Vampires are a force to be reckoned with in the Marvel Universe – with a sinister origin rooted in the mystical Darkhold that predates even Dracula.
Vampires have a long history in the Marvel Universe, with the in-universe creatures of the night predating famous names like Dracula and running all the way back to ancient Atlantis. The Marvel universe has always tapped into mythological aspects, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the comics began to introduce creatures like vampires and werewolves, usually associated with supernatural horror stories. The reason lies not in the sensibilities of writers but in the nature of the comic book industry. Beginning in the 1940s, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham had begun a moral crusade to clean up comics. He focused particularly on horror comics.
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In 1954, publishers signed up with the Comics Code Authority – an organization that deemed what was and was not appropriate for young readers, oftentimes arbitrarily – as an alternative to government regulation. Marvel was always attached to the Comics Code Authority, meaning creators like Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were bound by its rules. They could introduce sorcerers like Doctor Strange, but vampires and werewolves were strictly forbidden. Decades later, in 1971, Marvel dared to publish a Spider-Man story that had been rejected by the CCA because it dealt with the subject of illicit drugs. The positive reception to the issue led to a major revision of the CCA rules, and finally horror comics were back on the menu. Marvel wasted no time in introducing a Spider-Man villain named Morbius as they swiftly began exploring themes of vampirismin comics.
It didn’t take long for vampires to become a major part of the Marvel Universe, with Dracula himself retroactively written into Marvel’s fictional history. Soon, Marvel began to reveal the origin of vampires in their comics – and they tied them to an ancient tome called the Darkhold.
The Story of Varnae, The First Vampire
The story of the first vampire begins in prehistoric times, with the Elder God Chthon. One of a monstrous race of beings who ruled the primordial Earth, Chthon was a master of magic who foresaw a time when he and his fellow Elder Gods would be banished to another dimension. He inscribed his dark magic upon scrolls, ensuring these would be left behind once he was gone from this plane of existence. They served as a lure to the unwary, tempting would-be sorcerers who craved the power of the gods and had no idea what forces they were playing with. Some of these scrolls found their way to ancient Atlantis, where a group of cultists performed an arcane ritual to siphon the power of Chthon in order to overthrow the Atlantean king. But in doing so, they unwittingly transformed one of their own, Varnae, into the world’s first vampire.
In the Marvel universe, vampirism is essentially a supernatural disease. When a vampire preys upon a person, an enzyme is released into their victim’s body that has the potential to transform them into a vampire as well. If the victim dies, this enzyme transforms their blood into ichor and the corpse is reanimated over the course of several days. Not everybody bitten by a vampire transforms, of course; if the corpse’s heart or brain are damaged, then no transformation will occur, and it is possible some blood diseases affect the process as well.
The Vampire Sects & Races
Over the millennia, some vampires have evolved into different sub-species while others have built their own communities (or “sects”) with lore and traditions all their own. The major different groups are:
- The Jumlin, allegedly the first vampire race, who still live on in North America and are known in Native American mythology.
- The Charniputra, gargoyle-like vampires who mostly keep to themselves and live in the Himalayas.
- The Aqueos, converted Atlanteans who include some dark beings believed to have entered the world when Atlantis fell.
- Krieger Sect, one of the strongest warrior clans that live in an almost unassailable mountain fortress.
- Claw Sect, a rival warrior group to the Krieger, who originate from the Middle East.
- Mystikos Sect, American vampires who have infiltrated Western society and attempt to use technology to deal with traditional vampire weaknesses.
- The Anchorite Sect, a rural community that has retreated in the face of human population growth.
- The Nosferatu Sect, an Eastern European group who are noted for their bloodlust and even attack other vampires on occasion.
- The Moksha Sect, a mystical group who feed as little as possible and gain sorcerous powers from their abstention – including an ability to foresee the future.
- The Siren Sect, a community of female vampires who specialize in seduction.
- The Adze, a race of African vampires who have developed a degree of immunity to traditional means of slaying vampires.
- The Ancients, Italian vampires who have evolved superior speed and healing powers.
- The Yiki Onna, a Japanese branch of the vampire family who transform into ice storms rather than mist.
- Finally, there are monstrous Trysks. who have evolved to become predators of other vampires.
The Age of Dracula
In the 1400s, the warlord Vlad Tepes Dracula was taken to the Gypsy Lianda for healing. Lianda was actually a vampire, and she converted Dracula, unwittingly creating one of the most powerful beings of all time. Initially furious at what he had been transformed into, Dracula went on a bloody rampage that saw him exact revenge upon the Gypsies, who he blamed for his fate. Soon, Dracula found himself rising through the ranks of the vampires, ultimately confronting and defeating Varnae himself and becoming the Vampire Lord. For centuries, he ruled a secret vampire nation, establishing his throne in Castle Dracula in Transylvania.
Although Dracula is traditionally a villain, curiously, he was opposed to the Nazis because of their hatred of his Gypsy servants. He allied with Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos in the battle against the Nazis and subsequently worked with the Allies to conduct supernatural experiments at the Ravencroft Institute in the United States. In modern times, he has been a particular nemesis of both Doctor Strange and Blade, with the Sorcerer Supreme attempting to use an ancient spell called the Montesi Formula to wipe out the entire vampire race. Although Strange was successful, his magic was complicated by a counter-spell he had woven years ago during his training, and the vampire race was subsequently restored, so it doesn’t seem as though vampires will be disappearing from the Marvel universe anytime soon.
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