“How strange to think that such a place could trap one forever!”
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, says Beth, as she slips off the cliff, and into something less comfortable. Running away from her lover, she throws herself off of a mountain and into the sea, which is just like what happened to Josette, except this time it’s Beth and nobody cares.
So Love is dead, as a motivating force behind soap opera storytelling. It had a nice long run, but nothing lasts forever, especially in this town. Beth is dead, and Amanda is gone, and Angelique has vanished, and Kitty is turning into Josette, and Judith has decided to concentrate on vengeance and nothing else. As far as heterosexual love stories go, there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver.
We’re currently stumbling through the dying days of the 1897 storyline, and this week is especially grim. The next five episodes are wall-to-wall villains and henchmen, each one entirely devoted to exterminating all of the others. Count Petofi, Reverend Trask, Charles Tate, Evan Hanley, Tim Shaw, Aristede — it’s the entire 1897 rogues’ gallery, minus the ones that we like.
In fact, tomorrow, one of the villains decides to kill another villain by using a third villain to summon a brand-new fourth villain, who then marches around for the rest of the week strangling literally every single person that he sees.
Dark Shadows is currently taking place in a post-apocalyptic world, with the few scattered survivors driving around in the desert, and challenging each other to Thunderdome cage matches. So, fine, if that’s how they feel about things, we might as well skip the show today, and go read another comic book.
It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with Gold Key’s Dark Shadows comic book, which has been running alongside the TV show, offering the public its own bonkers take on the misadventures of eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins.
Today, I want to take a look at issue #5, “The Curse of Collins Isle”, which came out in May 1970. In this story, a mostly-mortal Barnabas basically rejects the concepts of society and sanity, in order to brawl with an irrational villain in the least efficient way possible. In other words, it’s late 1969 Dark Shadows.
One surprising thing about the comic book series is that it actually makes an effort to keep up with current events on the TV show, in its own way. The first two issues are concerned with battles between Barnabas and Angelique, who even called herself Cassandra at one point. In issue #3, Barnabas has been released from his vampire curse, an angry spirit pushes over a grandfather clock, and Professor Stokes holds a seance, as seen in the TV show circa early ’69. Issues #4 and 5 both feature werewolves, and then Quentin moves into present-day Collinwood in #6.
The other contemporary Dark Shadows spinoff media — the Paperback Library gothic romances, and the 1971 comic strip — are only based on the TV show in the vaguest possible way, essentially taking the concepts of “Barnabas Collins” and “Collinwood,” and then just doing whatever the hell they want. But the Gold Key comics actually acknowledge that there’s a television show going on, including characters who aren’t named Barnabas. Naturally, the comics are also bug-ass crazy, so you get all this faithful fanservice combined with the most lunatic comic book thinking. That is why I love this series.
So let’s get to the latest four-color curse. At the start of the story, Barnabas is sitting around the dining room table at Collinwood as his friends toast his health, because he’s settled down and stopped slaughtering everybody. This is an important lesson for the teenagers of 1970, who everybody hopes will cut their hair, and stop provoking Hells Angels at rock concerts.
Somebody knocks on the front door, and when Barnabas answers, he finds a piece of paper with a paw print on it. This is apparently how dogs play practical jokes. Following a trail, he hurries to the family cemetery, and he finds a paw print on the grave of Daphne Collins, who died at age 17 in the early 1700s. The Collins family has a hard time holding on to its ancestors.
“William Starbuck has returned to DESTROY all who bear the name of Collins!” Barnabas muses furiously, clenching his fist. “Collins Isle no longer holds him prisoner!”
Naturally, the readers aren’t surprised by the idea of somebody returning to destroy the Collins family; that happens in basically every Dark Shadows story from 1969 on. But what is Collins Isle, and why are people held prisoner there? The comic then enters a lengthy flashback sequence, which spends eleven pages explaining the wrong thing.
So here we are in the 1700s, before Angelique’s curse, when Barnabas was just a hapless teenager, hanging out with his best friend outside Starbuck Mercantile.
“Jonas! Jonas Starbuck!” says Barnabas, greeting his friend Jonas Starbuck. Everyone in the comic book says each other’s names on an average of once per always, because nobody trusts the artist to render a recognizable set of features from one panel to the next. “What causes such sadness, dear friend?”
Young Jonas explains that he’s worried, because he wants to find his own way in life, while his father insists that he take over the family coffee shop.
Suddenly, Mr. Starbuck bursts through the door, pointing at Barnabas. “Jonas! Get away from him!” he hollers, like Barnabas is a rival barista who still wishes people Merry Christmas.
