We’re just about at Halloween folks, which can only mean one thing. It’s time to talk about Marvel Dracula! Last year when I was getting ready for Halloween I knew that I was going to try and find a Halloween-adjacent Marvel comic to feature on Marvel Madness, and ended up struggling a little. I really had my heart set on finding a fun Man-Thing story to focus on, but I just kept coming up short. Which is when I just happened upon a delightfully insane story where Doctor Strange had to fight Dracula to the death. It was immensely enjoyable, and introduced me to an avenue of insane Marvel stories that I’d never thought about before. Dracula stories! Because, wonderfully, Dracula is an established character in the Marvel universe. He had his own series, the Tomb of Dracula that ran for 70 issues! And, because he had a Marvel comic, he got to guest star and cross over into other series. Hence last year’s little story with Doctor Strange. Now, I’ve found a plethora of insane Dracula stories to feature over the coming years, but for now I felt it right to return to one of my favorite strange match-ups, Doctor Strange and Dracula. They actually met up once more in between last year’s story and this year’s, but it was a weird issue of the Defenders and it was…lackluster. Plus, it was wiped from Doctor Strange’s memory, so I don’t mind skipping it.
This story, often referred to as “the Montesi Formula” begins in Doctor Strange #58, which is a bit of a catch-up issue. Most of that issue is just Doctor Strange placing the pieces for future stories involving Clea, Umar, the Dark Dimension, and Wong. But where things start to get weird is when Doctor Strange’s assistant Sara Wolfe shows up. Sara was a relatively short-lived character who was in charge of the Doctor’s more earthly concerns, basically functioning as a secretary who handled everything Wong didn’t. And it’s Sara who gets Doctor Strange involved in this lot. Because she’s gotten a letter from a lawyer representing a friend of hers named Douglas Royce. Sara and Strange actually met because of Royce, since he was murdered by a wizard and was reduced to ash. Which I guess is a common occurrence in the life of Doctor Strange. This lawyer wants to talk to Sara about Royce’s will, but she’s feeling kind of sketched out by it, and asks if Strange wouldn’t mind accompanying her. He of course agrees, and the two head out to meet with the lawyer, when Strange gets a premonition, and instantly starts throwing around the magic.
Apparently Doctor Strange is more of a “Blast them with Enchanted Energy first, ask questions second” sort of guy. Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to bathe the lawyer in light, and points out the fact that he doesn’t seem to be casting a shadow. Red flag. Strange then ensnares the lawyer with some magical confines, while continuing to shine the light on him. But, after some interrogation the man promises that he’ll explain everything if Strange just let him out of the light, since it’s more or less killing him. Doctor Strange can tell that the man is on the level, and frees from from the sells, but demands that he start explaining what’s going on.
The man then puts it all out. His actual named is Hannibal King, and he’s a private detective. Oh, and he’s also a vampire. Which was probably a tad obvious. Hannibal explains that he pulled this whole fake lawyer thing because he’s trying to get to the bottom of Royce’s death, since he was a closer personal friend of his, and he thought that maybe Sara would have some information. And the help of Doctor Strange sure wouldn’t hurt, because this Royce case is getting crazier and crazier as Hannibal is finding out that cults and demons are involved. Oh, and Dracula. Dracula’s involved. Which instantly gets Doctor Strange interested. This then results in the third time I’ve had the pleasure of posting almost the exact same panel, just this time without Camelot.
Sara is a little shocked at the sudden introduction of Dracula into her life, since she had always assumed he was just a character from a story. Even though she is a close personal friend with a goddamn wizard. Doctor Strange then goes on to teach Sara about Dracula, and the time that they fought to the death, ending with Dracula’s apparent demise. Hannibal then picks up the story, and says that he thought Dracula was dead too, because he’d recently been speared by Quincy Harker with a silver stake before having his castle blown up. Man, I really need to read the Tomb of Dracula. Oh, and while the two are discussing Dracula Doctor Strange suddenly has a memory that had been wiped return, reminding him about the time that the Defenders met with Dracula, and helped him fight Mephisto who had been a thorn in both of their sides. So, yeah, Dracula has a nasty habit of coming back to life, and it seems like he’s back.
