Even before he was transformed into one of the undead, the Marvel Universe incarnation of Bram Stoker's classic vampire, Dracula, was a seasoned warrior. When he joined the ranks of the undead he was able to put his new vampiric gifts to good use. Through practical and strategic application of his cunning, combat skills and undead powers he was able to rise through the ranks of the Marvel U's nosferatu and capture the crown of King of the Vampires.
Dracula has had to contend with some of the best and brightest of the Marvel Heroes as Lord of the Marvel Universe's vampires, and this fall he'll finally confront the strongest there is in the three-issue "Fear Itself: Hulk Vs. Dracula" miniseries by writer Victor Gischler ("X-Men," "Tomb of Dracula Presents: Throne of Blood") and artist Ryan Stegman ("She-Hulks"). CBR News spoke with Gischler about the September debuting project announced today at Wondercon in San Francisco.
With books like the "Death of Dracula" one-shot, the "Curse of the Mutants" arc in "X-Men," and the upcoming "Tomb of Dracula Presents: Throne of Blood" one-shot in April, Gischler has been working to retool and expand the roles that Dracula and vampires play in the Marvel Universe. "Hulk Vs. Dracula" is an extension of that work.
"With the 'Death of Dracula' one-shot we sort of began our campaign to refurbish Dracula and the whole vampire world within the Marvel Universe so it could be useful again," Gischler told CBR News. "We wanted another Doctor Doom level character that would be out there and available for events or for other people to use in their comics. We wanted to elevate Dracula's role in the Marvel Universe so when something like this came along we could say, 'Oh let's get Dracula and the Vampire Nation in on this.' We're using the 'Fear Itself' event to expand what we've been doing and raise the profile of Dracula and vampires within the Marvel Universe."
"Hulk Vs. Dracula" is Gischler's third story featuring the titular vampire lord. One of the reasons he keeps coming back to the character is the sense of gravitas that the name Dracula conveys.
"When someone says 'Dracula' you feel the gravitas because he's been part of pop culture for so long, and recently we've been working to give him an interesting and bigger presence in the Marvel Universe. It's been very entertaining to see Dracula do what he does, but now we're trying to make him a more epic level villain. He's acting on a larger stage now and that's one of the things I really like about him. The way Dracula is now allows us to imagine him in a lot more stories and in ways that we hadn't pictured him in before," Gischler explained. "That's a way we can get some more use and entertainment out of him, which is exactly what we're doing here in 'Fear Itself.' We want Marvel's Dracula to be more of a cunning and dangerous general than a lone bloodthirsty villain.
"We have a good grasp on who Dracula is now in the Marvel Universe, but it's not completely set. It's still forming and that's exciting; we're seeing the character grow and come together. We're seeing pieces of the puzzle starting to fall into place. It's like meeting this guy all over again," Gischler continued. "This new vampire character out of 'Throne of Blood' is an interesting relationship for him. Even though I'm the one writing it, it's sort of like a little story playing out in front of my eyes. It's like, 'Wow! Look what he's doing now!'"
The new vampire character Gischler introduces in "Throne of Blood" plays a role in "Hulk Vs. Dracula," but the writer couldn't reveal much about the character though since "Throne of Blood" doesn't hit stores until April 27th. "The character's name is Raizo and as you can guess from Bryan Hitch's 'Throne of Blood' cover his background is that he was a samurai in feudal Japan," Gischler said. "Raizo was a formidable, interesting and complex character even before he became undead. I'd read a Raizo comic even if he wasn't a vampire just because he's a cool guy and an interesting character. So when you bring that vampire element in, it ends up just raising the scope of who he is and how he fits in, not just with the Vampire Nation but with the Marvel Universe. So I hope people like him as much as I've grown to like him over the last few months. He's going to be a pretty important character in our story."
Raizo will ally with Dracula in his battle against the Hulk, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the two strong willed vampires are friends. In fact their relationship is quite the opposite. "There is some tension there. These characters literally have hundreds of years of history together. We'll pick up hints of that and it's going to be very tantalizing," Gischler stated. "We're just going to get the tip of the iceberg when these guys are in the same room together."
"Fear Itself: Hulk Vs. Dracula" spins out of a development in writer Matt Fraction and artist Stuart Immonen's main "Fear Itself" miniseries, which finds the Hulk transformed into one of the Worthy, the avatars of the all-powerful and malevolent fear god known as the Serpent.
