Dark Shadows | Issue #17

Dark Shadows | Issue #17
The Bride of Barnabas Collins
Gold Key Comics | December 1972

After a momentary self-searching existential crisis regarding the nature of his curse, Barnabas Collins inadvertently wanders through the “fogs of time” into Limbo, a place trapped in the perpetual present beyond the reaches of time. He meets Hope Forsythe, another traveler stuck in this atemporal world, and within a few panels, WHAM-BAM-THANK-YOU-MA’AM they are declaring eternal love for each other! The few other characters Barnabas encounters seem to have wandered into Limbo from a discounted rate Renaissance Faire.

But Hope has another predicament beyond being stranded in this world, as a following exposition dump of arbitrary rules details. Her brother, Ward, has been captured and held hostage by Tibourne, the strongman who rules over Limbo. Tibourne, an evil man who is eternally trapped in Limbo, can only hope to escape his purgatory prison by marrying someone who still retains the ability to freely travel back to their own time—namely Hope. Unless she complies, Ward will be killed.

Delicately dancing around the ultimate “Oh, by the way, I’m a vampire” confessional, Barnabas learns that Hope may have a dark secret of her own. Hope disappears, pointy-hatted guards capture Barnabas, Ward somehow escapes on his own (rendering the whole affair rather pointless), and many fistfights ensue.

Barnabas, later reflecting back upon Limbo from the “fogs of time” doorway, decries, “Hope! Come! This fog … it is so thick!”

For a more accurate assessment, simply replace “fog” with “horseshit”.

Advertisements

Dark Shadows | Issue #16

ds16_1

ds16_2

ds16_3

Dark Shadows | Issue #16
The Scarab
Gold Key Comics | October 1972

An ancient Egyptian mystic of the black arts recruits Barnabas Collins into his undead army in this issue of the ongoing comic series.

The unholy priest, Potiphar, possesses a strange power enabling him to control those spirits trapped between worlds, such as the cursed Barnabas. Potiphar’s army, assembled over the last four thousand years, seeks to reunite the lost treasure of the First Kingdom, a mythic cache of legendary objects that will grant its owner total dominion over the Earth.

Barnabas’ first directive under Potiphar’s control is stealing one such item, the improbably named Golden Girdle of Ibex. Aside from his ability to fly away with the stolen cloth in his bat talons, Barnabas’ specially chosen role as “First Minister” to Potiphar amounts to little more than smash-and-grab robber among confused museum guards.

Meanwhile at a Collinwood cocktail party, Professor Stokes deduces the entire plan—and Potiphar’s responsibility, in particular—from the gathered small talk surrounding the simple news of a museum robbery.

Professor Stokes is rarely wrong…but, no! The whole thing is too preposterous!

After discovering that Barnabas’ coffin is missing, Julia Hoffman convenes an emergency séance to send a message to him through the spirit plane, thus breaking Potiphar’s spell.

Ultimately, Barnabas faces off against the other creatures of darkness, and Potiphar learns the dangers of transmutation—particularly surrounding the inherent vulnerability in taking the form of a beetle.

ds16_4

Dark Shadows | Issue #15

ds15_1

Dark Shadows | Issue #15
The Night Children
Gold Key Comics | August 1972

ds15_2

ds15_3

Creepy kids drive Barnabas Collins to Hell in this issue, along with the requisite curses, strange monsters, and otherworldly transformations characterized by the series.

Angelique, the witch, conjures two Night Children, demonic creatures in the form of innocent youths, to seek out and destroy Barnabas Collins. Any potential victim with goodness in their heart will be trapped in their gaze, locked under their malevolent control. They show up at Collinwood under the pretense of looking for their lost dog, only to lure Barnabas out into a clearing in the woods.

Of all the children’s dark powers, the ability to lie seems strangely lacking. When Barnabas calls them out as Night Children (due to their lack of shadows), they immediately cry out in unison, “Yessssssss!” However, Barnabas is soon debilitated and laid out in repose for the morning sunrise, the rays of light fatal to his vampiric form.

The evil cherubs return to Collinwood, breaking up a dinner party where Professor Stokes, ever the pedant, bores everyone with his incessant small talk of the Black Arts. Placing the guests under their control, the Night Children attempt to create a ritual that will destroy the great estate. Suffering the effects of the full moon while locked safely away in the cellar, only Quentin escapes falling into the hands of the children. His cursed heart the only one at Collinwood that holds enough darkness to keep their powers at bay.

