Comics
Published October 31, 2023

A History of Vampirism in the Marvel Universe

Learn how vampires infiltrated the Marvel Universe in this dark, extensive history!

Vampires! Their name alone stirs the imagination with equal parts dark intrigue and blood-curdling terror. While they may not always be top of mind, their presence has punctured the Marvel Universe for years—and they have most certainly left a mark. 

With Dracula establishing his own vampire nation in Chernobyl, vampires have perhaps never before been more powerful than they are at this present moment, but their lineage reaches far back into Marvel history. Here is a brief history of vampires in the Marvel Universe.

Count Vicaro: The Forefather of Marvel's Vampires

Technically, the very first appearance of a vampire in Marvel Comics is an oft-forgotten fiend known as Count Vicaro, the bloodthirsty antagonist of "The Banquet of Blood" in MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS (1942) #35. 

While it's unclear how Vicaro became a vampire, the undead tyrant had been relieving victims of their plasma for hundreds of years by the time of his introduction. Thankfully, his reign of terror came to an end at the hands of a caped crusader known as the Angel (not to be confused with the X-Men's Warren Worthington III), when—in a flourish of mustachioed machismo—he burned the bloodsucker alive.

Sure, Vicaro's legacy may have been short-lived—quite literally going up in flames in his very first appearance—but his existence and vampiric affliction sparked a roaring flame that spread like wildfire across the Marvel Universe years later.

Varnae: Marvel's First and Most Powerful Vampire

Vicaro's footnote in history notwithstanding, the first official vampire in the history of the Marvel Universe debuted in a BIZARRE ADVENTURES (1982) #33 story called "Tomb of Dracula: The Blood Bequest" by Steve Perry and Steve Bissette. His name is Varnae, and he is the singular source of every Marvel vampire you have ever known.

As later seen in DOCTOR STRANGE: SORCERER SUPREME (1989) #11 by Roy ThomasJean-Marc Lofficier, David Day, and Dan Day, Varnae was never turned into a vampire, nor was he even truly born one. His existence began as part of a dark plot to murder a legendary Atlantean-born king many Marvel fans will remember: Kull the Conqueror.

For years, King Kull protected his kingdom from dark magic. In perhaps his most notable victory, Kull killed his nemesis, Thulsa Doom: an ancient, evil undead sorcerer whose race descended from the Elder Gods of Earth. One of these deities—the terrifyingly powerful Cthon—recorded all of reality's darkest spells on secret scrolls. These texts would later be collated by Morgan Le Fay into what we now know as the Darkhold, one of the Marvel Universe's most powerful and evil mystical items.

Thulsa Doom's followers used one of those spells to cast their vengeance on Kull, though it also proved to be their undoing. The enchantment brought a dead wizard back to life, granting him unimaginable dark powers, an unslakable bloodlust, and the ability to spread both to his victims. This was Varnae, and while the sorcerers succeeded in his creation, they were less successful in controlling him. Instead of obeying their commands, Varnae brutally murdered them and raised them from the dead as his minions, creating Marvel's inaugural vampire hoard.

Varnae ran roughshod as Lord of the Vampires for centuries and was worshiped as their god, until he was forced to hibernate underground, cocooned in what he called a "viscid human stew," by the same disaster that sank Atlantis. (Varnae was nothing if not eloquent.)

Luckily, Conan's comrade Zula was able to use the very spell that created Varnae to turn him away and, at least temporarily, quell his plans for world domination via vampire apocalypse. (This attack would later be used against Marvel vampires in an unprecedented purge—more on that later.)

Varnae's defeat, however, was not the last time Earth would be shaken by his schemes or his bloodthirsty lineage.

Dracula: Varnae's Heir to Marvel's Vampire Kingdom

In "The Blood Bequest," Varnae returned after another one of his viscid sleeps, no less the god he purported to be. However, he had grown bored of existence and was in search of two things: oblivion and an heir to take over. (Even viscid human stews, it seems, get boring after a while.)

So, in a bid to name his permanent successor, Varnae created the first King of the Vampires, a lowly bloodsucker called Nimrod. Varnae knowingly sent Nimrod into a losing battle against a newly-undead prince, formerly known as Lord Vladimir Tepes, but recognized far better under a different name: Dracula.

