“I must throw them off the track! The secrets which are mine must remain buried within me! Ahhh… darkness!”
“I know this is going to sound incredible,” Maggie says to Joe, “but tonight, I saw a ghost!”
Joe says, “Don’t you think you’re letting your imagination play tricks on you?” because Ron Sproat wrote the script today, and in Sproat’s world, characters never learn anything, or accumulate experiences in any way.
It’s a recap-heavy show today, in a way that they haven’t really done in a while. Maggie and Joe cover the Dream Curse and Angelique’s portrait, and then we go over to Stokes’ place, where we get a lengthy recap of Adam’s entire storyline, in the form of a word association exercise.
So, forget it. If Sproat’s not going to bother writing an actual episode today, then I’m going to go read the first issue of the Dark Shadows comic book.
The Dark Shadows comic was published by Gold Key, an imprint of Western Publishing, which had a huge slate of licensed comics going back to 1940. As a comic book publisher, Western is best known for its partnership with Dell Comics, publishing all of Carl Barks’ Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge work, as well as Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, the best-selling comic book of the 1950s.
By the time Western broke with Dell and created the Gold Key imprint in 1962, they had a lock on pretty much every licensed cartoon character, including Bugs Bunny, The Flintstones, Popeye, Bullwinkle, Woody Woodpecker and The Pink Panther.
In the mid-’60s, Gold Key broadened its focus to include teenagers, and produced a line of comics based on science-fiction and fantasy TV shows: Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Land of the Giants, The Man from UNCLE and The Time Tunnel. They also started to make inroads on the old EC Comics horror territory, with Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery.
So it was really only a matter of time before Gold Key started a Dark Shadows comic. The series ran for 35 issues, from 1969 through 1976, which is pretty much right up to the point that Gold Key fell to pieces as a money-making enterprise.
The first issue, “The Vampire’s Prey,” was written by Don Arneson, and drawn by Joe Certa. Certa also drew some Martian Manhunter comics in the ’60s and ’70s, but not any of the ones that people like. Arneson didn’t really do anything in particular.
Issue #1 has a cover date of March 1969, which means it was probably on the racks around December 1968. This is a bit further than we’ve reached on the show, but this is where the story belongs, chronologically. Angelique is living at Collinwood and calling herself Cassandra, Julia and Willie are Barnabas’ loyal friends, and the story kicks off with a description of Barnabas chaining up Reverend Trask behind a brick wall.
So there’s a big difference between this approach, and the other spin-off material we’ve looked at so far. Both the House of Dark Shadows movie and the revival series were remakes of the 1967 storyline, and the Marilyn Ross romance novels created their own alternate timeline that drifted away from anything happening on the show.
The comic book is following a different path, keeping more or less within the continuity of the TV show. This is basically a missing adventure for Barnabas, Angelique and Julia, taking place during some quiet moment when Adam and Nicholas are otherwise occupied. Gold Key knew that teenagers were passionate about Dark Shadows, and they would expect the comic to feel like an extension of the show.
But an adaptation of Dark Shadows has its own unique problems, because it’s based on a soap opera rather than a weekly prime-time show. Star Trek and Land of the Giants had an essentially static premise, with a stable group of characters, and an episode structure that always returned to the status quo. But Dark Shadows, as a daily serial, would spin wildly away on tangents, so it was a bit of a moving target if you wanted to stay current with the story.
So the comic is essentially an expression of what the audience considered to be the core elements of the show in mid-1968. It’s a sealed environment, where they can figure out what you need to preserve when you continue this story in a different medium.
Well, for starters, you don’t need the Collins family. The one contemporary Collins in the issue is Elizabeth, and she only appears in the epilogue.
Instead, the story introduces two generic college kids named Dave and Ed, who have sailed to Collinsport for a visit. Dave is the great-great-nephew of Reverend Trask, and he’s writing his thesis on his ancestor’s mysterious disappearance. I’m not sure which college is sponsoring a degree program in vanishing witch hunter studies, but I guess anything’s better than business school.
I can’t say a lot of good things about the art, which looked dated even in 1968. At the time, John Romita was doing beautiful things on Amazing Spider-Man, and Neal Adams was just getting started on Batman and Superman. There was an attention to detail at Marvel and DC in the late ’60s, raising the baseline quality of comic book art, and setting a tone that would carry them through the next five decades.