To its detriment, this issue seems to improvise (or, more critically, just plain make up) a significant number of consequential rules over the course of its brief page count: five victims are needed to complete a double pentagram ritual, since the supernatural fire the Night Children seek to create cannot be generated from a figure of four (four being a symbol of good); only those who “linger in both worlds” are able to see the entrance to the Black Pit, which is fortunate for Barnabas after the Night Children escape into it; unless saved by an (undisclosed) act of kindness, Barnabas will be trapped forever in the Black Pit if Angelique catches him in his human form, or if he is killed there; and, finally, there are creatures who carry fallen spirits down into the Black Pit called Zozos, that are essentially flying monkeys.

On the plus side, Barnabas fights flying monkeys.

ds15_4

Dark Shadows (Issue #14)

ds14_1

ds14_2

ds14_3

Dark Shadows, Issue #14
The Mystic Painting
Gold Key Comics | June 1972

While cleaning out the attic at Collinwood, Elizabeth and Barnabas discover an old family portrait. They uncover another painting hidden underneath, a landscape treatment of Collingreen, an extended family estate outside London. The painting seemingly calls out to Barnabas, issuing psychic vibrations and triggering an actual memory of a visit to his uncle, Lord Balsham, at the great house in 1743.

During his visit, Barnabas meets young painter, Owen Roberts, who hides a not-so-secret attraction to Barnabas’ cousin, Sara. Tragedy soon ensues when Sara is killed, and Owen takes the blame, and corporal punishment, for the crime from a vengeful Lord Balsham. However, Barnabas fears his own culpability since the violent attack occurred during a resurgent episode of his own vampiric curse.

The Mystic Painting fails to offer much new to the series, as Barnabas travels in time, faces a confrontational ghost, and—of course—attends a seance to end the suffering represented by the cursed painting. He ultimately discovers the true identity of the culprit behind Sara’s death, to little surprise. Continuing to make up new rules from one episode to the next (vampires cannot have their portraits painted; bat transformations are initiated by the full moon), this issue at least sends Barnabas traveling through time via the mechanics, however dubious, of a haunted painting, rather than by simply closing his eyes and magically wishing it to happen.

Ruminating on the conflicting details rising from the failed seance, Professor Stokes could have instead been reflecting upon the series canon by declaring, “Hmm…er, yes, it may have been! But then, who knows about these things?

ds14_4

ds14_5

Dark Shadows (Issue #13)

ds13_cover

ds13_1

ds13_2

Dark Shadows, Issue #13
Hellfire
Gold Key Comics | April 1972

Constance Collins, yet another in a long line of previously unknown Collins family members, returns to Collinwood to announce her upcoming engagement. Barnabas Collins, again suffering from the vampire curse inflicted upon him by the witch, Angelique, nearly makes her a victim of his insatiable hunger before recognizing a family heirloom worn around her neck. Avoiding an early death at the hands (or more correctly, fangs) of a vampire, Constance’s life is further threatened by another supernatural menace at the family estate, a deadly manifestation of hellfire.

A coldly burning explosive fire that does not consume surrounding fuel in the natural manner, hellfire—as immediately recognized by Professor Stokes—occurs in places of great evil, transporting the innocents who unwittingly gaze into its cold flames directly to hell itself. Passing off an inexplicable fireball in the halls of Collinwood as a mere candle reflection, Barnabas sends Constance to bed, wondering if his cursed presence has summoned the hellfire. Naturally, Constance awakens in the night to a fiery glow, and cannot help but to stare into the hypnotizing flames. Seeing his cousin vanish into the pyre, Barnabas jumps in himself, vowing to pull her back from the black pits into which she has disappeared.

Given the epic nature of his task—journeying to hell and battling Satan for Constance’s soul—Barnabas has a rather easy time in this outing. It seems the devil is running a crooked three-card monte hustle in hell, and Barnabas need only break up his grift to release their souls. Never has defeating great Evil been as simple as knocking over a card table.

A half-expected twist, that Constance’s fiancée is the true source of evil calling up the hellfire, never develops. Disappointingly, he just turns out to be something of a mute Ken doll—a Ken doll with blank, malevolent eyes.

ds13_3

Journey into Mystery (Issue #2)

jim1

jim2

Journey into Mystery, Issue #2
Marvel Comics | December 1972

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper!

Based on a short story by Robert Bloch (Psycho), Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper! introduces Sir Guy Hollis, an inspector from Scotland Yard assisting in the investigation of a string of violent murders in New York’s Greenwich Village. Hollis advances a novel theory, attempting to convince psychiatrist, John Carmody, that the original Jack the Ripper is still alive and responsible for the current murders. According to Hollis, the Ripper was no mere criminal, but rather a High Priest of Black Magic who discovered the key to immortal life through ritualized human sacrifices.

Not outright dismissing the inspector’s theory, Carmody takes him to a party in Greenwich Village to get a feel for the neighborhood and its residents. They overhear a local junkie, Dick Poole, expounding on the new Ripper murders with a theory that strikingly parallels that of Inspector Hollis. When confronted, Poole panics and flees, with Hollis and Carmody in pursuit, thinking they may have their suspect at hand.

