Dracula Sovereign of the Damned (1980)

If you think there’s censorship in America today, well, let me tell you…after the comic book trials of the 1950s, in which Dr. Fredric Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent led to Congress having trials amidst the belief that comic books caused juvenile delinquency, the Comics Code Authority was born. Every comic needed the code and in order to keep offending comics like E.C. Comics’ Tales from the Crypt from ever rearing their ugly head again, vampires, werewolves, ghouls and zombies were banned. Comics couldn’t even use the words horror or terror in their titles. Even comic book writer Marv Wolfman’s last name was challenged!

It got so ridiculous that when Marvel used zombies in The Avengers, they had to call them zuvembies. They were still undead, they still acted like zombies, yet that spelled got them past the outdated Comics Code.

However, a 1971 provision to the Code stated the following: “Vampires, ghouls and werewolves are allowed when handled in the classic tradition such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and other high calibre literary works written by Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, Conan Doyle and other respected authors whose works are read in schools around the world.”

After the last appearances of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and a werewolf as superheroes in a short-lived line of Dell Comics, comic publishers realized that they could make monster books and as the characters were in the public domain, they could create their own versions of some already beloved characters.

Marvel already had a “living vampire” in Morbius — yes, the same character who is getting his own movie — but the Dracula comic floundered at first with several different writers (Gerry Conway, who went from a Universal-inspired take with major input from editors Roy Thomas and Stan Lee to a Hammer take on the character in the two issues he wrote, followed by two issues by Archie Goodwin and two by Gardener Fox before the aforementioned Marv Wolfman came on board) before gaining traction. Gene Colan was the artist along with Tom Palmer on inks for most of the run, basing his Dracula on Jack Palance, who would end up getting the role in the Dan Curtis TV movie Dracula a year after Colan prophetically started drawing him as the King of the Vampires.

At its height, Tomb of Dracula also had two black and white titles, Dracula Lives! and Tomb of Dracula. Yet even after the series ended in August of 1979, the character would return to battle the X-Men.

Strangely enough, Marvel’s Dracula comic book has more of an honor than just being one of the first Marvel movies. It also introduced the character of Blade, who would be one of the first Marvel film successes in 1998.

In 1980, soon after the end of the series, Marvel’s deal with Toei led to this movie.

The Toei deal began when the CBS Spider-Man series — which only had 13 episodes in America and a few TV movies — became a big success in Japan. Toei, the makers of Kamen Rider, would be the partner to create Marvel-inspired series such as their own Japanese Spider-Man show that gave Japan their own webslinger in Takuya Yamashiro and his giant robot Leopardon.

Marvel also produced the Sentai — think Power Rangers shows Battle Fever J (with characters from multiple countries much like Captain America; Miss America on the show inspired American Chavez — according to this article on Inverse — and the crew even battled a Dracula robot), Denshi Sentai Denziman and Taiyo Sentai Sun Vulcan, which Stan Lee tried and failed to bring to America. Ironically, former Marvel producer Margaret Loesch ran Fox Kids in the 90s, which led to Marvel shows appearing on Fox, as well as a much later Super Sentai series, which was rebranded exactly as Lee had suggested by Saban Entertainment and called Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

As part of the deal with Toei, two more movies got made: Kyoufu Densetsu Kaiki! Frankenstein and Yami no Teiō: Kyūketsuki Dorakyura orThe Emperor of Darkness: The Vampire Dracula.

In 1983, Harmony Gold released this to American cable as Dracula Sovereign of the Damned. And wow, it’s something else.

The movie starts with no less gravitas than to show us how the universe was formed and the nature of juxtaposition — life and death, heat and cold, light and dark — began. Nowhere is that juxtaposition more felt than in the form of Dracula, who is both alive and dead.

Now making his home in Boston, after being hounded by multiple vampire hunters, Dracula soon interrupts a wedding between a virginal bride and Lucifer, stealing Dolores for his own, yet conflicted as to whether or not he should drink her blood. They end up having a son, Janus, who is killed by the cultists and Satan, but comes back as a being of pure light that also wants to kill his father. Meanwhile, Frank Drake, Hans Harker and Rachel Van Helsing are hunting down the vampire, wanting to end his life for good.

Can you fit more than 40 issues of a comic book into 90 minutes? Well, the makers of this movie sure gave it a try. At one point, Dracula even becomes human and walks the streets of Boston still wearing his cloak, but goes to get a hamburger. It’s also amazing just how much violence, Satanic moments and even nudity that this movie has. It’s also hilariously dubbed and the source material isn’t understood by the people making it, so it’s exactly everything that I want and need it to be.

You can watch this on YouTube.

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