Starbuck issues a verbal tweetstorm. “It’s you who has turned my son away from me, Barnabas Collins! You and your talk of seeking one’s own way in life! BAH!”
He actually says it — BAH! — and he means it to sting, too. You can’t get away with seeking your own way in life with William Starbuck around. Even discussing it cranks the guy up like you wouldn’t believe. He’s been relentlessly hammering the espresso machine all morning, and now he’s ready to let the world have it.
Obviously, this war is entirely on Starbuck’s side. Barnabas just stands there, thinking, What? I didn’t even say anything. All I asked was what causes such sadness, and then suddenly the world went apeshit.
But despite their differences, the one thing that everybody agrees on is that everything is Barnabas’ fault. Over the next four pages, he stands around in the background, and he has two lines — “Jonas! What is happening?” and “NO!!” — which makes it a little difficult to figure out how he’s to blame. I guess that’s what happens when you have a single main character; everything has to revolve around him. He doesn’t really do anything to assist the unfolding tragedy, but it happens under his administration.
“You have defied me once too often!” Starbuck hollers at his son, who has not defied him in any way. “I have arranged passage for you to Europe! You will study there to become a MERCHANT!” I’m not sure why Jonas needs to go to all that trouble, just to learn how to sell coffee. This feels to me like a tall problem in a venti cup.
So Jonas sails away to college, and he comes back with dark eye makeup and prominent cheekbones. He’s also got a devilish new European friend — Count Villalobos, from the country of Europe — who has introduced him to a whole new set of extra-curricular activities.
“You must not forget that you are no longer your own master!” says the Count. “I am, Jonas… I AM!” This is apparently what happens when you go to merchant school in Europe.
Naturally, Jonas has no time for his ranting dad anymore. “Be quiet, old man!” he says, sassing back. “I have not returned to listen to your constant drivel!” This is the one dramatically convincing moment in the entire story; that’s exactly what I was like after my first semester in college, too.
Meanwhile, Count Villalobos hurtles through the background, in constant undefined motion. Nobody ever walks anywhere in this comic book; you’re either standing still, or you’re in full gallop. It must be all the caramel macchiatos.
Under the light of the full moon, Jonas and his pal turn into pointy-eared wolf creatures, and they go out on the town. Villalobos talks about finding victims, but what they actually do in this state is never mentioned. They just run off to meet their awaiting victims, and the next day, nobody seems to have noticed. Whatever it is that they think they’re doing, they apparently need to get there at top speed.
But you can’t get away from a Starbuck; there’s one on every corner. Intent on getting his son back to the coffee shop where he belongs, William loads a gun with silver bullets, and gets ready to blame Barnabas.
Now, you’ll want to pay close attention to these panels, because this is where we see Barnabas’ involvement in the ensuing mayhem.
Step 1: Barnabas peeks around a corner, and observes William holding a gun.
Step 2: William points the gun at Count Villalobos, and explains his plan. Lagging behind, Barnabas asks, “Jonas! What is happening?”
Step 3: The world goes mad. Villalobos lunges at William, who fires his gun and manages to kill both Villalobos and Jonas with one bullet, which is impressive. Barnabas stands on the sidelines and says “NO!!” and therefore everything is his fault.
So, I don’t know. I don’t see where Barnabas enters the picture, blame-wise. Was it just the bad advice that he gave Jonas about living his own life?
I mean, it’s true that Jonas seeking his own way in life has turned out to be an utter disaster. I suppose some people are good at seeking their own way, and some people just aren’t, and Jonas falls squarely in category number two. Still, Barnabas’ bad advice was like six mistakes ago.
But try explaining that to Starbuck. “You, Barnabas Collins!” says the grieving father, transformed into a werewolf by the Count’s bite.
It was YOU who has caused me to kill my only son! You will pay, Barnabas Collins… your FAMILY will pay!
I will destroy ALL who bear the Collins name… when the moon is full!
Man, they really know how to do flashbacks in the comic book, don’t they? It’s amazing. There’s five more pages of this.
Then the wolf man attacks Daphne, whoever she is, and she dies, as Daphnes tend to do on Dark Shadows. She expires with the traditional Gold Key shriek. EEEEEEE EEE, she emits, refusing to go gentle into that good night.
“We were helpless!” Barnabas reflects, in the aftermath. “There was nothing we could do!” This is obviously completely false, as we learned two pages ago. The recipe is pretty simple: gun, silver bullets, pull the trigger. William managed to kill two werewolves with one shot, and he was an amateur.
