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Monster Mashup: Superman vs. Dracula

SupermanCover

Superman #120
Written by Jeph Loeb and Geoff Johns
Art by Ian Churchill
May 2002
DC Comics

Unlike Marvel, with its successful Tomb of Dracula series, DC never integrated a specific iteration of Dracula into their superhero universe. However, once the loosening of the Comics Code allowed for them, vampires of all different sorts certainly found their way into the pages of DC’s comics, but there was never a definitive Dracula that existed alongside Superman, Batman, and the rest. As such, the DC heroes have encountered a handful of different Dracula-esque characters through the years. Once such example can be found in 2002’s Superman #180.

Written by Jeph Loeb & Geoff Johns, with art by Ian Churchill, the issue finds Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen arriving in the Eastern European home of Dracula stand-in Count Rominoff. What follows is a loose adaption of the first act of Tod Browning’s Dracula (even lifting a line from the film at one point) or the opening chapters of the Stoker novel, with some werewolves thrown in for good measure, as Rominoff enchants Lois in an effort to draw out Superman while Jimmy Olsen gets targeted by Rominoff’s female associate, Elizabeth. In the end, Rominoff reveals that his family name is Dracula and attacks Superman, sinking his fangs into the big guy. But, in a rather clever bit, this just destroys Dracula as Superman’s solar-irradiated blood makes it like the vampire is taking a bite out of the sun.

Though featuring a take on a classic monster character, this issue is as much of its time as X-Men #40 was a goofy Silver Age story.
Rominoff targets Superman because he wants to enslave the hero to lead his army against General Zod, current ruler of the nearby fictional country of Pokolistan. This issue was published in 2002, and this General Zod isn’t the one most people are familiar with from Superman II and Man of Steel (that is, a Kryptonian military leader with ties to Superman’s past), but rather one of the various stand-in characters using that name that the Superman creators rolled out during this era when DC was still gunshy about bringing back too many of Superman’s pre-Crisis trappings (eventually, they gave up, and amongst others, the “classic” version of General Zod returned to the comics).

The issue also came out shortly after the events of “Our Worlds at War”, a massive Superman-centric crossover story that saw Superman leading Earth’s heroes in battle against an alien force determined to destroy the planet. In the course of that story, Lois’ father died, and in this issue, Loeb & Johns try to wring some pathos out of that having the bewitched Lois lash out at Superman for failing to save her father. It all rings a bit false, especially in a story that’s otherwise just trying to be a fun Dracula pastiche.

The build-up to the fake General Zod and the use of “Our Worlds at War” to lend the story some emotional weight keep it very clearly tied to the era in which it was published. Unfortunately, that keeps it from being as fun as it otherwise could have been, especially when the best part of it occurs at the very end, setting up a storyline that never comes to fruition: a new iteration of the Creature Commandos, featuring Elizabeth, a werewolf, Frankenstein’s Monster, and some version of the Mummy and the Gill Man. Had this issue focused more on that kind of thing and been less tied to plot points of some very specific (and mostly forgotten) stories, it might be more well remembered today. Or, at least, a more entertaining Monster Mashup.

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