Meanwhile, the characters in the Dark Shadows comic look flattened and stiff, posing in front of static backgrounds. The likenesses change from one panel to another, all of them registering various iterations of ugly. Overall, there’s a crushing sense of “that’ll do,” because Gold Key knew that kids would buy a Dark Shadows comic even if it looked awful.
In the short-term, they were correct, so hooray for low standards, but in the long-term, this is why we don’t have a Gold Key Cinematic Universe.
Meanwhile, in the background, the settings look like absolutely nothing on this Earth. There’s just a random set of objects and architectural features, arranged haphazardly behind the characters with no specific plan. There are several panels where you can’t actually tell whether the characters are supposed to be inside or outside.
The dialogue’s not winning any prizes, either. It’s functional rather than decorative, and the characters all say each other’s names at least once every page. Ed is especially devoted to this practice. Sample lines include: “Come on, Dave! You make it sound as if I don’t want to find him… and I do!” and “I’ve got the feeling it’s going to be weird, Dave… whatever it is!”
Hearing that the boys are at the Blue Whale asking questions about Reverend Trask, Barnabas rushes downtown to put them off the scent. He does this rather comprehensively, spending four hours telling them every lie that he can think of.
After this marathon gab session, Barnabas realizes that dawn is breaking, and he turns into a bat to fly home. He’s spotted by a blonde girl on the docks, who says “EEEEEEEE EEEEE.”
Now, the real mystery of this story is who the hell this girl is supposed to be. Presumably, she’s a resident of Collinsport, but nobody seems to be responsible for her in any way. The boys find her passed out on the street, and they basically adopt her, taking her to their boat to recover from her terrifying bat-witnessing ordeal. There’s no explanation for what she was doing walking around on the docks at the crack of dawn.
But this is standard operating procedure for characters in action/adventure stories; you only give them the characteristics that they absolutely need in order to get to the next plot point. Dave and Ed are curious college students who own a boat. Jane is a pretty girl. There is nothing else that you need to know about them.
We finally get to Angelique, who suddenly turns up in the middle of a page, saying, “Well, well, Barnabas! How are you, dear Barnabas?” This is my favorite line in the comic, and I’m planning to use it as a greeting the next time someone comes over to my house.
There’s no explanation for why the witch is living at Collinwood. In her first panel, Barnabas refers to her as Cassandra, but she calls herself Angelique on the next page, and that’s what everybody calls her from then on. Her face is about thirty percent eyebrow-related.
The blonde girl — whose name is Jane, not that it matters — has told the boys that she saw a guy with a cape turn into a bat, which has the potential to go badly for Barnabas if anyone cares, which on the whole they don’t.
But Angelique is concerned that Barnabas might be exposed, so she invites the guys over, and tells them a cockamamie story about Reverend Trask drowning in a boat accident.
“Then we’ll dive for the sunken ship!” Dave says. “Maybe there are papers, diaries… anything that might give us a clue!” Nobody points out that diaries that have been underwater for two hundred years aren’t usually very helpful. You just can’t talk to some people.
This leads into a six-page scuba-diving sequence, apparently because the artist wanted to draw somebody scuba-diving.
Dave, Ed and Jane sail their boat out to the spot where Angelique told them Trask’s ship went down, and we get a little generic “Dave and Jane are attracted to each other” action. As the third wheel in the romance subplot, Ed has nothing better to do but strap on his scuba gear and go looking for treasure.
As it turns out, there actually is a chest under the water, just where Angelique said it would be. As Ed struggles to pick up the chest, the lid opens, and —
So this panel is basically the entire explanation for why Gold Key ran out of steam in the mid-70s.
As far as I can figure, Mr. Arneson and Mr. Certa, two comic book professionals, put their heads together and said, Dark Shadows has suddenly become a national sensation, thrilling housewives and teenagers with its unique blend of romance, intrigue and suspense. What can we, as two comic book professionals, offer to the reading public that would enhance the audience’s enjoyment of the ongoing story?
After careful consideration, they came up with the idea that Angelique would protect Barnabas’ secret by crouching inside an old box, and then popping out and saying “EEEEE EEEEEEEEEE EEEE.”
I mean, it works. Obviously, it works; it’s a foolproof plan. But what does it accomplish, exactly?
Okay, cut to Barnabas and Julia, who are standing around in one of those rooms that’s basically like a hallway, except it has couches along the walls, and a fireplace, and wall-to-wall carpeting, and occasional tables, and a vase, and a clock, and what appears to be a life-size bronze casting of Li’l Sebastian.
