way while HE’S around!

He even creates a battlesuit to protect his identity and scare the superstitious and cowardly criminals of the world (although his headgear looks more like a fox than a bat.)  What’s the first step to saving the world from evil and corruption?  Why, taking a long ocean cruise, of course.  In his defense, Dracula has decided to take his activities to America, where all the super-villains are, but on the cruise he ends up meeting a lovely young woman, improbably named B.B. Beebe.  As part of his emigration, Count Doctor Dracula has realized that his original name has a little bit of a stigma attached to it, and chooses a new sobriquet…

Al U. Card, my friends.  Accept no substitutes.  (SCIENCE!) Drac’s trip is a difficult one, plagued by storms of near-biblical proportion, the kind unseen since the Voyage of the Minnow in ’61.  Though he is able to use his powers to steer the ship through one of the storms, he realizes that something weird is going on with the weather.  His super-senses tell him that a mysterious cloudbank hides a fleet of dirigibles, and that night, he sets out to solve the mystery in his own leathery-winged inimitable style.

Actually, now that I mention it, his cowl looks a bit like the one that Wolverine wore in Hulk #181.  Much like Eval before him, the leader of the Blimp Batallion has atomic bombs at his disposal, and means to drop them on the United States!  Dracula gets involved, but finds that he’s not as invulnerable as he might have hoped.

Freezing gas!  How could they have known his weakness?  (SCIENCE!) Knocked unconscious, Dracula is taken to the captain’s quarters, where he is nearly scuttled off the ship, before a brilliant thought occurs to him.  “I am Dracula!  I want to be a part of your evil plan!”  His forebears’ legend precedes him, and the villain is proud to explain the full details of his plan and his machinery…

I don’t want to be rude, or anything, but a man in tights with a bat-belt-buckle and a pink cowl that makes him look like a human weasel shouldn’t thrown stones.  The hero moves against Admiral Maltemps, but is thrown overboard for his troubles.  Going to the authorities, Dracula finds himself ridiculed and threatened, and takes matters into his own hands.  He single-handedly attacks the fleet, taking out all the dirigibles with the flagship, (SCIENCE!) then rupturing the gasbags and bringing the whole thing down…

Um…  If Mr. Card doesn’t really exist other than as a pseudonym, how are you entering the country legally?  This seems questionable.  Arriving in New York, Al and B.B. part company, but promise to see each other again, with the promise of romance in the air.  Setting up his laboratory, Al works day and night to figure out the secret of his new abilities, as the world goes Dracula crazy.  The hero is the latest big thing, but Al U. Card stumbles upon the most important discovery of his life:  A serum that will allow him to transform back and forth at will!  He runs into B.B. Beebe again, and the twosome go on a date together, a carefree day spent plummeting to earth at high speed!  Of course, when B.B.’s parachute doesn’t open, Dracula is forced to flap up and save her…  (SCIENCE!)

B.B. discovers the truth about Al’s double identity, but agrees to protect him, realizing that his family secret is something that might endanger them both.  Dracula buys a mountain (!!) which he converts into a lab/headquarters/Fortress of Sciencetude, and B.B. becomes his confidante and gal Friday.  When she takes a group of children on a bus tour to the beach, B.B. is attacked by the evil Evil Piper, who wants to create an army of children to do his bidding.  The kids, under his spell, lock her in the bus and push her off a cliff. (!!)  Dracula to the rescue!  (SCIENCE!)

B.B. herself ends up saving the kids from the Evil Piper (by ordering them to jump off a cliff into a net which she has hung for just such an emergency) and, when the permanent bat-serum is complete, B.B. steals it and quaffs some, vowing to be his partner against crime.  Dracula knows that arguing with a woman is futile when she’s determined, and drinks the other half of the serum, even breaking out his bonnet-making machine…  (SCIENCE!) B.B. dubs herself “Fleeta” and we’re off!

In full 1960′s fashion, she manages to become fully trained and buff in about an hour and a half, and soon, B.B. hears of a plot to hold the city hostage.  Dracula and Fleeta leap into action to save the day, only to find that SOMEONE ELSE has already foiled the villainous plot.  Someone who might seem familiar to a man with Dracula’s pedigree…

Yes, that is a pink-skinned Frankenstein in a red leotard.  (SCIENCE!) With the major plot taken care of, the duo finds evidence that a charlatan has been bilking old ladies out of their life savings using fake ghost sightings and chicanery.  That man’s name is John Edwards Hob Goblin, and he has no compunctions about answering an ad in the newspaper.  Arriving at a remote farm, he sets his con in motion, only to find that this old lady is more than she seems to be…

The spiratualist is overwhelmed by the power of a pair of superheroes/werebats/bad puns in B.B. and Al U., and quickly flees the sight of his latest blackmail plot…

This panel is the last scene in Dracula #4 (dated 1967), and is the last that we see of the character for several years.  In 1972, a NEW issue of Dracula, #6, appeared on newsstands.  No one knows what happened to Dracula #5, but strangely, #6 is a page-for-page reprint of #2 (actually the first appearance of the character, since the movie adaptation was technically #1.)  #7 and #8 soon followed, reprinting #3 and #4, before Al U. Card disappeared forever from the face of the Earth.  One wonders if Dell Comics’ license to Dracula expired back in ’67, and what possessed the editors to re-release the series with new numbers five years after the fact.  I personally suspect that Marv Wolfman’s successful “Tomb of Dracula” title at Marvel had a lot to do with the reappearance.  For that matter, the 1966 debut was the year that a certain caped crusader hit it big on TV, which may give a hint to the thought behind his initial bat-serium genesis.  Still, no one can deny one thing about Dracula:  This is pretty damned ridiculous from top to bottom.  Any way you slice it, though, Dracula was a… unique force for good in the universe, and he isn’t any sillier than say, Shaft from Youngblood or even Stephanie Brown as Batgirl.

Besides, the idea of a hero taking on the mantle of a flying rodent to strike fear in the hearts of men, all the while using his resources and science background in the course of heroism?  Hell, there’s no way THAT would work, right?

(SCIENCE!)

**If you’ve enjoyed this Hero History, you might want to ‘Read All About It’ at your Local Major Spoilers! You can just click “Hero History” in the “Columns” section on the main page, and read about a hundred or so other guys and gals who are likewise awesome as heck. The adventures of the superhero Dracula (SCIENCE!) were published by Dell Comics, but in this case, finding the books would be difficult, expensive, and mostly a novelty.  Still, if you have the time, you could do worse…

Next up:  So, that guy Frankenstein?  Yeah, there’s pretty much no way to ignore something that ridiculously awesome, so prepare for more Universal Monster/superhero crossover action.  And, as always:

Watch.

The.

Skies.

(SCIENCE!)