This issue may seem a little bit off my normal beat, me being the Marvel Team- Up guy around here, but it really isn't. It's original story is formatted exactly like an issue of MTU, including the the above-the-credits banner that proclaims "Spidey and Dracula--together" . Additionally, this issue is the direct lead in to MTU #23. And besides, Halloween is next week. That makes this the perfect time to review Spider-Man's first encounter with Dracula!
A number of things happened in the early 70's that made it a great time to be a Marvel Comics fan. Marvel had recently crushed the Distinguished Competition in a price war and was enjoying a secure position as king of the hill, giving the fresh young talent in the Bullpen tremendous freedom to innovate. Two of those innovations bring us our story today.
One was the "Giant-Size" book. Not to be confused with king-size annuals, these were published roughly quarterly for all of Marvel's major titles and most of the minor ones too. At fifty cents they were twice the price of a standard issue, but they had "68 big pages" within, including 30 pages of new material and a back-up feature, usually a reprint.
The other condition that makes this story possible was the recent relaxation of the Comics Code. Within certain boundaries, horror elements such as vampires, zombies and werewolves were no longer taboo, and Marvel responded by producing a veritable flood of horror themed titles like Werewolf by Night, Man-Thing, Ghost Rider and today's guest star, Dracula.
So, let's join Spidey and the King of the Vampires now on the Ship of Fiends!
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Comics Weekly (UK) #295|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #6|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Pocket Book (UK) #28|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man vs. Dracula|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Annual (UK) 1976|
Our story opens with Spider-Man swinging across town, when a flashlight visible inside a closed jewelry store catches his eye. As he drops down to investigate, a windswept copy of the Daily Bugle informs us that a flu epidemic has struck New York.
Checking out the shop, Spidey finds the window open and the security system bypassed. Now fairly certain there's foul play afoot, he hops inside to look around. Once inside he's attacked by a shadowy assailant, who drops a display case on him and beats a hasty retreat back out the window. Spidey is about to follow, but he falls on his butt when he slips on a patch of ice. Odd, considering it's sixty degress out...
Spidey jumps outside to follow him but there's no sign of the intruder. Spidey has no time to look for him though, because he's got a date across town with a certain special lady.
That lady of course is Aunt May, and let me tell you she's not looking too good. It seems she's got a case of that flu the Bugle told us about, and being old and frail it's hitting her pretty hard. After the usual banter about Aunt May taking it easy on the pro-football, Peter has a word with the family doctor in the other room.
The doctor confirms that it's a new strain of the flu and he's having a hard time treating it. The one vaccine that's been effective is currently on it's way to the country in the posession of it's discoverer, Dr. A.J. Maxfield. Unfortunately, Maxfield is an eccentric and refuses to fly so he's on his way over on the cruise ship SS Wendell.
Peter has no intention of waiting that long though. Changing back into his Spidey duds he heads over to the Baxter Building to ask a favor of longtime friend Johnny Storm, better known as the Human Torch. The Torch lends him one of the FF's super-advanced aircraft and Spidey is on his way, giving the Torch a heads-up about the robbery at Faversham's as he goes.
Want to know how what the Torch does with that info? Hop on over to my review of Marvel Team-Up 23, which was on the stands at the same time as this.
The craft engineered by Reed Richards has Spidey over the cruise ship in a mere 15 minutes, and after setting it to hover Spidey drops down to the deck and changes back into his street clothes.
Unseen by Peter is a large bat that alights on the deck, and once there transforms into the menacing shape of Dracula, Lord of the Vampires. Thinking to himself, Dracula treats us to some expository monologue. He's here because the distribution of the vaccine will interfere with his long term plans, and he therefore intends to kill A.J. Maxwell! Sounds like he's at cross purposes with our hero.
Things are about to get even worse though, as we see when we turn our gaze below decks. Also aboard ship is Anthony "the Whisperer" Cavelli and his gang of thugs. Cavelli is a has-been bigshot in the Maggia who was deported from the US some years before. He intends to grab Maxwell and use the vaccine as leverage to force the government to give him a passport and a pardon, which would allow him to re-enter the country and pick up where he left off.
Well, if things were simple this wouldn't be a Spidey tale, now would it?
Back up on deck, Dracula has found a way to slake the thirst he built up flying all the way out here. A woman, an attendee of the costume party going on below, is leaning up against the deck looking to the vampire like a Happy Meal with legs. Her life is saved at the last moment when her companion, whom Dracula didn't realize was there, steps out of the shadows to snap her picture. Realizing he's out of luck here, Dracula moves on, leaving the pair wondering why the tall man doesn't appear in the photo he took.
A few minutes later Dracula's search for prey has led him into the midst of some of Cavelli's goons. Not recognizing him from the ship's manifest they assume him to be Maxfield and insist he accompany them. As Dracula tries to pass by they get violent, and that's when things go badly for them. See, these men have suffered what I call a catastrophic failure of the victim selection process, and they've bitten off a good deal more than they can chew. Effortlessly mesmerizing them, Dracula has them calmy walk off the deck and leaves them to drown. This sort of implicit murder, even of a bad guy, is exactly the sort of thing the Comics code would have disallowed before it's revision.