I’ve just spent several minutes looking at this panel, and honestly, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s like a window into an entirely different world. All you have to do is pick any two objects in the room, and then try to figure out how gravity works. Go ahead, give it a spin. It’s crazy, right?
Anyway, it turns out that Ed drowned in the scuba-diving scene, and Dave and Jane were vaguely injured in some way that makes them lie around in hospital beds and take up space.
Ed’s ghost shows up — totally pissed off about how this all went down — and he wants revenge on Barnabas, although technically what happened wasn’t really Barnabas’ fault at all.
Ed’s still in his bathing suit, by the way. Apparently that’s what happens when you die, you just keep on wearing your bathing suit forever.
Ed’s vow of revenge kicks off a seven-page sequence where Barnabas just runs back and forth, and has absolutely no idea what’s going on.
He knows that he needs to silence Jane, but Ed’s ghost wakes her up, and sends her down to the docks. It’s not clear whether Jane is currently injured, or sick, or just sleepy, or whatever. She’s a pretty girl, so she basically does whatever she’s told.
Then Ed’s ghost embarks on a complicated Ocean’s Eleven scheme. He leaves a note that says that Jane’s at the boat, and then he calls the police and tells them that a girl is about to be attacked on the dock.
Now, you might ask why a ghost has to use a pay phone. You might also ask why he needs to get Barnabas, Jane and the police down to the docks at the exact same time, instead of just staging the whole thing at the hospital, which would be more convenient for everybody. The answer to both of these questions is that I don’t know.
So Barnabas runs from Collinwood to the hospital, and then to the docks, while everyone else basically ignores him. Barnabas doesn’t do a single productive thing in this entire story, which is remarkably faithful to the source material.
Then Angelique’s spirit enters Jane’s body and takes control. I’m not one hundred percent sure why she does this. After her first scene showing the map to Dave and Ed, Angelique only appears in ghost form for the rest of the story. I’d tell you more about this, but it makes my head hurt, and I have other things to do.
Now, here’s where things start to get a little complex. Angelique’s plan is to interfere with Ed’s plan, by inhabiting Jane’s body and getting strangled by Barnabas just before the police arrive. The problem that I have, reading-comprehension-wise, is that Angelique’s plan sounds exactly the same as Ed’s plan.
At one point, Angelique says, “The police! I’ll make sure they’re NOT close when YOU find me, Barnabas!” which is kind of a hard concept to get your mind around.
Anyway, Barnabas locates Jane, and says, “I must still her voice,” and then he just goes ahead and kills her. So that’s in a comic book now.
The implication is that this is how the audience sees Barnabas’ character at this point in the series. If you’re looking for the moment when we’re all supposed to think that Barnabas is a sympathetic character looking out for the best interests of the Collins family, then clearly that has not kicked in yet.
Jane is picked up by an ambulance, and she’s pronounced dead on the way to the hospital. But then Angelique’s spirit leaves the girl’s body, which brings her back to life somehow.
This leaves us exactly where we were ten pages ago, when Julia said that she could give Jane a shot that would make her forget about seeing Barnabas. The second half of the issue is basically just a runaround, keeping everybody moving while they’re waiting for Julia to show up and save the day.
So Dave and Jane sail away together, leaving the restless spirit of Ed just standing around in his invisible underwear.
Dave never found out what happened to Reverend Trask — they forgot all about Trask, halfway through the story — so it’s not clear what Dave’s going to do about his thesis. But he’s alive, and he’s got a groovy new chick, and maybe he can get an extension or something.
Monday: Requiem for a Dream.
The Gold Key Dark Shadows comics are available digitally through the Comixology app — The Complete Series, in very affordable bundles. At current writing, Volume 1 is $11.99, for the first 7 issues in flawless color. For this post, I was scanning from a print copy, but as of my post about issue #2 (“Halfway“), I’m reading these and taking screenshots on the Comixology app for my iPad Mini. I recommend it very highly.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the epilogue, Liz refers to herself as Elizabeth Collins, instead of her married name, Elizabeth Stoddard. In the next panel, she says, “Barnaby! Oh, you gave me a fright!” Also, the epilogue doesn’t make any goddamn sense.
Meanwhile, in the actual episode, a boom mic appears over Professor Stokes as he tells Adam to move over to the sofa. Also, when Vicki prompts Joe to leave, she says, “Come on, Jeff.”
Monday: Requiem for a Dream.
— Danny Horn