The Monster Mash - Part 1

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In many ways the 1970s was a time where the House of Ideas became a recycling plant, picking up on any pop culture fad it could as the premise for new ongoing books. Into that funky new Martial Arts craze? How about Master of Kung-Fu, Iron Fist and Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu then? Evel Knievel and the popularity of daredevil stuntmen more your thing? Then here’s Ghost Rider and Human Fly for you! Someone’s brought out a hot new toy? Then we’ve got a comic based on it! Hey the kids are really digging the resurgence of horror films. Well you get the picture…

Coinciding with a relaxation in the Comics Code that gave the company greater freedom in the depiction of horror characters like werewolves and vampires (although zombies remained taboo in Code-approved material) Marvel’s output of ghouls, monsters and demonic entities flourished across both its color and black and white magazine lines during this decade. By the end of the Seventies though, the characters had largely outlived, for want of a better word, their welcome and Ghost Rider, a composite creation who had always straddled the super-hero and horror genres anyway, was the only survivor.

With Halloween approaching, and Marvel’s Legion of Monsters hardcover (reprinting this years horror one-shots alongside some classic strips from the past!) now on sale, here’s a brief look at some of those memorable supernatural protagonists of yesteryear. For those intrigued enough to want to investigate more, we’re happy to provide details of trade paperback and hardcover collections that reprint those Seventies classics under each entry. So let’s return to a time when the Marvel monsters weren’t played for comedy relief or used as gun-toting super-soldiers for S.H.I.E.L.D but, rather, inhabited foggy graveyards, gothic castles and the strangest, most disturbing corners of the Marvel Universe…

The Shadow of the Vampire…

Dracula, the Lord of the Vampires, is unquestionably Marvel’s most critically-acclaimed horror character. When Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan came together to weave their creative magic on Tomb of Dracula one of the all-time great comics runs was born. With only the very occasional incursion from the rest of the Marvel line, Dracula managed 70 issues of Tomb of Dracula and 13 issues of the black and white companion magazine Dracula Lives! between 1972 and 1979. After his resurrection in the opening issue, the Lord of the Vampires had to adapt to life in the Twentieth Century and was pursued for most of this run by Quincy Harker, Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing and the rest of their group of vampire hunters, seemingly to a definite conclusion by the time of the final issue seven years later.

Two characters spun off from the pages of Tomb of Dracula into their own features. After his mother was killed, while giving birth to him, by the vampire Deacon Frost, Blade was destined to spend his life hunting down the undead. Occasionally teaming with Quincy Harker and company in Tomb of Dracula, Blade’s popularity was enough to gain him solo vampire-hunting outings in Vampire Tales #s 8-9 and Marvel Preview #3 and #6.

One can’t help but wonder if someone at Marvel sat down with a long list of all the Universal Studios horror movies when coming up with concepts for new supernatural characters at this time. Just as Tod Browning’s classic Dracula (1931) was followed up with Dracula’s Daughter (1936) so too did Marvel introduce Lilith, the daughter of Dracula in 1974’s Giant-Size Chillers #1 (later renamed Giant-Size Dracula). With powers far above those of a normal vampire thanks to a gypsy curse (like being able to operate in sunlight for example), Lilith sought constant revenge on her father for rejecting her mother and driving her to suicide. Cheating death by her ability to possess the bodies of young women if she was killed, Lilith graduated to her own stories in both Vampire Tales and Marvel Preview.

Our final major bloodsucker was never really a true vampire at all! Michael Morbius’s story began in Amazing Spider-Man #s 101-102. A brilliant scientist, dying of a rare blood disease, Morbius’s frantic experimentation with vampire bats to find a cure, led to him being tragically transformed into a pseudo-vampire and needing the blood of innocents to survive. Morbius had not one, but two, features of his own shortly after this. In the pages of Vampire Tales he starred in more psychological and sometimes downright violent horror stories, while in Adventure Into Fear #s 20-31 his adventures veered more to the fantasy side involving cults, cat demons, other dimensions and even the odd bit of near-sword and sorcery thrown in for good measure.

Selected Reading

The entire run of Tomb of Dracula (including various guest-shots from Lilith and Blade) and selected, sometimes censored, stories from Dracula Lives! (with all nipple shots removed because, as we all know, naked breasts are far more offensive than people having their throats ripped open by the slavering undead…) are available in Essential Tomb of Dracula volume #s 1-4. Morbius’s solo exploits haven’t been reprinted since the 1993 Morbius Revisited series but you can catch his origin in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5, his meeting with the Thing in Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol.1 and a couple of his battles with Spider-Man, the Human Torch and the X-Men in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1. The Blade: Black and White trade paperback represents the daywalker’s 1970s solo outings.

The Curse of the Lycanthropes

Jack Russell was the naturalised American son of a Transylvanian nobleman who, on his eighteenth birthday, discovered he was cursed to become a werewolf every month on the nights of the full moon. After a successful try-out in Marvel Spotlight #s 2-4 in 1972, the Werewolf By Night book lasted a healthy 43 issues as well as five issues of Giant-Size Werewolf . Russell spent much of the time being chased by a variety of sorcerers, psychopaths, corrupt businessmen and bounty hunters, with the unholy tome of the Darkhold often central to proceedings. He also popped up in the black and white a nthology magazine Monsters Unleashed, perhaps most notably, for the time, in a prose story.

Two future Avengers, Moon Knight and Tigra, also debuted in the pages of Werewolf By Night. The latter appeared in the first Giant-Size issue (titled Giant-Size Creatures). Tigra was formerly the heroine The Cat, whose Claws of the Cat book had lasted just four issues before cancellation in the early 70s. Her meeting with the Werewolf recounts how she is transformed into the more feral Tigra by members of the Cat People living among humanity (another link to a classic horror movie being adapted one wonders?) in order to act as their champion.

Tigra was another to feature in Monsters Unleashed before moving on to her own color run as the star of Marvel Chillers #s 3-7. Despite the title, this was very clearly more super-hero oriented fare. It may seem quite odd to us now but Tigra was initially presented as one of the stable of Marvel horror characters and often referred to as Tigra the Were-Woman. This is a little unfortunate, as "Tigra the Were-Woman" actually translates as "Tigra the Man-Woman", but if Joe Quesada is reading this then I’ve got a great pitch for a new Marvel MAX series…

Our final furry fiend is the Man-Wolf, originally from the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. Astronaut John Jameson, long-time supporting character and son of Spidey’s nemesis J.Jonah Jameson, was transformed by a mystical gemstone he found on the moon into a silver-furred lycanthrope who took on the wall-crawler in Amazing#124 . Between 1974 and 1975 the Man-Wolf was the headline character in Creatures On the Loose #s 30-37, with the plotlines of the cancelled book picked up some years later in Marvel Premiere #s 45 and 46. Starting off as another rampaging werewolf series, the character’s strip evolved into a sci-fi/sword and sorcery hybrid as it was revealed the mystical gem was the catalyst for turning Jameson into the heroic Stargod, champion of the extra-dimensional Other-Realm.

Selected Reading

Grab Essential Werewolf By Night Vol.1 and the upcoming Vol. 2 for more on Jack Russell. For a color reprint of Giant-Size Creatures #1 featuring the first appearance of Tigra look for the Giant-Size Marvel trade paperback that also reprints Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1 with Man-Wolf and Morbius taking on Spider-Man. Man-Wolf’s original battle against Spider-Man can be enjoyed again in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6.

Check back in a couple of days when we wrap up with a look at the monsters, demons and mystics that made up the rest of the Marvel horror line in the decade that fashion forgot.

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