Perhaps diminished in the contemporary context, with present-day Jack the Ripper stories seemingly in no short supply, Yours Truly could have distinguished itself with more panels revealing the dark magic behind the crimes, and the evidence that directed Hollis to his theory. Still, the brief glimpse of early-seventies Greenwich Village and the hint of the occult beneath the pop culture of the times are just enough to pull the story through to its expected final twist.

jim3

“More than Blood!”

Players from the sports teams at Westfield Heights are suffering from a bizarre affliction. During games, their eyes go blank and they slump to the ground, stricken from a mysterious paralysis that doctors are unable to explain. The teams fall to resounding losses, and the athletes never recover.

Paul, star athlete of the basketball team, struggles to discover the source of the baffling illnesses, and understand why he has been, so far, passed over as a potential victim. Linda, his girlfriend, seems strangely reluctant to accept his notion of a supernatural cause, bringing Paul tantalizingly close to a breakthrough notion.

…but perhaps, after all, she was right. There was more to life than just basketball…!”

jim4

The Girl Who Couldn’t Die

Dr. Lee Fuller, turn-of-the-century scientific researcher dedicated to uncovering the secrets to an immortal life, suffers a staggering personal tragedy when his fiancée dies on their wedding night.

Why not use the fresh corpse of his beloved to advance his research?

The Vampires of Finistère (Guardians #4)

vampiresoffinistere

The Vampires of Finistère
Peter Saxon | Berkley Medallion Books | 1970 | 190 pages

The Guardians, an organization dedicated to combating the Powers of Darkness, take up the search for a young tourist who disappeared after stumbling upon a strange ritual in the wilds of Brittany, in this fourth outing in the supernatural series.

Nicholas Brooke and his fiancée, Margot Prys, were enjoying an idyllic holiday of swimming, sunbathing, and touring the sights of Brittany before a fateful walk took them away from the main road toward an unknown section of coastline. Following a bobbing series of lights through the woods to a small village, Nick and Margot discovered a carnival-like procession through the cobbled streets that ended in a strange ritual. Skelton figures ushered the arrival of a Green Wolf, who commanded a debauched ceremony that the young tourists felt strangely compelled to join. Waking the next morning, Nick found Margot to be missing, and no amount of pleading could convince the local authorities to investigate.

Advised that no conventional agency could assist him in finding Margot, Nick takes his case to the Guardians. Upon hearing the young man’s story, Steven Kane, former anthropology professor and de facto leader of the group, recognizes the tale of the Green Wolf as an ancient fertility ritual. Kane narrows down the search area to the isolated village of Trégonnec, with its sheltered harbor protected from the outside world by the treacherous waters surrounding the nearby Ile-des-Morts. The deserted island is now only home to ancient ruins and Druid tombs, but is said to mark the location of the mythological drowned city of Ker-Ys, the reputed home of sirens and sea vampires.

Heeding the notice of fellow Guardian (and clairvoyant), Anne Ashby to “Beware of a woman who isn’t what she seems,” Kane infiltrates the village under the guise of an academic stranded by his poor yacht-handling skills. With the exception of Yves Lenoir, the black-bearded captain of the fishing boat that helped Kane with his “distressed” yacht, the members of the village are immediately distrustful of Kane’s arrival. Henri Verne, the fox-faced mayor (and barber), Jean-Battiste, the inn owner who reluctantly provides Kane a bed, and Pére Bonard, the nervous parish priest, show a range of reactions from contemptuous indifference to outright hostility. Maître Hubert de Caradec, the village landowner and master of the castle, shows Kane a respect in accordance to his intellectual stature, but seems to be hiding a secret somewhere within his guarded rampart walls.

The Vampires of Finistère loosely shares a template with The Wicker Man, or perhaps more precisely, Ritual, its 1967 source novel by David Pinner. Steven Kane acts as the lone investigator for the Guardians, an outsider uncovering the pagan rituals at the heart of a community cut off from the advances of the outside world. The main suspense derives from Kane’s justifiable paranoia regarding whom to trust in the village, and his sense of isolation inherent in the premise.

The other Guardian members are mostly sidelined, but Anne Ashby does seem to insert her telepathic skills at one point. She comes to Kane’s rescue with a potentially scientific-boundary shattering telepathic link with a school of dolphins—-or perhaps they were just being friendly. Private investigator Lionel Marks and occult-minded priest Father John Dyball move in at the conclusion to provide support for the inevitable battle for control of the village.

