The Spooktacular Spider-Man is a monthly column, written by Paul DeKams, exploring the Spider-Man stories that have taken Peter Parker into the darkest parts of the Marvel Universe and from the fantastic world of superheroes into the horror of the supernatural.
There’s an inherent weirdness in Spider-Man and in his villains. For the most part, they’re all “what hath science wrought” cautionary tales about man playing god, but here and there, Spidey has encountered villains of a more supernatural variety. Heck, he’s probably fought nearly as many vampires as Blade (sorry, Blade). But in each of these encounters, Peter Parker has remained a consistent underdog and everyman. Whether he’s fighting a technologically augmented villain funded by a newspaper publisher or Vlad the Impaler, he almost never loses what makes him such an entertaining character.
Spider-Man VS Dracula #1 published in 1994, is a reprint of Giant Size Spider-Man #1, which was originally published in 1974. Written by Len Wein and drawn by Ross Andru, this comic is an example of the ability of the medium of comic books to transcend genre as well as the versatility of the character of Spider-Man. Peter Parker, the everyman super hero, fits seamlessly into a Dracula story (even if Drac feels a little out of place in a Spidey story).
Now, I need to be upfront. Despite the amazing cover by Joe Madueria, which is all kinds of awesome, there is NO direct conflict between Spidey and Dracula in this comic book. In fact, it’s a bit more Spider-Man vs. Aunt May’s super-rare strain of the flu and Dracula vs. big pharma.
There’s a new experimental flu vaccine, it’s the only possible cure for Aunt May, but the doctor who formulated it is not a fan of flying. So, Peter learns that the gender-neutrally named Doctor A.J. Maxfield is traveling via a ship that, wait for it, may not make it in time to save Aunt May! That may stop Peter Parker, photographer, but not the Amazing Spider-Man (cause he totally knows the Fantastic Four and can ask them for the keys to their experimental aircraft).
Realizing the need to remain inconspicuous, he changes back into Peter Parker, totally unaware that the ship is having a costume party. Not caring at all about being inconspicuous (because he’s Dracula), is Dracula! In fact, I’m pretty certain that nearly every Dracula tale involves the lord of all vampires getting a free pass on some mode of transportation cause a bunch of rich people decided to get their masquerade on.
After a who-knows-how-many-miles journey from Translyvania as a bat, the lord of all vampires casually drops onto the boat and clues us in via thought bubble that Dr. Maxfield’s much needed vaccine is also a threat to Dracula’s “Well-laid plans.” Dracula doesn’t elaborate on these plans in his thought bubbles, but we can pretty much infer that the vaccine would be bad for him, and the entire vampire race. Dracula has to stomp this doctor out – toot sweet.
Thus we have: Conflict. Spider-Man needs the vaccine. Dracula needs it to not exist. Total payoff of that sweet Joe Madueria cover, right?
Wrong. Despite having clear-cut, totally opposite motivations, Spider-Man and Dracula manage to never battle in this comic. They bump into each other, in a classic Marvel fashion, but never do the two meet on-panel again. It’s a little bit of a tease, a little bit of false advertising, but Wein and Andru still manage to craft a pretty enjoyable horror/hero mashup.
Because this story wasn’t already blending super heroics and horror into a peanut butter cup. No. This comic book goes full on Nutrageous, and brings in THE MAFIA, with Dick Tracy-level villains that A) can only talk in a whisper and B) are named “Simian” and have ape-like features. These crooks want a piece of the mysterious doctor and the vaccine too, so that they can barter their way back into the good ‘ol US of A.
We ultimately get Spider-Man and Dracula making easy work of the Mafia separately, with a mixture of webbing and hypnosis powers that force criminals to walk off-ship to their watery graves. Classic team-up! As I mentioned though, there’s some mystery surrounding the doctor, and we’re led to believe that a goof in medieval times-garb is the doctor that everyone is after. Dracula buys into this too, and promptly throws the doc off the boat.
But Dracula is… not very thorough. His method of ensuring that a doctor doesn’t ruin his mysterious future plans is to THROW HIM OFF THE BOAT. Granted, chances of death are rather high, but if the doctor is enough of a threat to your future plans that you go out of your way to a boat in the middle of the ocean, you can take the trouble to look over the side to make sure he hasn’t been caught by someone like Spider-Man. Granted, Dracula doesn’t KNOW that Spider-Man is on the boat, but it’s still pretty arrogant of him within the context of the Marvel Universe, where you can’t throw a doctor off a boat without a superhero swinging/flying/leaping by to save them.
Ultimately, we learn that Doctor Maxfield is a female passenger dressed as either Valkyrie or Bugs Bunny in “What’s Opera, Doc?” To be perfectly honest, it’s not entirely clear which costume Ross Andru was aiming for. Once the identity issue is solved, Spider-Man explains that the doctor needs to get over her silly fear of flying and jump into an experimental jet back to New York to save Aunt May.
Overall, it’s a solid Spider-Man tale, and an enjoyable Dracula romp. The Dracula of the 1970’s Marvel Universe is great. He’s pure evil, as signified by his mustache and a total selfish jerk that throws people off boats. While Spider-Man and Dracula have never had their proper throw down, Wein and Andru do a great job of drawing each character into the other’s world.