Our friends at First Second have declared May to be Vampire Month, and we thought we’d play along by presenting some of our favorite vampires from pop culture (but mostly comics). So sit back, grab a warm glass of the red stuff and sink your teeth into these undead fiends …
Dane from 30 Days of Night: Dark Days
I was a big fan of the initial 30 Days of Night mini-series, so I really looked forward to the sequel Dark Days. Especially since Steve and Ben were going to get six issues to stretch out and develop their story. I was looking forward to watching Stella get her revenge on some vampires for what happened at the end of the first story, but I had no way of knowing how hard I was going to fall for her and some of the other new characters. Particularly Dane.
Dane’s my hero – vampiric or otherwise. I’m not into those tortured, romantic vampires who spend their undeaths lamenting over their immortality and bloodthirst, but I’m also not fond of irredeemably immoral vampires either. I like my heroes to be heroic, and Dane fills the bill.
He’s kind of Rick Blaine to Stella’s Ilsa Lund. Stella, mourning the death of her husband and in need of some comfort, turns to Dane. It’s an imperfect relationship mostly because Stella hates vampires, but over the course of Dark Days you start to get the feeling that given enough time, these two crazy kids could just find some happiness together. Until Victor Laszlo comes back into the picture, that is.
Dane’s got all sorts of options for how he could deal with the situation, but as rebellious and independent as he is, he chooses to act outside of his own interests, and I’ll always love him for that. The first 30 Days of Night is Stella and Eben’s tragic love story. Dark Days is Stella and Dane’s, but I like it better than the first one.
Eben had a choice to make in 30 Days of Night, but it wasn’t much of one. From his point of view, it was do what he did or let his town die. Dane’s choice wasn’t as vital for as many people as Eben’s, so he truly had more of a decision to make. It was a small, personal matter and the repercussions only affected a few people, but he still chose to do the right thing. Not to take anything away from what Eben did, but that makes Dane the bigger hero in my book. I believe that most people will do the right thing in the big, dramatic scenarios, but it takes a special kind of person to do the right thing in smaller, mundane circumstances where the consequences for acting selfishly aren’t as high. (Michael May)
Alucard from Castlevania
Choosing my favorite vampire wasn’t easy. The first vampire to cross my mind was from the Japanese dating simulation “Bloody Bride.” In this game, you play a vampire going to school and hitting on girls. But then I realized I’m not so much into the vampire himself, but the sheer silliness of the game itself. My brothers and I had long, laugh-out-loud nights playing it.
I did some deep soul searching, and after about two minutes, I settled on my vampire. Alucard from the Castlevania video game series. Yeah, he’s somewhat the obvious, so how could I not choose him?
–He had the starring role in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which was one of the greatest video games ever made.
–He is the son of Dracula, so his dad named him “Alucard”? That’s “Dracula” backwards! What pompous, egotistical father names his child his own name backwards? Mind you, it’s probably more creative than the fellow I met that gave all his children his name, “Joseph,” including the daughter.
–Alucard brings in a diverse audience to video gaming. Men think he’s cool. Women think he’s hot.
–Alucard’s beauty took the video game industry by storm. With his gorgeous face, long luscious hair and fine Gothic Victorian fashion sense, how could anyone resist? There must have been some jealousy issues because when the original Castlevania game was re-released in 2001 as Castlevania Chronicles, Simon Belmont had a complete Ayami Kojima makeover and lost his barbarian-esque look in favor of a total BishÅnen fantasy pretty boy.
–Well before puberty, Alucard was fighting dinosaurs in Kid Dracula. Even back then, he knew his father was a loser, so he stole Dracula’s cape and fought dinosaurs.
I don’t really care for that many vampires. Perhaps the Count from Sesame Street. So I guess it boils down to the fact that Symphony of the Night was absolutely fabulous. And that Alucard is the ultimate in sexy-action-cool. (Stephanie Chan)
Ferdinand from Joann Sfar’s Vampire Loves
Although he bears quite a physical resemblance to Murnau’s Nosferatu, the vampire Ferdinand in Joann Sfar’s Vampire Loves is about as far away in personality from that creature as Charlie Brown is from Freddie Kruger.
For one thing, he doesn’t suck his victim’s blood so much as nibble, using only one tooth, in order to pass as a mosquito. He likes to read Proust and listens to dead folk singers. He’s a bit cowardly and gets beat up in bars. What’s more, he is constantly — and I mean constantly — unlucky in love.
The idea of a vampire — who after all represents the ultimate in sexual abandon — be something of a nebbish in affairs of the heart is a rather funny idea, and no doubt a large part of what drew Sfar to pen this collection of stories.
But rather than offer some sort of dreary emo slog or over the top farce, Loves has charm to spare. Sfar maintains his usual, loose feel here and manages to make Ferdinand come off as a rather sympathetic, if not downright appealing, character. Perhaps he doesn’t strike fear in the hearts of the human populace of leave buckets of gore dripping everywhere he goes, but his adventures do allow for a good deal of reader reflection on our own failed relationships and stumblebum attempts at romance — all the while remaining thoroughly entranced in its own supernatural world full of mummies, wolfmen and other delightful monsters. Perhaps that’s the best thing about Vampire Loves — it’s a thoughtful treatsie on love and loss that is loses not a whit of its fantastical edge despite its rather unconventional hero. (Chris Mautner)
Bessie the Hellcow from Howard the Duck
“Tom,” you say, “I like vampires as much as the next person, but lately I find myself growing tired of all that sexual subtext and immortality-driven angst.”
