Marvel's Modern Vampire Epic

Readers curious as to what's in store with the spoilerific title and cover of Marvel Comics upcoming "Death of Dracula" one-shot can rest easy about some of the pieces of the puzzle as Vice-President Executive Editor Tom Brevoort promises "It's no big surprise that he dies. That's not the shocking climax of the first issue...it's the shocking beginning."

Brevoort and fellow VP Executive Editor Axel Alonso teamed with "Death of Dracula" and upcoming "X-Men" writer Victor Gischler for a conference call with members of the press, and CBR News was on hand to ask about the fallout from the "shocking beginning" set for the June 30 one-shot (drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli) as well as the "Curse of the Mutants" event which will start in "X-Men" #1 in July by Gischler and Paco Medina and support a number of spinoff titles yet to be announced. "We're looking to explain and organize the vampire universe for future use," Alonso explained. "Just like we redesign characters and redesign teams, there's a lot of questions about vampires around the globe - the level of unification, who they are, what the leadership is, who's at the top of the pyramid. We're looking to answer that in this one-shot, and of course the inciting incident is the death of Dracula. The big question is: who fills that power vacuum and why? What's their agenda and what do they do?

"What we're looking to show is that there are vampires around the globe. They don't necessarily get along. They don't necessarily dance to the same drumbeat or answer to the same leader. What's going to emerge is warlord of the vampires, and this warlord is going to take a unified vampire nation into the Marvel universe. And as you can see from the solicitation materials, the first stop is going to be San Francisco for an encounter with the X-Men."

For his part, Gischler - a writer whose experience with bloodsuckers includes his 2009 novel "Vampire A Go Go" - wanted to help expand the role the creature plays in the Marvel Universe and what makes vampire society tick. "One of the things we did was look at what we already had. There were already these types of vampire tribes/sects - Nosferatu, Charniputra and the Atlantis vampires - and that was a good starting point, this idea of different tribes and kinds of vampires. We had to take that a little further, so we invented some new ones in order to shape the vampire world and hierarchy. While we did start with things that existed and went from there, one of the things we wanted to get away from was the 'I Vant To Such Your Blooooooooood' vampire - the Count Chocula vampire - and make him a lot more modern and a lot more hip."

First and foremost in that "reVamping" of the bloodsucker brood was coming up with a new visual look for Dracula, as Gischler said "We wanted Dracula to be cool. We wanted Dracula to be bad ass and not sort of rehash the same old thing. We wanted to preserve the 'vampire-ness' at the core that is Dracula but still give him a good, hip, cool, bad ass look. I was consulted and kept in the loop and showed the designs. People would ask me about the different sects and how they looked. But really we got some real super artists."

"Marko Djurdjevic was main designer involved in this," Alonso added. "We shared a lot of source material and in some ways went back to Vlad the Impaler. We certainly veered away from the Gene Colan, gothic, widow's peak hair Dracula most of us grew up with. What you'll see is echoes of a lot of different influences in what Marko put together. Not only for Dracula but also for the other vampire sects and his sons, Xarus and Janus who are younger.

"'The Death of Dracula' starts by showing a meeting of the leaders of the various vampire sects on a remote Greek island, which is a meeting that they do every 100 years, to illustrate how stratified these groups are - how they don't get along," Alonso continued. "There are alliances between some or others, but it's essentially a power play that takes place and sets in motion a new dynamic for vampires. We hope very quickly to get readers up to speed on the way the vampire societies are organized and quickly suggest a reorganization."

That reorganization will form the spine of "Curse of the Mutants" - an event which the assembled voices explained would be anchored by Gischler's core "X-Men" title but that would also support a number of miniseries and specials along the way. "We'd been talking for a long time about wanting to reposition Dracula as a major player in the Marvel Universe - as sort of a Doctor Doom-level villain," Alonso said. "Quite frankly, as an editor you work within the confines of the calendar as well. I was talking with Victor, and we knew we wanted to get maximum mileage [for the X-Men], and at some point it occurred to me that vampires and Dracula might be the way to go...what we've got is a story that should reposition vampires as a power base in the Marvel Universe in the future."

Although the children of the night and the children of the atom do have a history that unites them which Brevoort pointed out. "These are characters that have been around the periphery of the mutant world for so long, and now though now [Dracula] is around no more, it's an easy road in to a big X-Men adventure...They're also both facing a scenario where they're dealing with, in essence, dwindling numbers. There are very few mutants left at this point, and as far as we know there are relatively few vampires left. That raises some question as to whether mutants and vampires can co-exist, whether they have the same goals at the end of the day...perhaps they can help each other out in some way, shape or form."

Alonso compared the parties as "both somewhat closed societies of outcasts that have to sustain themselves in a world that hates and fears them - sometimes rightfully so" and explained that the first issue of "X-Men" would open with "Our story opens with a [vampire] suicide bomber in San Francisco's Union Square. He detonated himself over the crowd, and this is the opening shot in vampires staking their claim for the X-Men's turf. The question is: What do they want? What do they covet? The X-Men will understandably assume that they're dealing with Dracula. Who else? But the truth is deeper than that. Even though Dracula's dead, it's impossible for him not to cast a shadow of the proceedings if not more, but what you've got is the reader understanding at the same rate as Cyclops what it is that these vampires want, who it is that's leading them and how well-equipped they are to essentially take over."

And as the "Curse of the Mutants" grows from July to January, all involved promised that vampire society in the Marvel Universe will grow as well with the characters introduced in "The Death of Dracula" making waves across several titles tied to "The Heroic Age." "We have to be cryptic about this because vampires have come up in at least one and a half [Marvel creative] summits, and we have a long-term plan we're shaping that's coming into focus."

"And we've done this sort of thing before. 'Death of Dracula' is one brick in the road, and 'Curse of the Mutants' is the next brick in that road," Brevoort said. "There are at least two or maybe three other bricks beyond that. It's still too early to get into details...The story starting out in 'X-Men' is really only the tip of the iceberg. We're going to see new sects of vampiric characters flow out. We'll be seeing them in Avengers titles in the months to come and other places, though it's a little premature to talk about that. Really, the message we're sending here even though there's little we can say tangibly about it is that it all goes back to this one-shot that seems like it could fly under a lot of people's radars. But that will be the sort of book that people looking back in six months or nine months will be clamoring for and going, 'We must have it now!'"

Gischler said there was a learning curve to writing the story that will play such a pivotal role in Marvel's publishing plans. "It's hard," he said. "I've got a whole team full of good people holding the net for me so if I kind of trip or stumble, they pull me up out of the dirt and say, 'Hold on there, brother. We've got some stuff to think about!' I feel it much more in these projects than in 'Deadpool' or 'Deadpool Corps' where I'm off on my own. With these projects, it's a team effort. I'm on the phone a lot more. I'm on e-mail a lot more. So there are a lot of people keeping me straight."

"The Death of Dracula" ships on June 30 from Marvel Comics. "X-Men" #1 and "Curse of the Mutants" follows on July 8.

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