The Tomb of Dracula #54: “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”

Horror-themed holiday stories, whether filmed or penned, are nothing new, but clearly, I’m obsessed with 1970s Marvel horror comics and can’t resist talking about them.  I own all available omnibus collections, and I’ve written multiple articles where I mention how during the early 1970s the Comics Code Authority loosened its restrictions against horror comics, making room for monsters:

Vampires, ghouls, and werewolves shall be permitted to be used when handled in the classic tradition such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and other high calibre literary works written by Edgar Allen Poe, Saki, Conan Doyle, and other respected authors whose works are read in schools around the world.

Seeing their chance, Marvel creators released titles reflecting classic traditions but progressing well beyond simple adaptations, eventually folding each monster into their overall universe.  Central titles include The Monster of Frankenstein, Werewolf by Night, and arguably the greatest horror comic ever, The Tomb of Dracula, which ran from 1972 until 1979, lasting 70 issues.

Over this period, Marvel’s Dracula tangles with Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and the Silver Surfer.  To no one’s shock, however, he mostly combats vampire hunters, one his descendant and others the descendants of past enemies.  Among them is Blade the Vampire Hunter, who first appeared in The Tomb of Dracula #10 (1973) and since has become a popular Marvel hero and film franchise.

The narrative achieves peak excellence beginning with issue #45, when Dracula discovers the Church of the Damned, a Boston-based satanic cult led by High Priest Anton Lupeski, who’d been performing a ceremony, a symbolic wedding between Satan and a church member, Domini.  An opportunist through and through, Dracula enters the scene, quickly convincing the congregation that he’s the Dark Lord and marrying Domini himself.  He assumes power, demotes Lupeski to toady, recruits wealthy members, and builds a formidable organization.  It’s a power junkie’s dream writ large.  To cement his dynasty, Dracula has Lupeski perform a magical rite that will impregnate Domini with his child, since vampires can’t procreate sexually.  An immaculate birth?  I’m not sure which word best replaces “immaculate,” but series writer Marv Wolfman and artist Gene Colan have begun an arc featuring Christian references that will resonate throughout issue #54, a holiday special entitled, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Christmas Eve arrives, and Domini’s ready to deliver her and Dracula’s child.  So, “immaculate” birth and Christmas Eve – Wolfman and Colan are obvious with their associations, but thankfully they don’t delve too heavily into Matthew and Luke.  Domini wants her child born in the church Dracula leads, since it’s where the magical conception occurred.  Dracula demurs at first, because the church houses a portrait of Christ he can’t remove.  But Dracula relents.  He loves his wife and can deny her nothing. With Lupeski’s help, off they go.

Alas, no Magi bearing gifts travel from the East.  Instead, Dracula’s enemy Rachel Van Helsing learns from Lupeski, who despises Dracula, where the couple are birthing their child and goes to the location.  Once there, she tips off her colleagues — Frank Drake, Harold H. Harold, and Blade — but tries confronting Dracula alone, winding up instead bound and imprisoned by Lupeski who acts upon his busy master’s orders.  The team must rescue her, then move together against Dracula. Knowing his enemies are near, Dracula carries Domini from the church to a barn, placing her where she’ll be safest . . . in a manger.  No need for explication here.

The hunters attack as the baby’s head crowns.  A skirmish ensues, but soon we hear a newborn cry, and Domini acts, tacitly reminding us that her name is Latin for “of our Lord.” Since she’s a Satanist married to Dracula, we might say Domini’s of the Dark Lord, but no. She orders a ceasefire, telling the hunters to leave peacefully.  She wants no one harmed on “the night of this very special birth.”  Dracula and his enemies agree, and all parties exit in separate directions.  Dracula even says to Domini, “Let us go, my love.  There will be other nights for fighting.  But tonight . . . tonight is a night for peace.”

Peace?  Dracula?  A Christmas miracle?

Don’t believe the vampire lord’s small heart grew three sizes that night.  Domini’s Mary-esque love has mellowed him but not permanently.  Indeed, his son’s unusual skin tone reminds Dracula of a golden angel he’d battled before.  In later issues, readers will see how this plays out when the Church of the Damned meets a stunning end like many cults do.

For one evening, though, all experience a brief armistice – hunter, vampire, and reader – and Wolfman and Colan with their weird Nativity-related symbology help us celebrate the holiday spirit, “what,” according to Harold H. Harold, “makes us all too human.”