But no, Barnabas has to make everything complicated. He studies some books and finds out that people in Count Villalobos’ country know the cure for lycanthropy, although if that’s true, then why didn’t they use it on Count Villalobos? Maybe this is Barnabas’ fault after all.
So now we finally introduce the Curse of Collins Isle, as promised in the title. Barnabas is sailing to Europe, apparently solo, and on his way out to sea, he passes a lonely crag.
The entirety of the information that we have on Collins Isle is contained in the next two panels. Here’s what we get:
There is Collins Isle! Named for my forebear who discovered it! None have ever set foot there… nor could one leave if marooned upon it!
How strange to think that such a place could trap one forever!
And that’s it. The curse of Collins Isle is that it’s really far out to sea, and you can’t escape from it. Keep that in mind, because this is going to come up again.
Naturally, William has stowed away on the ship, and he transforms into a werewolf. This is the first of several utterly pointless tussles between Barnabas and the wolf, where they drag each other around, and the wolf man opens his mouth a lot.
There are two panels during this battle sequence where the creature is clearly just on the verge of biting Barnabas, and then in the next panel, Barnabas is mysteriously a foot away.
Meanwhile, the werewolf is saying GRWRRR, which is the universally recognized sound effect for growling. GRRWRR, the werewolf says, as Barnabas picks up a stick and defends himself. GRWWRRRR. GRWRRR.
Barnabas heroically falls off the side of the ship, but he manages to grab a rope, while the wolf tumbles into the sea, problem solved.
Barnabas wonders if the creature could have made its way to Collins Isle — but if he did, then he’ll be trapped there for the rest of his life, surrounded by the implacable raging sea, because that is how Collins Isle works.
Except the next thing you know, Barnabas is standing on the coastline, within easy walking distance of Collins Isle. Apparently the tide went out, and he could just stroll over to it. This defies every single thing that we know about Collins Isle.
And then there’s this thing about 200 years, which is not explained in even the vaguest way. “After 200 years on Collins Isle, the werewolf has returned to fulfill his curse!” says Barnabas, and then, “A freak of nature, an uncommon tide has freed William Starbuck from the place which has held him for 200 years!”
That’s it; that’s all the information that we get on the 200 years. When I first read this, I had to go back through the story to see where it was established that being on Collins Isle — this thin rocky spire that has no apparent vegetation, or even a flat surface to sit down on — would keep a person alive for two centuries. It had not been established in any way. It’s moments like this, that make you appreciate the importance of establishment.
Oh, and another thing: “There is Collins Isle!” Barnabas said four pages ago, as he passed by in his ship. “Named for my forebear who discovered it!” And if that rock needed a Collins forebear to discover it, then everybody else must have been extremely inattentive. Also, it was obviously named for Alexandra Moltke Isles, so Barnabas is wrong on every count.
Anyway, all of this introductory palaver is just to explain the latest menace that haunts the Collins family, i.e. an Angry Person from the Past.
The Angry Person from the Past archetype is very important in the Dark Shadows spinoff media; if you’ll recall, the 1971 comic strip also opens with a story about Lucas Penrose Bell, another ghoul with a grudge who’s been exterminating Collins family members for centuries.
This is actually the comic book series’ third Angry Person from the Past in a row — issue #3, “Return for Revenge”, featured a Native American who takes exception to Jebediah Collins’ behavior two hundred years ago, and issue #4, “The Man Who Could Not Die”, was about Devlin Collins, who was pissed off about things that happened in the mid 1600s. The Collins family has been full of jerks for as far back as anyone can remember.
The Angry Person from the Past is an irresistible trope for Dark Shadows spinoff material, because it lets you generate villains without having to trouble yourself over how to get the present-day family involved. The foundational Angry Person from the Past is Quentin’s ghost, who popped up out of nowhere to take his revenge, based on a mysterious backstory that they didn’t actually figure out for months.
There were proto-APPs before then — Laura, Barnabas and Angelique all came to present-day Collinwood with some kind of pre-existing grudge — but Quentin’s ghost was the first one to show up with no clear agenda besides a general interest in burning Collinwood to the ground. William Starbuck, Devlin Collins and Lucas Penrose Bell are all copycats, following in Quentin’s footsteps. After a while, the TV show starts doing this, too.
With an unseen growling monster haunting the premises, Julia decides that Barnabas must have turned back into a vampire, so she goes and prepares a new series of de-vamping injections. You can tell that Julia is a doctor, by the way, because she wears a white lab coat in every scene.
