Dark Shadows | Issue #15

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

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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.

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The Vampires of Finistère (Guardians #4)

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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)

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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.”

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Dark Shadows (Issue # 9)

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Dark Shadows, Issue #9
Creatures in Torment
Gold Key Comics | May 1971

Hans Silber, hunter of supernatural beasts, follows the rumors of mysterious happenings to Collinwood, where he vows to flush out and destroy any unnatural creatures with his pistol loaded with silver bullets. Accompanying him is his companion, Desdemona, a deceased young woman trapped between life and death in her still animated, undead body, desperately wishing for her own spirit to be released. Posing as a princess recently moved to Collinsport, Desdemona acts as Silber’s divining rod, pointing out the potential targets for his self-appointed mission of cleansing those not belonging to the mortal world.

Deflected in her suspicions of Barnabas Collins (who bluffs an offer to show her the village church), Desdemona instead happens upon Quention Collins transforming into his wolfen state under the light of the full moon. Recognizing a kindred cursed spirit, she immediately falls in love with Quentin, vowing to protect him from Silber’s murderous intentions. Although thinking him innocent, Desdemona nonetheless fingers Barnabas as the targeted creature of the night to Silber, who puts a deadly trap into motion.

Quickly developing into a doomed love triangle of sorts between Quentin, Desdemona, and Silber, this issue puts Barnabas more into the role of observer—with Julia Hoffman trailing behind in her perpetual state of worry. The canon of werewolf lore is probably violated here, with the freshly bitten victim transforming immediately into a newly created werewolf, allowing the conclusion’s attempt at poetic justice.

Rather than establishing any sort of elaborate guise, seekers of the supernatural in Collinsport need only to stand watch outside The Blue Whale, where any number of victims have stumbled out the doors into the waiting arms of monsters.

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Night of the Vampire

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Night of the Vampire
Raymond Giles | Avon Books | 1969 | 176 pages

Come back! Come back to Sanscoeur! Come back, come back, come back!”

An insidious telepathic call compels a group of childhood friends to return to the their hometown after many years of absence. Before drifting off on their separate paths, the children impetuously formed a coven, performing a satanic ritual committing themselves to the dark arts—with fatal repercussions for breaking up the group. Duffy Johnson, now a psychiatrist treating his wife Roxanne for her self-diagnosed case of lycanthropy, fears that their long-ago game of the occult has unleashed a terrible present danger.

As the gathered friends begin dying violent deaths, suspicious townspeople begin to blame Duffy’s wife, believing her lycanthropy to be genuine. Although not part of the original coven, Roxanne also spent her childhood in Sanscouerville, only fleeing after a violent murder under the full moon indicated the return of her reputed family curse. Much of the story tension derives from the question of whether or not she is an actual werewolf, while more fundamental questions (“How did the original coven morph into a group of shape-shifting vampires?”) go without answer.

Surprisingly slow and dry for a book containing occult rituals, vampire covens, and werewolf attacks, the generically titled Night of the Vampire contains somewhere within its text a more exciting, pulpier story (Wolf-Girl Versus the Vampire Cult, perhaps) struggling to claw its way out.

Dark Shadows (Issue #8)

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Dark Shadows, Issue #8
The Vampire Trap
Gold Key Comics | February 1971

Barnabas Collins’ inexplicably on-again-off-again curse is back “ON” at the start of issue eight, The Vampire Trap. His blood thirst is thwarted when his intended victim drives him away with a concealed crucifix. Meanwhile, another member of the Collins family grapples with a supernatural affliction, as Quentin Collins locks himself away in a basement cell at Collinwood. In order to keep the residents of the village safe, his only recourse during the full moon—and his inevitable transformation into a wolf—is to imprison himself until the safety of the morning light.

Complicating the struggles of the afflicted Collins family members is the appearance of a mysterious guest at the great house. At the behest of Elizabeth Collins, self-processed student of the occult Ambrose Tybalt arrives at Collinwood to study the family history. Although Julia Hoffman fears that he intends to uncover Barnabas’ terrible secret, Tybalt may have a more sinister motivation at hand.

Although the victims of the failed vampire attack ultimately wrap up the story by resolving the danger presented by Tybalt, the strength of this issue derives not from the supporting characters, but from Barnabas and Quentin grappling with the burden of their respective curses.

Brooding questions of morality aside, the cover dispenses with the photo stills from the television series to deliver a cool image of Barnabas rising from his coffin, and the story panels feature a number of action-packed scenes, as indicated:

Transformations: 4
Physical Altercations: 3
Vampire attacks: 2
Stakings: 1
Seances: 0

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Dark Shadows (Issue #6)

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Dark Shadows, Issue #6
Awake to Evil
Gold Key Comics | August 1970

Following a series of brutal attacks in Collinsport, Barnabas suspects that Quentin has once again fallen victim to the curse that transforms him into a werewolf under the light of the full moon. While the angry townspeople turn their suspicion toward Collinwood, Barnabas moves to protect Quentin, and discovers an empty crypt in the mausoleum—leading him to the true source of the evil plaguing the town. The danger is closer than Barnabas realizes, however, as a dark magician arrives at the estate and preys upon Elizabeth.

The dark pall of Collins family history once again reaches into the present, nearly destroying the lives of the present occupants of Collinwood. This time, the nineteenth-century tomb plundering exploits of Captain Nathaniel Collins in Egypt has set in motion a chain of events that reaches across time—oh, never mind the details, Barnabas fights a mummy!