Well, good news, nameless straw-person — here’s Bessie the Hellcow, created by Steve Gerber and Frank Brunner to battle Howard the Duck (in Marvel’s Giant-Size Man-Thing #5, August 1975)! Since (in GSMT #4) Howard had just saved Cleveland from the menace of Garko the Man-Frog, you might think that Bessie was just another animal-themed monster, but of course, Gerber and Brunner had more in mind.
In fact, Bessie was sired by none other than Marvel’s main vampire, Dracula himself, some 300 years prior when the dark lord was hard-up for blood. Bessie’s owner was so heartbroken that, as the narration puts it, “he could not bear to eat her bloodless corpse,” and instead “committed her body to the Earth and said a quiet prayer.” Prayers notwithstanding, though, three nights later Bessie’s undead form emerged from her grave — sporting a set of decidedly un-cow-like horns, a taste for blood, and a thirst for vengeance against the stranger who had cursed her.
Her vampiric career ended in Cleveland, however. Bessie mistook a disguised Howard for Dracula, and the two dueled their way into an auto-parts store. After Howard cornered her with a (cross-shaped) tire iron, Bessie’s attempt to escape landed her squarely in a pile of tires. With her fangs sunk into one of the steel-belted radials, she was helpless; and a reluctant Howard, seeing her for the victim she was, used a wooden stake to put her out of her misery.
Bessie had all of the standard vampire powers. She could fly on bat-like wings which grew out of her back (and transformed into a cape when not in use). She could turn herself into mist and apparently had super-strength and invulnerability … or at least their bovine equivalents. Fittingly, then, she couldn’t quite escape any vampire’s inherently tragic nature. Her centuries-long quest had left her udder “cold [and] unmilkable,” and had driven the formerly docile animal to the brink of madness.
Bessie certainly didn’t glorify vampirism, though, and that’s why she’s my favorite pop-culture vampire. Frank Brunner drew her with wild, red eyes, gleaming fangs, and a quick temper. She was one scary-looking demon-cow, not some funny-animal cream puff.
Sure, you can use vampires as metaphors to tell good stories. Yes, they have sympathetic elements. Bessie wasn’t actively evil, despite all the blood-drinking and dead farmers. Nevertheless, when you get right down to it, sometimes you just want a good monster story; and Bessie definitely provided that. (Tom Bondurant)
The Montesi Formula from Dr. Strange
(Yeah, it’s not a vampire, but bare with me).
So as I sat down to choose my favorite vampire, a few obvious choices came to mind. There’s Angel and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, both of whom fight against their immortal curse to become better men. There’s The Lost Boys, the 80s Joel Schumacher flick, who exemplify that whole teen rebellion thing … “Sleep all day, party all night.” And listen to Echo and the Bunnymen remake the Doors.
And in the comics, of course, Marvel’s got all sorts of vamps running around on both sides of the angels … you’ve got Blade, Morbius (sort of), Dracula, Lilith, Baron Blood … but there’s one vampire story in particular that I loved as a kid when I first read it — Dr. Strange #59-62.
It’s the one vampire story I kept going back to as I tried to come up with something to write about. At the time, it was the vampire story, really, as Dr. Strange and his allies prepared for a final confrontation once and for all with the vampire domain’s uber-villain, Dracula himself. Here’s the set-up:
Once upon a time — or actually, before time — the Elder God Chthon wrote down all sorts of nasty, evil and arcane secrets, which were eventually collected into a book called The Darkhold. It was a spell from the Darkhold that first brought vampires into the world, and as it turned out, it was a spell in the Darkhold that could take them out.
So Dr. Strange and his crew — Blade, Hannibal King, Frank Drake and Wong — were able to get a hold of this spell, The Montesi Formula, which was named after the monk who discovered it. So Strange and his pals headed off for a final confrontation with Dracula, to once and for all destroy all vampires in the Marvel Universe.
Now, as a kid, I wasn’t really buying it. Sure, they might have the spell, but c’mon … were they really going to eliminate Dracula from the Marvel U.? The guy had his own title justa few short years before, so I doubted very seriously he was going to be swept away forever. I figured the good guys would win, but Dracula would somehow manage to weasel his way out and live to fight another day.
But Dr. Strange and his ragtag band of undead hunters did manage to cast the spell, kill Dracula and even save Hannibal King (who also was a vampire). Dracula? Gone. Lilith? Kaput. Baron Blood? Dead. Morbius? Well, he was still around … they didn’t call him the living vampire for nothing. It was a great story with a great payoff — the good guys actually coming through and stopped evil forever.
Or for a few years, anyway, as eventually vampires found their way back into the Marvel Universe, in the pages of Dr. Strange, no less. Nobody ever stays dead for long at Marvel … not even vampires.