And where is he? Well, things are about to get a little silly. Because Dracula is currently hanging out in Chicago with a cult who have banded around him. The cult is known as the Darkholders, and they’re fixated on a magical tome known as the Darkhold, which has all sorts of mystical abilities, including communion with a demon known as Chthon. Dracula has used his hypnotic abilities to convince the Darkholders that he should be their leader, so that he can get his hands on the Darkhold and become even more powerful. And to aid in their quest to find the Darkhold the cult has decided to revive two demons known as the Children of the Night, a brother/sister pair who have shapeshifting abilities and a hatred of most people who aren’t them.
The Children of the Night have also spared before with both Hannibal and Doctor Strange, so as soon as they’re brought back to life they sense their two foes working together, and race off to stop them. And how did the Children of the Night meet Hannibal? Well, it turns out that when Hannibal first met Royce was when he was on a case investigating some mysterious cattle mutilations. Royce was an American Indian researcher in the vicinity, and Hannibal met with him to make sure that these slayings weren’t part of some tradition or anything. And they weren’t, they were actually caused by the Children of the Night, who were eating random cattle. Hannibal and Royce came into contact with the Children, fought them off, and Hannibal ended up getting a good friend out of Royce. Until his recent death.
And it wasn’t just Hannibal who met the twins. Because when Doctor Strange first got involved in Royce’s death it was because two strange sorcerers killed him. Two strange sorcerers who really seem to match Hannibal’s description of the Children of the Night. And with that confirmed Hannibal explains that his investigation into the Children led him down a path that ended with Dracula. Hannibal tells Doctor Strange all about Dracula’s new gig as the leader of the Darkholders, and Doctor Strange is pretty freaked out, since the Darkhold is not something to be trifled with.
As soon as they start talking about the Darkhold, something crazy happens. The Children come smashing into Hannibal’s office, in the form of two eagles, and try to rip the two men to shreds. Strange is able to place a shield around Sara to keep her safe, and decides to even the playing field. He uses the Eye of Agamotto to open a portal to another dimension, and pulls in himself, Hannibal, and the Children. Everyone but Strange is pretty freaked out by this dimensional shift, and he uses that fear to his advantage. He begins battering the Children with spells while Hannibal morphs into a wolf-like form, using his enhanced strength to beat on the Children. But, after besting the Children, they’re informed that the spells the Darkhold contained to give them their abilities also ensures they can’t talk about the Darkhold, reducing them both to dust.
So, with that lead destroyed, Doctor Strange and crew return to reality, and decide to head back to the Sanctum Sanctorum to discuss further plan. And they aren’t alone. Because at that moment Dracula is getting busy with plans of his own. He’s sending various Darkholders out into the city, promising random dudes that they have a wonderful opportunity for them. The men, most of them desperate drug addicts, follow the Darkholders back to a warehouse, where they’re horrified to find Dracula, who has embraced his cult-leader schtick by growing a crazy beard. Dracula then uses his vampiric powers to hypnotize the lot of them, giving himself an army of brainless foot soldiers.
And why does Dracula need soldiers? Well, it’s because of where the Darkhold is. Doctor Strange isn’t quite sure of the tome’s location, but he does know that the Scarlet Witch has had run ins with it. So Doctor Strange sends his astral form out to the Scarlet Witch’s house, and asks her about the book. She explains that she was once possessed by the book, and warns Strange that it’s one of the most dangerous things she’s ever come in contact with. But Strange insists that he needs to find the book, because he needs to destroy it before Dracula can use it to enslave the world. That’s a lot for the Scarlet Witch to take in, but she tells Strange that the Darkhold is currently inside the Avenger’s Mansion. Strange then sends his astral form out to the mansion, where it slips right through all of the security and find the Darkhold.
