Dracula – A forgotten journey in Manoj Comics
History is unforgiving and people have short memories. Even shorter than what they would like to have. Empires have been turned to dust and have been forgotten. In the universe of Indian comics, this fits the bill perfectly for Manoj Comics, which was the most popular brand of Indian pop culture and literature for a long time in the 80s and much like the likes of Kumar Gaurav and Sahil Chadha, have been erased from the memories of the millennials
1980s was a game changer in the Indian comics’ universe (much like their western counterparts). The advent of Big 4 – Diamond, Tulsi, Manoj and Raj set the tone for next 2 decades, the period which would go down in the history as the golden age of Indian comics. But as time would have it, 3 of the big 4 could barely survive the test of time and gradually the 4th one –Raj Comics also succumbed to the ever changing demands of the modern audience and onset of technology and video games. Unlike their western counterparts who successfully ventured into a broader universe of Gaming, cinema and merchandising, Indian comics kept slipping slowly into an irreversible slump, recovery from which was not possible
Today we are looking at Manoj comics and explore one of the longest running and most successful arcs of the beloved Ram-Rahim. The arc which also introduced multi-starrer comics to Indian audience for the first time. An Arc which was so popular when it was running that Raj comics despite being at the top of their game had stiff competition from them. But first we need to delve into the magical world of MCU (Manoj Comics Universe).
Evolving from its predecessor – Manoj Pocket Books – which was successfully running multiple detective stories prints in late 70s including secret agents Ram-Rahim and others, Manoj Comics firmly came into its own in early 80s, much before the birth of Raj Comics and the flagship character Nagraj. And they were ruling the roost despite the presence of the powerhouse ‘Tulsi Pocket Books’ and Tulsi Comics owned by Legendary Ved Prakash Sharma and Cartoonist Pran’s mega successful Chacha Chaudhry, Billu, Pinki and Raman for Diamond Comics.
The list of superheroes and characters who were in circulation in that phase was huge and Manoj kept adding more and more heroes as time went by. Ram-Rahim, Crookbond, Hawaldar Bahadur, Trikaldev, Ajgar, Mahabali Shera (whose nagmani ke dushman was the first ever comic book read by me in 1989), Baaj, Indra, Colonel Karan, Bhootnath and many others. It is very difficult to track back the exact date of the first Ram Rahim comic book, albeit it seems to have been launched circa 1985 apparently.
For the academically curious, Ram-Rahim were two teenage secret agents, aptly titled in coherence with religious harmony (particularly after the war of 1971). Ram is the son of an army officer Colonel Raghav while Rahim was adopted by the Colonel. In a later issue named ‘Vatan ke Dushman’ it was revealed that Rahim is the son of a Pakistani colonel named Fanneh Khan
Ram Rahim, always followed by the suffix secret agent 001/2, started their journey in early teens as detectives, working for a mysterious person called ‘Chief’ and their initial adventures included saving the interests of the nation against internal and external threats. Some of the initial titles are aptly titled – ‘Apne desh ke dushman’, ‘Tirange ki kasam’, ‘Bharat ke bete’, ‘Desh ke gaddar’, ‘Tiranga nahi jhukega’ and many more. However as we saw their arcs maturing, they started tackling bigger issues ranging from aliens to magic to mad scientists and ghosts
The focus of today’s article is on the arc that was unanimously considered the best arc in Manoj Comics history by many fans. And the supervillain that remains etched in the memories of the readers who experienced the terror when it came around. In 1987 – Dracula himself. What started with a very average first installment of this long running arc (the arc ran for more than 6 years apparently for a series of 7 comic books), became a mega successful endeavor for the creators. 7 turned out to be a lucky number for Ram Rahim as the series became a runaway success. This was the time when radio announcements were made for upcoming series and there were video ads for upcoming blockbuster editions through video cassettes. This resulted in fans waiting with great anticipation for the release of their favorite comic books. There is a personal anecdote about the series for me as well. Dracula ka Pretjal and Doctor Virus (Dhruv) were released on the same date or at least they were available in my local comic store in a shady corner of Banaras on the same date. There was so much rage about Dracula ka Pretjal, that when I actually reached the store, all volumes were sold and I had to ‘compromise’ with the Raj Comic set which included two of the most legendary titles, one being Dr Virus and the other being the quintessential ‘Bhokal Ki Talwar’. Such was the rage the Dracula ka Pretjal was not available for almost couple of months and when I got my hands on the title, I could relate why. It was among the first real multi starrer comic book of India (Nagraj and Super Commando Dhruv had brought the likes of Dhruv, Nagraj, Parmanu, Gagan, Vinashdoot together couple of years back) – with the likes of Ram-Rahim, Crookbond, Hawaldar Bahadur, Trikaldev, Indra, Jembo (Aakash ka Jadoogar) and Toofan. But the real bonus was the appearance of Superman, Batman and Spiderman. Crossing their universes and meeting in the Universe of Manoj Comics – soon after Sanjay Gupta ji reimagined them in Jadugar Shakoora.
However I got ahead of myself. So the series kicks off with Bhootmahal which talks about the birth of Dracula and how a mad scientist uses his skills coupled with magic and reincarnates ‘Dracula’ – a synonym to the word terror. Dracula starts stealing kids for their blood. The comic became immensely popular and hence the second installment was released in both Hindi and English. Dracula Balak or Child Dracula. This series focused on direct collision between Dracula and Ram-Rahim and finally his end and the demise of the mad doctor, with help from his mentor Professor Divakar (Mad doctor’s mentor). The series remained dormant for some time before reigniting the flames with Dracula ki Wapsi. Dracula comes back to life and with no mad doctor to control him, he goes on a blood thirsty murderous rampage. This is followed by Dracula Dilli me which is even more dark and full of some gory scenes. Ram Rahim with help of Professor Divakar, stop Dracula and presumably finish him forever
But apparently Dracula could not die. He could just be dormant for a while but never dead. In the next edition ‘Fir Aaya Dracula’ we do not have Ram-Rahim but we are introduced to Dr Bhootnath who would be instrumental in defeating Dracula in this edition and will force Dracula to leave earth and go to space. This was the first ‘digest’ in the arc and sets the tone for a great finale in Dracula ka Pretjal. And Dracula ka Pretjal is the canonical end of this arc. This first blockbuster, geek fest, brought together all the powerful elements of Manoj Comics together to fight against the most popular supervillain in pop culture –Dracula. It is a tasty finale to a long saga. Together our heroes get the better of him, but not before Ram summons Trikaldev from a different time and himself becomes ‘Ichhadhari Ram’. The end is a bit of anticlimax but still does not take away the immense pleasure of seeing the heavy weights of Manoj Comics battling it out.
There was one final installment in the series called Dracula Aaya Maut Laya though it felt disjointed and finally put the tale of Dracula to an end in the MCU
It’s been more than 2 decades since the arc came out, but it left deep impressions of the mind of the readers and thinking about it reminds us of the glory times of Manoj Comics, which was the last major comic book powerhouse that shut its shop a decade back.
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Pushpendra has a keen inclination towards cinema, comic books and pop culture. Besides his day job of advising people, he keeps himself engaged with writing, travelling, sports and cooking fiction [sic]. Particularly partial to Indian pop culture, he likes to discuss Hindi comic books, old Bollywood cinema and music.