Still needing to feed, Dracula proceeds down the deck and finally comes across a young woman standing alone at the railing. Catching her gaze he mezmerizes her, and then baring his fangs he begins to drain her blood.
Despite being hypnotized, the woman screams as Dracula bites her. The shriek is heard a at the other end of the deck by a certain Mr. Parker, who rushes to investigate but finds only the collapsed woman and a large bat flying away. Assuming she'd seen the bat and fainted from fright, he's mot especially worried, until he tries to revive her and sees the punctures on her neck. We next see him below decks in the doctors office with her, being asked some pretty uncomfortable questions by the captain (like how he got on board for instance!). Assuming Peter is a stowaway, the captain is in the middle of threatening some legal repercussions when none other than Dr. Maxfield himself shows up, having been summoned by the captain to examine Dracula's victim. It's the costumed man and his girlfriend we just met a few minutes ago. The doc scarcely has time to begin his examination however, when some of Cavelli's goons make their entrance and demand the Maxfield come with them. The doctor's lady friend leaps to his defense, but Cavelli's goons aren't chivilrous and they bat her aside, knocking her unconscious. The captain turns to ask Peter's help in reviving her, but Peter has vanished.
Of course, Peter is no coward, he's just ducked out to change into Spider-Man! By using his wall crawling abilities to move quickly about outside the ship, he's able to get ahead of the Maggia goons and use his webbing to close off intersections and herd them up on deck, where he can take full advantage of his agility in taking them down.
The hoods emerge on deck and see Spider-Man, whom they instantly prepare to gun down. They're shocked when "Spidey" turns around and begs for his life. Turns out it was just another of the costume party guests from below.
In the confusion the hoods don't notice the real Spidey coming at them from above until he drops into their midst and starts kicking their tails! A very cool fight ensues, lasting a full three pages, with Spidey flipping around and clobbering the goons (who incidentially are dressed like a high school marching band so as to "blend in" with the costume party). When it's over all the bad guys are out cold on the deck, but Dr. Maxfield has run off in the confusion.
We turn our gaze now to the aforementioned costume party, just in time to see Dr. Maxfield burst into it pleading for help. This catches the attention of the tall man in the corner... Dracula. The ship's officers manage to calm Maxfield down. Also spying this development is "Whisperer" Cavelli, who approaches Maxfield feigning illness. Cavelli convinces Maxfield to accompany him to sickbay and the pair leave, with Dracula tailing a discreet distance behind.
Cavelli's right hand man is efficient though. Sneaking up behind Dracula he puts a gun to his head and demands to know why he's following the boss. Now, I said Cavelli's man was efficient, I didn't say anything about smart, or lucky. Still, he does make out better than the last pair to confront the Lord of the Vampires. Dracula doesn't kill him, he only hypnotizes him and forces him to look into his own soul. What he sees there is so frightening and horrible that he collapses into an incoherent heap on the deck.
Dracula then quickly catches up with Cavelli and Maxfield. Cavelli has no intention of turning his captive over to the new player though. He produces a switchblade from up his sleeve and begins to stab Dracula repeatedly in the chest! Much to his dismay, Dracula only laughs as the blade goes in and out, over and over. Then, his patience having reached it's limit, Dracula grabs Cavelli and drains the blood from him. Thus ends the career, and the life, of "Whisperer" Cavelli.
Now alone with Maxfield, Dracula intends to kill him (that was his whole purpose for being here after all). Not wanting to cause the doctor undue suffering, the "merciful" Dracula simply tosses him overboard, turns into a bat and flies away.
Had Dracula been more thorough and stuck around for another few seconds, he'd have seen Maxfield literally bump into Spidey on his way into the drink. Spidey naturally saves him and brings him back up on deck. On deck, Cavelli's lieutenant is still gibbering away and hallucinating from the mind whammy Dracula laid on him. He's also waving a gun around, so Spidey lays him out with a one-two punch to calm things down.
Spidey then turns to Dr. Maxfield to ask him for the vaccine, and we get the twist to the whole story. It's not Dr. Maxfield! It's actually Hennessy, the ship's doctor. As it happens the woman who was hanging around with him (the one struck aside by the thugs before) is Dr. Maxfield... the A.J. stands for Alice Joyce. She gladly gives Spidey a dose of the vaccine, and Spidey climbs back into the FF's aircraft for the autopilot trip home.
Our last image is of the Count, settling in to his coffin for a good day's sleep, unaware that he failed in his mission or even crossed paths with the Amazing Spider-Man.
I have nothing but good to say about this one. I love Ross Andru's pencils, the story is action packed and moves along at a brisk pace and, of course, we have Dracula! I thought the way they tied it in with the concurrent issue of Marvel Team-Up was just great too. The cover, by John Romita Sr, is one of my all time favorites.
I give this one 4.5 webs, nearly perfect. It's one of my favorite issues from the period. With a little patience you should be able to find a reading-grade copy on ebay for under $15, and I'd advise anyone to do so.