As Strange is flipping through the Darkhold, learning its secrets, Dracula is plotting. He’s having a meeting with the Darkholders, his recently converted drones, and a member of AIM whom they’ve kidnapped for his knowledge of Avenger’s Mansion. He tells them about all of the crazy security measures that the Mansion has, but lets Dracula know that there’s a secret way in, using a seldom used submarine bay that feeds out into the East River. The AIM guy says that most Avengers don’t even know about the bay, so it won’t be guarded, giving Dracula a perfect entry point.
Meanwhile, Doctor Strange has returned to the Sanctum Sanctorum to tell Hannibal, Wong, and Sara the good news. He’s found the Darkhold, and now all they need to do is get to Avenger’s Mansion and use it. Because he’s found something very special inside of it. But he’s being a little cagey about that for now. He starts to come up with a plan with Hannibal, when Strange notices a glow emanating from one of his rooms that contains the Orb of Agamotto, which alerts him to danger. Strange takes a look at the Orb, and is shown a vision of Avenger’s Mansion. And things aren’t good. Dracula’s army of hypnotized drones are flooding into the Mansion, overwhelming the security while an inconceivable amount of rats are finding every weakness in the building.
We then cut over to Avenger’s Mansion to see the chaos first-hand. It turns out most of the Avengers are out of the city, leaving only Jarvis and Captain Marvel inside. Which is good for Jarvis, because this is the Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel, who has control over light, one of the biggest weaknesses of vampires. She’s able to hold off the vampires until Doctor Strange and Hannibal are able to get to the Mansion, diving into the pile of furious drones. Strange and Hannibal begin fighting the drones and the couple Darkholders outside of the mansion, knocking most of them back.
But, little did they know, Dracula is currently swimming through the East River, reaching the secret submarine bay. He pries the gate apart with his bare-hands, and enters into the Avenger’s Mansion, dripping wet and probably carrying all sorts of diseases from the River. And, while Dracula begins traipsing around the Mansion the heroes are finishing off the last of the distractions. The Scarlet Witch has shown up as well, and lent a hand with her own spells, getting rid of the last few drones. They then head down to the catacomb where the Darkhold is kept, only to find Dracula wandering the halls. Scarlet Witch, Hannibal, and Captain Marvel then hold Dracula off while Doctor Strange begins using a spell on the Darkhold. He realizes that he’s not going to have enough time to destroy the book, but he is able to teleport it out of the Mansion. Which earns the fury of the absolutely cracked out Dracula.
Yeah, Dracula looks like he’s got the cocaine sweats right about now. However, while Doctor Strange is strong enough to fight off Dracula’s hypnotism, his fight with the Darkhold has left him weakened physically. Dracula attempts to beat Strange at this point, but Captain Marvel is able to scare off Dracula. The Lord of the Vampires turns to mist and flees from the Mansion, ready to plan his next assault while the heroes get talking about their next step. Because they need to get to the Darkhold before Dracula. And where is it? Why, the only place that Doctor Strange could think of that Dracula would never anticipate. Straight into the castle of Doctor Strange’s arch-foe Baron Mordo!
The Darkholders are unable to locate the Darkhold though, so they place several of their agents around the Sanctum, ready to spot Doctor Strange as soon as he leaves so they’ll be able to tail him. Strange then sends out two decoys, Sara and a woman named Morganna Blessing who Strange was sort of dating at the time, succeeding in throwing the Darkholders off the scent while the real strange slips away from the Sanctum, knocks out the Darkholder’s waiting for him, and meets up with the rest of the team. Because Strange is now ready to storm the castle of Baron Mordo and destroy the Darkhold. He’s just going to need some help.
That’s right. Doctor Strange is going to go attack Dracula with Hannibal, Wong, Frank Drake the descendant of Dracula who leads Tomb of Dracula, and mother-fucking Blade! Hell yes! And, to make matters even more intense, Dracula lets them know that their mission is no longer just to destroy the Darkhold. Because while Strange was left alone with it he stumbled upon something amazing. Inside the Darkhold is something referred to as the Montesi Formula, a series of words written in a language older than civilization, that can theoretically remove the scourge of vampirism from the entire world. They won’t just defeat Dracula, they’ll destroy ever single vampire in existence. Strange is a little concerned about Hannibal’s opinions of this, but Hannibal insists that he actually died five years ago, and is ready to sacrifice himself for the greater good.
