Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Strange History of Mordante

First, a bit of background.  Years ago, scholarship revealed the ability of the dreaded Count Dracula to create "soul clones."  These are vampires under the control of Dracula Prime, even to the point of believing they are the Dark Prince themselves.  Dracula Prime uses them as his agents, since his powers are weakened whenever he leaves his homeland and its native soil.  Most usually, these pawns were vampires created (or "turned") by the Impaler himself.  I believe sometimes he turned an already-existing vampire into a soul clone.

More I believe one such creature has been identified under the name Mordante (or Dracula-Mordante).

Apostle of Chaos
The bulk of accounts regarding this particular soul clone comes from chronicles in which he interacted with the mysterious female known as Vampirella.  Others have already done much to identify this lady, so my focus is upon the individual with whom she vied (and sometimes helped) who called himself Dracula, but also "Mordante."  In these accounts several details emerge.  One is that for a time Count Mordante was a faithful worshiper of a demon called Chaos, generally taken to mean none other than Azathoth.  Another is his attitude towards women, which remained exploitive yet also showed some gallantry, coupled with a melancholy desire for genuine love.  Indeed, he also showed at times remorse for his evil deeds, a longing for redemption, followed by a fierce acceptance of his role as a lord of darkness.  In other words, he exhibited symptoms of what we would call bipolar personality disorder (or manic depression).  Dracula Prime showed none of this.  He proved an implacable enemy of the Old Ones, whom he evidently viewed as rivals for control of the world.  More, while Vlad III of Transylvania (to use his mortal name) demonstrated passion, he generally treated women as inferior creatures.  Certainly he never seems to feel guilt for his crimes, which achieved legendary status while he yet breathed!

Mordante would appear to be a soul clone somewhat out of control, at least in the 1970s.  Keep in mind that according to some accounts Dracula Prime for a crucial part of this period was in torpor until revived by his descendant Frank Drake in late 1972.  His (Mordante's) plans to bring Azathoth into this world failed before then, and his castle in the Carnic Alps destroyed.  Legally, this 'Count Dracula' was dead, his last will and testament leaving his vast fortune to one Nadine Okusdar, a Turkish girl turned by Mordante after he saved her from rape in Istanbul many years earlier (again, a gallant action out of character for Dracula Prime).  Mordante, however, resurrected himself and soon (to his surprise) encountered a mysterious woman called The Conjuress, who claimed to have known him from a previous existence on the planet Drakulon.

Many theories have been put forth about Drakulon, supposed homeworld of Vampirella.  My own is that no such world actually exists.  Rather, it is a garbled memory of two places blended together in the minds of the two individuals who claim to have been there.  One is the now-lost planet Krypton, from whence came the costumed adventurer Superman (whose powers have been exaggerated to absurd lengths in subsequent stories).  The other is a place I have dubbed the Vampire Dimension--a kind of mini-hell where the race of Turok Han either originated and/or to which they were exiled in the ancient past (the location, I suspect, of the frozen castle in the motion picture Van Helsing as well a the place to which the amulet opened a door in the motion picture The Monster Squad).  My theory is that both Mordante and Vampirella lived on Krypton in a past life, and some of their memories of a world under a red sun fed delusions created by stress. But this is something of a tangent.

Back to the Past(s)
The Conjuress' avowed purpose was to lead Mordante down the path of redemption, which he himself seemed to great with equal parts enthusiasm and despair.  Part of this involved time travel.  She brought Mordante back to the year 1892 where the Abraham and Boris Van Helsing sought to revive Lucy Westenra and cure her vampirism. Mordante himself masqueraded as one of Dracula's descendants, a man eager to atone for his ancestor's terrible acts.  Those associated with Dracula Prime's London mission in 1887 remarked upon the resemblance between the two.  Remember this.  Likewise, during this period Mordante suffered no ill effects from the sun (exactly like his get Countess Nadine).  In theory this was due to the Conjuress' powers, but Dracula Prime also suffers no harm from sunlight.