"The Hulk will be part of 'Fear Itself.' He's in the thick of the action in the main 'Fear Itself' mini, then suddenly finds himself on this new side mission. This is a big global event. So all the other heroes are busy, and here's Hulk smashing stuff up with a huge hammer. So who's available to take him on? Dracula?" Gischler remarked. "It's like, 'Wait a minute! We don't call him to help!' Well who else is there? Everyone else is busy with this global crisis. So those circumstances come together to create this seemingly unlikely situation."
Gischler knows that some readers will wonder why Dracula would do something heroic like fight the Hulk, and he plans on answering that question in the first issue of the series. "That ends up revealing some things about who Dracula is as a character. Really what his motivations are is why these events are happening. When somebody we've pegged as a villain starts behaving heroically, that makes for an interesting story. I think the reader needs to discover Dracula's motivation as the story unfolds," the writer said. "We're not going to drag things out though. People will know his motivation by the end of the first issue."
Pitting Dracula against the Hulk has been a childhood dream come true for Gischler, who's been a fan of the Green Goliath since he was eight years old. "When I was eight, the Hulk was 'Hulk Smash!' If you knew 'Hulk smash!' you understood who the Hulk was and what he did. So what's cool about that is Hulk has come a long way since then, of course, but I still get to have some Hulk smash style fun because now he's one of The Worthy. We know Hulk can smash some pretty good smash, but now that he's one of The Worthy his destructive ability is on steroids, and he's got a hammer. I'm looking forward to cracking some junk up with that hammer. That's going to be a fun time," Gischler said. "I've started scripting. I'm working on the early scenes now, but I'm already looking ahead to some scenes where the Hulk's hammer is going to do some smashy smash. It's going to be fun. I think when a writer has fun it usually means a reader will have fun too, and I'm thinking that's what will happen here."
Dracula and Raizo are veteran warriors and they both know that an ill equipped soldier is a dead one. Both vampires will be ready to meet the Hulk with a variety of weapons and equipment.
"If you recall from 'Curse of the Mutants,' the vamps have their little toys now that let them go into the daylight. That's a key bit of technology. That's another thing about our vampires. They're ancient but they're not stuck in the ancient world. They use laptop computers and iPods like everybody else because why wouldn't they? They don't want to miss out. So when they find a gadget that helps them out they use it," Gischler explained. "If they're confronted by a threat and they have this perfect electronic gizmo which will stop it, they're not going to forgo that for the 'ancient ways' and get swords out. They're too smart for that.
"Many Marvel vampires have lived so long that they might wear clothing or armor which ties them to their past because their past is important to them. They are not stuck in the past though; they are smart and living through time. They might have a laptop in one hand and a sword in another because that's just what it means to be a vampire," Gischler continued. "They have a very interesting relationship to the past and the present, which is advantageous to them. For instance, there were times in the past where different vampire sects would be at war with each other, and when a vampire is fighting another vampire suddenly a sword is useful again. Even if it's 2011 you can't fight a vampire with a revolver. You've got to be able to behead them or stake them. So the swords they carry around are sort of a link to their past, but it's also a dangerous thing especially in the hands of another vampire. So whenever I'm seeing the vampires in my head I see them with modern stuff, but also with more ancient equipment like swords. That mix is one of the more interesting thing about vampires."
The battle in "Fear Itself: Hulk Vs. Dracula" will have a furious pace and involve several supporting characters. "I was just on the phone with [Marvel Editor-in-Chief] Axel Alonso about this and he told me, 'Remember people in these three issues are in battle mode.' It's like, 'Here comes Hulk. Hurry up and figure something out!' So it's a very fast-paced story," Gischler explained. "For supporting characters we're going to see some new faces. Who and what they are, why they are there, and where they came from I'm going to have to leave secret for now."
With "Fear Itself: Hulk Vs. Dracula" Gischler and Stegman have a chance to introduce Raizo and reintroduce Dracula to a number of readers. So they want to make the most of the opportunity and are working hard to make sure that the series is a dramatic, fun, and exciting read. "You're going to leave these three issues thinking, 'Those are two cool characters. I hope we see them again. And my guess is that you will see them again," Gischler said. "We're showcasing two characters that we want people to get to know a little more, so everybody's bringing their A-Game.
"Axel Alonso was my editor for a long time. He brought me up in comics and I owe him a lot. I thought when he got kicked up to Editor-in-Chief that I wouldn't be talking to him very much anymore. He'd just be too busy, and that would be understandable. He's taken a personal interest in this series, though," Gischler continued. "He calls and asks me how it's going. That means everybody is putting their best foot forward on this. We want this this to not only be a fun kick-ass read on its own, but we want it to be an introduction to some characters that will be important going forward."