After Dracula defeated Nimrod, Varnae forced him to feast on his eldritch blood, transferring his powers and station as Lord of the Vampires. His mission complete, Varnae walked into broad daylight, allowing the harsh rays of the sun to reduce him to ash and making space for Dracula to shine.

Dracula went on to act as the main antagonist of many misadventures in the Marvel Universe. However, his reign as the top vampire truly began in TOMB OF DRACULA (1972) #1 by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan, a series that documented his struggles against Marvel stalwarts like Doctor Strange.

Indeed, Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme actually killed Dracula, and for a time, all but banished vampires from the universe!

The Death of Dracula & Marvel's Vampires

Doctor Strange and Dracula first fought in TOMB OF DRACULA (1976) #44 by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, where the Lord of Vampires got the upper hand by turning the Master of the Mystic Arts into a vampire. Luckily, he got better. In fact, in DOCTOR STRANGE (1976) #14 by Steve Englehart and Colan, he even managed to kill Dracula and free himself and Wong from vampirism. 

Once again, magic proved to be the most reliable way of curing the supernatural sickness Varnae started those eons ago—something Strange accomplished on a mass scale in his second battle against Dracula in DOCTOR STRANGE (1983) #58-62 by Roger Stern and Dan Green.

After practitioners of the Darkhold once again raised Dracula from the dead, he went on the hunt for the book to make himself truly immortal and unbeatable. Doctor Strange, however, learned of a spell—first discovered by a monk named Montesi—that could not just kill vampires, but with enough magical power, completely erase vampirism from the universe. 

Strange successfully cast the enchantment, and for years, dispelled vampires from Marvel Universe. Unfortunately, the remission wouldn't last.

In DOCTOR STRANGE SORCERER SUPREME (1990) #18 by Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas, and Jackson Guice, Varnae himself was reluctantly summoned from the dead by a spell called the Vampire Verses, and once again took it upon himself to spread vampirism across the planet. Dracula also returned, proving that powerful bloodsuckers aren't so easily licked even in the Marvel Universe.

The New Age of Marvel Vampires

The rise of Marvel vampires surged thick and fast throughout the decades thanks to the direct descendants of Varnae's lineage, like Baron Blood and Dracula's own children Xarus and Janus. There were also mystical offshoots, like Doctor Strange's brother Victor Strange, who was—like Varnae—brought back by the Vampire Verses. 

Of course, there were also freak accidents like Deacon Frost, who created a synthetic formula that made him a vampire, and Morbius, who first appeared in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1963) #101 by Gerry Conway and Gil Kane with a similarly scientific origin.

Some established Marvel super heroes have even become vampires, with the X-Men especially having many run-ins with the undead. Dracula himself turned Storm into a vampire for a spell in UNCANNY X-MEN (1963) #159 by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz. Jubilee was turned by Xarus in X-MEN (2010) #2 by Victor Gischler and Paco Medina, during the "Curse of the Mutants" storyline that also saw Wolverine temporarily become a vampire.

The "Curse of the Mutants" prologue—THE DEATH OF DRACULA (2010) #1 by Gischler and Giuseppe Camuncoli—also revealed that there are so many different types of vampires in the Marvel Universe, they have to define themselves by sect. These various sects include a wide array of vamps, from the technophile Mystiko sect to the peaceful Anchorites, who became hermits to get away from humanity. There are also powerful warrior sects like the Krieger and the Claw, an underwater Atlantean vampire society, and a sect made entirely of women called the Sirens. 

These and other sects collided once again in the "War of the Vampires" storyline that took place in AVENGERS (2018) #13-17 by Jason AaronAndrea Sorrentino and David Marquez, where Dracula himself orchestrated a civil war for the sole purpose of securing Chernobyl as the new Kingdom of Vampires. This new Vampire Nation—an idea Dracula had toyed with before—was inhospitable to everyone but the undead, making vampires more organized, more powerful, and more untouchable than ever before.

Despite a momentary reprieve from Doctor Strange, vampires continue to sink their teeth into the Marvel Universe. While they have established something of an understanding with humans (and mutants), vampires don't seem anywhere near ready to loosen their grip. 

More vampire madness lies ahead in BLOOD HUNT, Marvel’s next major crossover event!

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