Ultimately, Mordante failed his test--to refrain from feeding--and again voyaged in time to San Francisco in the year 1906.  At this point the Conjuress appeared to be slain, triggering the Great Earthquake.  I say "appeared" because a being of her powers seems unlikely so easily dispatched.  More probably she wished Mordante to think himself without her.  Subsequent events showed Mordante targeted by a prostitute named Josephine and a witch named Elizabeth--both of whom wound up Mordante's vampire slaves.  They boarded a ship to take Mordante back to Europe.

Here some of the perils of time travel begin to make themselves known.  Back in 1849, Mordante had been in England (the chronicler of these events for Eerie #48 set them in Transylvania, which makes little sense given that land is landlocked) and wounded.  Nursed back to health by a deaf mute girl named Gwethalyn Christen (her name is a pretty clear clue as to the tale's true location), the vampire fell in love with her and managed to conceal his nature.  Eventually she became pregnant and bore a son.

Now, in 1906, that (middle-aged) son awaited Mordante with a shotgun, loaded with silver buckshot!

What happens next is conjecture, it matches the facts.  Mordante had not in fact fled to THE Castle Dracula, stronghold of the fearsome Prince of Darkness.  This was one of many castles held in fiefdom to that terrible figure.  In this case, the castle belonged to Marya Zaleska, biological daughter of the gypsy woman Maleva and the soul-clone Lejos (aka Armand Tesla).  It was she who rescued Mordante from his "son" Sandor with whom she felt a kind of kinship--indeed, she so entranced him he served her loyally for many years upon the promise that one day she would make him immortal like herself.  Until then, he merely demonstrated the long life and slow aging of his mixed heritage (in time, the Countess betrayed his trust and he fired an arrow into her heart as recorded in the motion picture Dracula's Daughter).

For Mordante, the experience proved surreal in the extreme.  Already emotionally unstable, disoriented from time travel, severely wounded by a half-forgotten son and now saved by a never-suspected daughter...!  No doubt his resemblance to Dracula Prime likewise confused Zaleska.  Once recovered, he found himself told to leave her castle and his unstable mind wove all this into a new delusion.

The motion picture Dracula's Great Love chronicled in part what happened next.  Mordante took over an abandoned sanitorium near the Borgo Pass and began trying to make sense of his experiences (he likely had used this location before in the midst of various errands for Dracula Prime).   Pouring over notes by Professor Abraham Van Helsing, he presumed some of the man's theories must be true--especially the idea that Dracula (i.e. Mordante) needed his "daughter" to be fully restored.  In a flurry of activity, he arranged for his minions to find the remains of the woman he assumed to be his daughter--the powerful vampire witch Sascha Karnstein.  In 1909 her body was smuggled into the old sanitorium.  Mordante planned on an occult ritual which would restore them both!  Then, Mordante fell in love with the young virgin who was to be central sacrifice of the ritual.  He tossed the coffin of his "daughter" into a river and drove a wooden stake into his own heart!
Exactly what happened after this is not at all clear, although at one point it would appear Dracula Prime may have been "re-imprinting" his personality upon Mordante via re-enacting events from Bram Stoker's novelization of events--with an airplane's passengers and crew substituting for the Demeter, for example.  All this might have proven necessary due to the loss of an enchanted coffin (see below).

Before Chaos
What had Mordante been doing before this?  Prior to the chronological loop that led to his own self-sacrifice?  That makes for quite a tale in and of itself.
The earliest record we have of Mordante remains 1849, when he loved Gwethalyn Christen.  He seems anything but a weak vampire at this time, but demonstrates the same personality traits which perhaps allow us to identify him.  As it happens another extremely similar vampire existed just prior to this date, but his story was told in such a jumbled mess details prove elusive.  In Varney The Vampyre or The Feast of Blood by James Malcolm Rhymer we read of the title character's haunting of the Bannerworth Family (whom I believe to be a fictionalized version of the Durwards--one of whom married into the Karnsteins as told in Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter).  Sir Francis Varney showed all the signs of a Karnstein-type vampire.  He hungered especially for certain types of blood (that of Flora Bannerworth), while exposing himself to the sun with ease (Mordante evidently only believed he could be harmed by daylight).  Likewise he was moody, seemed to long for understanding even love from his victims, sought to "cure" his affliction through marriage (one wonders if he planted such a notion in the mind of Countess Zaleska?).  Much is made of the notion his original grave lay among the vaults of the family he stalked.  His rambling and badly-written story comes to an abrupt end circa 1847 after Sir Francis fled England for the Continent.