 

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Dark Shadows (Issue #5)

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Dark Shadows, Issue #5
The Curse of Collins Isle
Gold Key Comics | May 1970

Raising a glass with Professor Stokes and the rest of the Collins family, Barnabas toasts to a long life, inwardly celebrating his release from Angelique’s curse. The conviviality is short lived, however, as a vengeful creature from Barnabas’ haunted past returns to exact an old family debt. Two-hundred years previously, a local merchant named Starbuck [not the first mate of the Pequod] was inflicted with the curse of the werewolf, blaming Barnabas [and not Moby-Dick] for setting in motion the chain of circumstances leading to his malady, vowing to destroy the Collins family in retribution.

Following a shipboard struggle [not on the Pequod], with Barnabas, Starbuck was thrown overboard and stranded on desolate Collins Isle [not Robinson Crusoe Island, but that would be switching scribes], suffering his curse alone for all the intervening years. Finally escaping from his island prison, Starbuck returns to Collinwood to renew his vendetta against Barnabas. After an attack on Elizabeth Collins, Dr. Julia Hoffman, not realizing that another monster is in their midst, suspects that Barnabas has suffered a relapse of vampirism. Julia reacts in classic fashion—preparing a syringe from her medical bag.

History repeats itself as fate directs Barnabas and Starbuck to Collins Isle for another showdown, with Barnabas fighting to protect himself from falling victim to another terrible, eternal curse. Luckily for the residents of Collinwood, the tiny distance out to Collins Isle—Barnabas nearly falls back to the mainland from the island’s rocky cliffs—proves to be a most impossible swim for its returning captive lycanthrope.

[“And I only am escaped alone to tell thee?” Please tell me; I never finished Moby-Dick.]

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The Bamboo Demons (Chill #3)

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The Bamboo Demons (Chill #3)
Jory Sherman | Pinnacle Books | 1979 | 182 pages

Occult investigator Dr. Russell “Chill” Childers returns in a new adventure that takes him and his assistant, half-Sioux psychic Laura Littlefawn, to the Philippines to battle an aswang—a mythological shape-shifting demon from Filipino folklore.

Felix Bulatao, a Manila scholar well-versed in local mythology, witnesses his young friend Paco’s girlfriend Caridad being violated and torn to pieces by a creature they believe to be an aswang. This fiendish beast shares similar traits with the werewolf and vampire in Western culture, feeding on human blood (and entrails) and having the ability to change form, often to that of a large dog. Felix reaches out to Chill, author of Modern Occultism and renowned investigator of the supernatural, for help in tracking down and destroying the monster. Chill and Laura Littlefawn fly to the Philippines to meet Felix and travel to Caridad’s village, looking for clues to put them on the aswang’s trail.

During a psychic session, Laura sees a vision of a man wearing military clothes, and produces a cryptic clue in the form of a single word, “Yesterday”. While driving around the countryside, the investigative team of Chill, Laura, Felix and Paco encounter sporadic fighting amongst armed rebel groups. However, violence of a more supernatural kind descends upon the home of Paco’s parents, as the aswang attacks during the night, brutally killing—and partially eating—Paco’s father. Even while examining scenes of gory carnage, Chill takes timeout to munch on his trademark sesame sticks. [Other series checkboxes ticked off: Chill is a vegetarian who likes to make salads, Check! Chill shows great interest in vintage firearms, Check! Chill and Laura have unexpressed feelings for each other, Check!]

Since the identity of the primary aswang villain is revealed almost immediately, the story slogs along as Chill tries to catch up to the reader’s knowledge. Perhaps as a nod to the Marcos-era Philippine setting and the aswang’s role as a guerrilla leader, the play of various insurgent and governmental groups becomes important, but these passages bore when compared with less frequent encounters directly between our team members and their supernatural opponents—such as when a hypnotically beautiful female aswang visits a vulnerable Laura (during a psychic vision in the bathtub). From the initial click of the radio turning off in the next room, to Laura following her unexpected visitor outside, to her finally fainting at the site of the aswang’s physical transformation (and in the process losing her hastily-wrapped bath towel), this sequence delivers in way disappointingly absent in the rest of the story.

Occasionally, The Bamboo Demons does inspire a certain kind of monster-fighting giddiness, as the group prepares to go aswang hunting with Chill’s modified Spanish dueling pistols—loaded with his homemade bamboo-tipped ammunition. Then it’s time to pass the sesame sticks and wait for the next installment.

Secrets of Sinister House, Issue #10

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Secrets of Sinister House, Issue #10
DC Comics| March 1973

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Castle Curse
A modest farmer inherits a castle and a title from an uncle he never met, but must reside within the estate as a condition of the will. Along with great wealth, he also seems to have inherited lupine traits and a thirst for blood during the full moon. How many generations of cursed barons does it take to build a special holding cell in the dungeon?

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The Cards Never Lie
After a fortune teller marks him for death at the hands of the “King of Spades”, a small time gangster rubs out everyone he interprets as potentially being his figurative killer. But he should literally watch out for that GIANT @#$%ING CARD!

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Losing His Head!
A hunchbacked carnival worker with a crush on an abusive ventriloquist’s assistant decides to steal the box containing the performer’s dummy. Sometimes a dummy is just a dummy—no wait, they’re always EVIL.