Kane’s investigation ultimately leads to the expected source, but along the way mythology and folklore cross with the appearance of otherworldly creatures, some supernatural and others the product of Dr. Moreau-like experimentation.  Plus, the presence of a feral girl living in the streets may hold a valuable clue to the nature of the rituals. Kane spends much of the time asking questions and plodding around the village, wondering when his enemies will move against him. When the deadly action finally comes, it takes an unexpected form, and kicks the narrative into a satisfying rush towards the conclusion.

The “Vampires” of the title could arguably be corrected to the singular “Vampire,” since the lore surrounding one the characters becomes a bit muddied [Vampire? Werewolf? Vampire-werewolf?]. However, the remaining title character’s alluringly androgynous charms should more than compensate for the somewhat misleading appellation.

Dark Shadows (Issue #11)

ds11_1

ds11_2

ds11_3

Dark Shadows, Issue #11
The Thirteenth Star
Gold Key Comics | November 1971

After Quentin Collins is attacked outside Collinwood by a strange creature, Barnabas Collins must battle against a curse handed down centuries ago by an ancestor weary of his family’s predilection towards the dark arts, in an issue that features a guest monster-of-the-week appearance by a Golem.

Even by the obscure standards of multigenerational curses, the one delivered by Mordecai Collins six-hundred years ago is exceptionally nonsensical. To exact payback against the ills he has suffered by the black-magic actions of his own family, Mordecai instructs a priest to form an unlikely vehicle for his revenge. Upon his death, Mordecai’s ashes are sealed inside a gargoyle-like figure made of clay. This Golem, marked with astronomical signs of the Thirteenth Constellation, will come to life upon the once-in-a-one-hundred-year visit of the Collins Comet in the night sky, and destroy any Collins family member with evil dwelling in his heart.

Trying and failing with brute force against Quentin, the Golem deploys a surprisingly clever (for a Golem) method against Barnabas. It steals the grave soil lining Barnabas’ coffin which allows him a safe place to rest during the day. Fearing that he will not have time to find the hidden soil before the rising of the sun, Barnabas calls an impromptu seance with the residents of the great estate, a seance he inexplicably uses to [suspend disbelief here] travel forward in time to the next visit of the comet and discover the location of the soil so he can travel back to the present with this newly discovered knowledge and find the soil, return it to his coffin, and save his own (undead) life.

A completely throw-away issue, The Thirteenth Star improvises the canons of vampirism, spiritualism, and time travel as it goes, propelling Barnabas Collins to the futuristic landscape of Collinsport in the year 2071. He meets his great-great nephew, Halperin Collins, who displays a groovy fashion sense more appropriate to the 1970s-era present, featuring an open-collared plaid jacket, Cream-era Eric Clapton hairdo, and matching white belt, pants, and shoes. After a brief monster rumble with the Golem that leads him to the location of the grave soil, Barnabas notices that the comet has disappeared from the night sky.

Returning to the present without the aid of either the comet or a seance, Barnabas tries to enlist Julia Hoffman’s aid, pleading for her unquestioning cooperation. She neatly sums up the whole adventure by responding, “I will…but understand…I won’t even try.”

ds11_4

Deadwalk (Vampirella #3)

vampirella3_front

Deadwalk (Vampirella #3)
Ron Goulart | Warner Books | 1976 | 144 pages

“Look at the knockers on that one,” said an adolescent voice some distance behind her.

The well-endowed vampire (or more correctly, the well-endowed, blood-sucking space alien) returns in the third installment in the series of novelizations based on the original horror comic.

Vampirella and the magician, Pendragon, take their act to the Caribbean island of Côte de Soleil in an effort to find the missing wife and daughter of Pendragon’s cousin. The missing relatives have fallen victim to Papa Jumbee, a mysterious voodoo priest whose zombie minions have captured them for use as human sacrifices in an upcoming ritual celebration. Although Pendragon seems unmoved by their plight, Vampirella suspects that Jumbee may actually serve The Cult of Chaos, the infernal criminal organization that she has pledged to destroy.

Jumbee’s henchman, between taunting epithets of “gordito” and “puta”, overcome their ineptitude and capture Vampirella, leading to one of the book’s few compelling scenes. Trapped away from the synthetic blood that sustains her hunger, Vampirella must feed upon one of her captors, leading to a blood-streaked moment of self-reflection. However, after Jumbee’s anticlimactic unmasking, Deadwalk fizzles out as Vampirella follows the trail of The Cult of Chaos to Los Angeles and London, seeking the true mastermind behind Côte de Soleil’s voodoo cult—and to another tepid confrontation.

Without the benefit of a comic’s illustrated panels, occasional reminders of Vampirella’s voluptuousness (arguably, the main draw of the series) are repeated throughout the text, so readers will clearly remember the attributes of the “dark haired”, “long legged” heroine. And just in case we might forget:

“You’ve got a terrific pair of knockers,” said the man in the powder-blue jumpsuit.

vampirella3_back