Two years later, Mordante made his first known appearance as Dracula.  Evidence suggests he in fact was the vampire once known as Sir Francis Varney (or Durward), perhaps even physically transformed into the likeness of the dread Impaler (or perhaps, like Frank Drake, his parentage included the Dracula family).  Given an enchanted coffin that helped enforce his identity as Dracula, Mordante then went ahead to England, to act as an advance scout.  Perhaps it was even in the original Count's mind to use Mordante as his viceroy at the heart of the world's newest and most powerful empire.  If so, small wonder he changed his mind.  A clever and ruthless warrior, Mordante also proved emotionally unstable.

But here events took another surprising turn.  When in 1887 Dracula Prime arrived in the British Isles, he had a perfect role for Mordante, who by chance or design resembled him so closely.  Quite simply, he functioned as a decoy!  On a superficial level, the two vampires seemed identical!  Van Helsing and others believed themselves battling one vampire when in fact they struggled against two--but were aided that the junior vampire was equally unaware of that fact!  Indeed, the ever-romantic Mordante muddied waters further by falling in love with the wife of Jonathan Harker, Mina (nee Murray).  To some extent she also fell for him (one of several reasons that marriage ultimately ended).
We should note Dracula Prime was himself quite busy in London, having to deal with (among others) Professor James Moriarty who wanted the vampire's blood to save his daughter Agatha.   Likewise, under mental control, Mordante shadowed his unknown master all the way back to Transylvania where he turned Quincy Morris (as chronicled in the novel Quincy Morris, Vampire by P.N.Elrod)

Dracula Prime meanwhile was successfully staked, but within a year was revived by faithful minions.  By 1891 however he'd thought of another use for his clone, Mordante.  Staked and beheaded, Mordante's coffin was shipped to Sir Francis Varney's last living relative, Lord Adrian Varney (as told in Creepy #8 and #9).  Said coffin became a method for Mordante to take possess and take complete control of Lord Adrian, then seek vengeance on those who had dared thwart Dracula.  But Van Helsing and company managed to defeat him, the coffin itself ending up at the bottom of the sea, probably the English Channel.  So it might have remained, save that magical items very rarely stay "lost."  Sure enough, someone did indeed find the coffin and under the influence of its magic, lay inside to be possessed and transformed into Mordante!

But by now, Dracula Prime was again staked, dormant until 1973.  Mordante found himself confused and in Mississippi in 1908, visiting the weird and mysterious King Carnival (which in retrospect seems to have had some connection to cults devoted to the Old Ones or perhaps Chaos/Azathoth).  He turned a young woman named Cassandra Kiley whose diary eventually came into the possession of the editors of Vampirella #39 and #40.  Together they traveled the American South while Denrom and even a later version of Mordante himself were active in Europe.  But it seems pretty clear from the bizarre creatures at the King Carnival that here the powerful vampire fell under the sway of Chaos, began to lead an increasingly powerful and dangerous cult devoted to that mad entity, eventually leading to the disaster at the Carnic Alps.
Yet one other thing happened in the wake of his legal "death" following that disaster.  The ever-delusional Mordante's more emotional, gallant, romantic side reworked the events surrounding Dracula's foray into London.  He even wrote an account of events as he grew to remember them--a version in which Van Helsing was an incompetent religious fanatic, Mina the vampire's one true love who chose to ultimately join him in undeath, where rather than conquest his motive for going to London was adventure, excitement, a surcease to loneliness.

As per his will, this account ended up in the hands of a writer willing to tell the "true" story of Dracula, and in 1975 it was published as The Dracula Tape by Fred Saberhagen.

I must thank this wonderful breakdown of Dracula in EERIE magazine and Charles Loridans for his initial research in discovery of Dracula's soul clones.  Also the members of the Wold Newton Family Yahoo Group have been invaluable in providing hints, clues and theories.

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