Bafflingly, Barnabas decides that he has to face the werewolf on his own, because he created the monster (except he didn’t) and he’s the only one who can stop it (except he can’t). He literally sprints away from Julia, who’s only trying to help. “She will understand later why I must do this myself!” he cries, except she won’t, and neither will I.
So Barnabas rejects his greatest advantage, which is that he’s part of a social structure that would be eager to help him, if he would only stop running around long enough to ask.
Still, it’s nice that Barnabas isn’t the monster anymore. The last time we checked in with the comic books, he was a non-stop murder machine, constantly plotting against the innocent strangers who happened to wonder if there was something odd about him. But comic book Barnabas has matured slightly, and he’s now pretty much in line with how he acts in the series, except comic book Barnabas hits people with shovels.
William Starbuck has had two hundred years alone on Collins Isle to think things over, and he’s still come up with the same crackpot conclusion, namely: kill the Collinses.
So Barnabas rushes off to the cemetery, for more inconclusive grappling. “He has the strength of a beast!” Barnabas gasps, which he already knew from the last fight scene, six pages ago.
The monster grabs him and goes GRWWLL, and that’s when Barnabas decides to say it with shovels, dealing a blow upside the creature’s head with a satisfying KLAK. That is the sound that a werewolf’s head makes when you hit it with a shovel. Now you know.
Then Barnabas has an amazing idea, which he explains in the panel above, moving so quickly that his body defies anatomy. Check out that running pose! And he’s doing that in slacks, too.
Anyway, the idea is to lure Starbuck back to Collins Isle, which is still right over there, within running distance from downtown Collinsport. “The island has held him for two hundred years!” Barnabas explains. “I will lead him there! What matter if we are both doomed?”
So again, the American reading public says: What? If you can just walk across to the island when the tide goes out, then what is the issue? Tides happen all the time.
So that’s what they go and do, just run all the way to Collins Isle, which as far as I’m concerned is not even an island. Barnabas makes some sort of mouth noise about the tide covering “the bridge to the land,” but I no longer listen to anything Barnabas Collins has to say about topography. Never again.
But we all have our own Collins Isle, don’t we, a place where we leave our problems that are too much trouble to solve, a way for us to tell the world: go away, I can’t deal with this right now. Collins Isle is Barnabas’ junk drawer for spare lunatics.
Barnabas and the wolf clamber up a crag, engaging in fisticuffs. This would be a perfect opportunity for Barnabas to pull out his gun and pump a couple silver bullets into his opponent, but he forgot to bring one.
They just kind of thrash around for a couple pages, and finally Barnabas yells I WILL NOT SUFFER THE FATE OF LIVING DEATH AGAIN! and he punches the werewolf right in the kisser. SOK!
Then Barnabas falls off the cliff and into the water.
Eventually, he drifts toward the mainland, where Julia finds him. She says, “The tide was not fully in! The waves could not claim you!” which is apparently an explanation for something.
Julia apologizes to Barnabas for not trusting him, but he says, “Do not feel badly, Dr. Hoffman… Who could expect to understand the things I understand?” Who indeed.
According to Barnabas, William Starbuck will be trapped on Collins Isle for another two hundred years, until the bicentennial tide goes out again, and he’ll jog away, to wreak once more his hideous revenge. But for now, at least, the endless battle has ended. The villains have defeated each other, as they always have and always will.
Someday — perhaps within our lifetimes — there will be a cease-fire in 1897. All the baddies will finish destroying each other, and Barnabas will wash up on the shore of 1969, returning to his best friend Julia, who will help him to his feet, and listen attentively to whatever nonsense comes out of his mouth. The lesson of “The Curse of Collins Isle” is that friendship is more important than understanding anything about the sea.
Tomorrow: The Killing Club.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
There’s an ugly tape edit near the beginning of Tate’s first scene, when he flips Quentin’s portrait around.
In act 2, Aristede steps on Tate’s line:
Tate: You can go grovel at the feet of your master, and maybe he’ll take you back.
Aristede: Don’t you und–
Tate: And then again, maybe he won’t.
Aristede: Don’t you understand, that’s what I’m afraid of!
When we see Tate painting over Quentin’s portrait, there’s a huge thump from offstage, like a plastic barrel falling over.
Tate really doesn’t have a good handle on his lines today; there’s a lot of awkward pauses and peeks at the teleprompter, especially in his scene with Barnabas.
Tomorrow: The Killing Club.
— Danny Horn