So Strange and his teammates hop on a Concord jet and fly off to the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania, where Mordo’s castle is. Because Mordo is basically Dracula anyway. But, now that we know what Strange wants with the Darkhold, how about we learn what Dracula wants? Because at this point we cut over to one of the hideouts for the Darkholders, where Dracula is giving them a pretty manic speech. He reveals that the Darkhold was written by ancient mystics who worshiped Chthon. These sorcerers then used their abilities to create a race of slaves for themselves, which eventually became vampires. Dracula thinks that if he gets a hold of the Darkhold he can use it to remove all of his weaknesses, leaving him one of the most powerful beings in existence, able to take over the world.
However, as Dracula is giving his speech he decides to check in on the Darkholders who are stalking Doctor Strange. And when he sees that they’ve been defeated, he realizes that he’s been played. Dracula starts transmitting a psychic message all around the world, commanding anyone that he has control over to find Doctor Strange. And, as luck would have it, some guys in Transylvania happened to see Strange and his crew heading to Baron Mordo’s castle. So, with that information, Dracula and his men head out to meet them.
Meanwhile, our heroes are heading out into the woods of Transylvania, finding the castle of Baron Mordo. And, luckily, they don’t have to deal with Mordo himself. Mordo was apparently dead at this time, so Strange purposefully sent the Darkhold there because he knew it would be empty, but still protected by all manner of mystical enchantments. So the heroes drive into Mordo’s castle, and instantly realize that Doctor Strange underestimated his old foe. Because while Mordo isn’t there, he has enchanted an army of armor to come to life and fight off the intruders.
Our heroes fight off the suits of armor, not really wanting to deal with threats this soon before fighting off Dracula. But, after defeating the armor the group prepare to search the castle. Hannibal, Frank, Wong, and Blade begin setting up a perimeter, preparing to fight Dracula, while Strange goes to find the Darkhold. He locates the tome inside a room of Mordo’s castle, and has to fight the book a bit, since it’s essentially sentient. But, Strange is able to use a spell that puts the Darkhold in a sort of stasis field, keeping it frozen and unable to harm him or the other heroes.
But they of course have bigger threats to deal with. Because as they’re speaking Dracula is getting to Mordo’s castle in the craziest way possible. He’s turned himself into mist, and entered the cockpit of a fighter jet, only to use his hypnotism to force the pilot to fly him all the way to Transylvania. And, once he gets within eye-sight of the castle he bails out of the jet, causing it to crash and explode while he lands on the grounds, ready to kill every single person he has to to get his hands on the Darkhold.
Inside castle Mordo our heroes perpare for battle. They fortify the room that the Darkhold is kept in, they push a truck up in front of the main gate, Strange activates all the magical seals on the castle, making the only possible form of entrance the fortified gate, and they wait. Unfortunately, this plan wasn’t good enough, because Dracula immediately bests them and slips through the gate in his mist form. Which means it’s up for the other heroes to give it a shot. Frank Drake starts firing silver bullets at his ancestor, trying to make up for the fact that his idiocy brought Dracula into the twentieth century to begin with. But Dracula is able to just swap Drake away. Next up is Blade, who drive one of his teak blades directly into Dracula’s heart. Which, does nothing. But they didn’t learn that lesson, and Wong then uses his bo-staff as a javelin and shoves it into Dracula’s chest, also to no results. This leaves only Hannibal. He knows that he doesn’t stand a chance, but he gives it his best effort, only to be knocked out almost immediately.
