“Let’s all go up to the top of the west wing and look for that missing room!”
So I think we can all agree at this point that the 1971 Dark Shadows comic strip is extremely dangerous, and must be stopped. I’ve been spending the last two weeks writing about this hazardous spin-off — it seemed like a good idea at the time — and now I’m starting to understand just what I’ve unleashed.
The Dark Shadows comic strip premiered on March 14, 1971 — and within three weeks, the show was cancelled. Then the strip just kept on going, sauntering away from this obvious patricide and looking for new worlds to destroy.
So far, the comic strip has kicked out most of the cast. It’s defanged Barnabas, turning his senseless, selfish crimes into a tepid “bite of love” that doesn’t even draw blood. It’s rewritten his never-ending war with Angelique into a failed ploy to get Barnabas to join up with Mr. Sinestra, some sea cow in a caftan we’ve never heard of. It’s even killed Carolyn’s dog.
And now it’s coming for us.
There’s only one thing that we can do — fight fire with fire, even if it’s the cool green flame of witch’s fire. We have to unwrite the comic strip, and make sure that it never exists. I am being completely serious about this.
There’s a fire that isn’t a fire, burning icy cold in a room that isn’t a room, in a comic strip that isn’t published anymore, based on a television show that’s been cancelled. The comic strip is reprinted in a book that’s out of print, telling stories that aren’t stories to a reader who’s hardly reading them. And that book — sitting right here, next to me — is fizzing and popping with unreal energy. It is boiling with useless ideas.
Carolyn: I thought I saw a fire in the top-floor room in the west wing corner, but I guess it was a mistake…
Barnabas: Undoubtedly it was, my dear. Don’t you remember? There is no chamber in that corner of the house!
Carolyn: Mother thinks my hallucination was caused by light reflecting on the window… so that it looked like a fire. But if there’s no room up there… there can’t be a window either! What did I see?
Barnabas: There’s only one way to get to the bottom of your “hallucination,” Carolyn! Let’s all go up to the top of the west wing and look for that missing room!
They don’t find it, of course, because there is no room, and there is no fire, this isn’t Collinwood, and that doesn’t even look like Carolyn.
Barnabas stands in the family cemetery, next to the unmarked headstone for an infant ancestor never buried here.
Thomas: I am Thomas Collins, your kinsman! Or should I say… I would have been your kinsman. For now, although you can see me, I do not exist!
Barnabas: B-but that isn’t possible! I touch you… and feel flesh, bone and sinew!
Thomas: True! I was human enough yesterday and today, and I will be no less tomorrow… but after that, I will vanish into the region beyond time and life itself!
“I dare not say more!” said Barnabas, in thinks, back in part one. “They must never know that all the tortured undead can see spirits of the haunted past!”
We thought this was angst, or just Barnabas showing off again, but it was actually part of his viral marketing campaign, advertising his consulting service that helps the has-beens and the never-were.
In a burning bedroom, Agnes Collins and her newborn son burn, and burn again.
Barnabas: The fire — icy cold! But how…?
Thomas: Do not try to understand… yet! And it would be useless to try rescuing those victims. The barrier of time will keep you from entering — for that fire happened in the year 1772… exactly two hundred years ago!
Which is interesting, because Barnabas was born in 1770. The Collinwood of exactly two hundred years ago was exactly inhabited by Barnabas’ exact family, except that it wasn’t, because Collinwood wasn’t built yet.
But the comic strip has erased Barnabas’ past completely. Joshua and Naomi, Jeremiah and Josette — they are lost to us forever, replaced by a random assortment of old-timey names. Barnabas walks the earth alone, or at least wishes that he could.
Barnabas: Why have you shown me that scene of unreality, Thomas? Who are those people doomed to death by fire?
Thomas: The answer is hidden in the family histories, my kinsman. But let me warn you — what is written there is false!
Barnabas: What? Dude, are you trolling me? What the fuck is going on?
Barnabas: It is a tragic story, Thomas… how Esau Collins murdered his brother, and permitted the wife and infant son to die in a fire!
Thomas: Yes… a tragedy of the past… the present… and the future, Barnabas!
Barnabas: Yeah, you keep saying things like that. Now, what I’m trying to —
Thomas: Resting in the unmarked grave is the infant son, William Collins… buried there by Esau!
Barnabas: Right, because —
Thomas: Had he been rescued, William would have been my ancestor! And so I am doomed to walk this blessed earth as one of the… unborn!
Barnabas: See, you not existing is starting to feel less tragic than it used to.
Barnabas: That would be altering the course of history! No mortal has that power!
Thomas: Mortals cannot… but the Fates can! Midnight tomorrow is our last chance to change history… for another hundred years!
Thomas: Every hundred years, after an important event, the kind Fates offer mortals an opportunity to change history!
Barnabas: Well, what counts as an important —
Thomas: There is a three-day grace period… events of the past can be undone, the future slightly altered! I thought you had realized that!
Barnabas: Yeah, no. I didn’t get a graduate degree in whatever you’ve been smoking. Let’s go over this again.
Tomorrow: The Do-Over.
— Danny Horn