So, the rest of the team are down. Dracula is still standing, and he is not happy. He races through the castle, feeling the pull of the Darkhold. Dracula smashes doors apart, rips through walls, and finally finds himself in the chamber that Strange is keeping the Darkhold. But what he finds isn’t what he expected. Strange is holding the Darkhold, and seems to be unconscious. Dracula assumes that Strange attempted to destroy the Darkhold, and was in turn enthralled by it. He laughs at the pitiful Sorcerer Supreme, and walks up to take his spoils. Which is when the trap is sprung.
Doctor Strange has covered the Darkholm with a special spell that activates as soon as Dracula touches the book, paralyzing him. At which point a portal opens up and swallows Strange, Dracula, and the Darkhold, sending them all to the Astral Dimension, a reality of pure magic where Strange hopes Dracula will hold no power, giving the rest of the team time to prepare the Montesi Formula. See, the plan was always to fail. It turns out that room that Strange had been in had a massive sorcerer’s circle, so as soon as Strange and Dracula are transported to the Astral Dimension the rest of the team race in, and prepare the spell to destroy all vampires.
Meanwhile, Strange has to deal with Dracula. He had hoped that Dracula would be completely unable to handle this new dimension But that’s not the case. Turns out Dracula has done some magical moonlighting that Strange was not aware of, and is actually able to handle himself pretty well in a wizard duel. But he just needs to hold him still for a bit longer. Strange begins throwing every trick he has left as Dracula, placing him in all manner of mystical confinements, just waiting for the others to finish the ritual. Because back on Earth Hannbial, Wong, Blade, and Drake are all standing around the Darkhold, chanting in the language of the dead, enacting the Montesi Formula. And, after enough time has passed, Strange rips himself and Dracula out of the Astral Dimension, where the ritual begins to take its effects on Dracula. The Lord of the Vampires is weakened, and Doctor Strange himself lifts up the Darkhold, reading from its evil pages to complete the Montesi Formula, enacting and incantation that destroys the scourge of vampirism all over the world. Dracula is reduced to vapor, vampires all over the world suddenly explode, and Doctor Strange gets to work on a quick blood transfusion that is able to save the life of Hannibal King before he too succumbs to the effects of the Formula. And, with that, our heroes have succeeded. Dracula has been killed, the Darkhold has been contained, the Darkholders are defeated, and the world is safe from vampires.
This story is so goddamn fun. I was a little worried when I first decided to tackle it, because it’s a little unlike anything else I’ve covered on this site. Because, clocking in at five issues, this is the longest story I’ve discussed here on Marvel Madness. And it’s also the most disjointed. The overarching Dracula plot carries over in each of these issues, but it also feels like five distinct issues of comics, with their own conclusions, which makes for a kind of rambling recap. But, regardless of that, there was no way that I was going to pass up talking about this story. Because it rules. I love Marvel’s Dracula so much, and the knowledge that he and Doctor Strange had a rematch that was this massive and epic made me incredibly excited when I heard about it. And it did not disappoint. I didn’t know much about this story going in, and everything about it worked for me. The idea of Dracula as a bedraggled cult leader who was trying to become invincible. Yes please. Hannibal King, a vampire private eye? I’m absolutely in awe of this idea, and I need to find more stories with this guy in them. Dracula storming Avenger’s Mansion only to spar with Captain Marvel? Brilliant. Doctor Strange assembling a vampire-killing squad that includes Blade in all of his goofy early-design glory? Delightful! Now, I know Dracula will return from this. I’ve already discussed a Captain Britain story where Dracula is the primary antagonist, so I know that this isn’t the end of Dracula in the Marvel Universe. But seeing Doctor Strange, one of my favorite heroes of all time, traversing the globe in order to cleanse the curse of the vampire for all of humanity was such a treat, and I really hope that you’ll give it a shot this Halloween season. And don’t worry, I have more Dracula goodness saved up for next Halloween.
Doctor Strange #58 – 62 were written by Roger Stern, penciled by Dan Green and Steve Leialoha, inked by Terry Austin, Steve Leialoha, and Rick Magyar, lettered by Jim Novak, Janice Chiang, and Joe Rosen, and colored by Bob Sharen, 1983.
Categories: Marvel Madness