“Human, yes… except for his hatred! That’s what makes him so dangerous!”
Yesterday, sporadic vampire Barnabas Collins burned down the local antiques store, because his enemies turned him into one of the living dead, and then they didn’t know where the off switch was. This should be a lesson for us all.
But this isn’t the first time that Barnabas has been revamped, and it won’t be the last, not by a long shot. He’s been bouncing back and forth between the living and the dead for a couple of years now, and every treatment is only a reprieve, not a cure. Barnabas may long to be human again, but the audience wants fangs, and we cannot be denied our simple pleasures.
So it’s no surprise that the Gold Key Dark Shadows comic books have gone through the same cycle this year. In February 1970, the same month that flappy bat reclaimed TV Barnabas, comic book Barnabas was suddenly freed from his curse with no explanation, apparently sprung on a technicality. He mentions “the day Angelique’s curse dissolved,” and then he’s human for four issues, or as close to human as Barnabas ever gets.
But a year later — issue #8, February 1971 — the bat came back. “Barnabas Collins… the VAMPIRE!” says the caption. “Caught in a web between the lust for blood and the peace of normal life, Barnabas Collins laments his fate… even as he PREPARES TO STRIKE!”
So this is an opportunity for us to look at Barnabas’ current difficulties from another angle, and since the antiques shop is still smoldering, we might as well see what’s cooking at Gold Key Collinwood.
The story’s called “The Vampire Trap”, if you were wondering, and it starts with Barnabas yelling at the night in general.
“Dreaded night! WHY do you find me? Why must your black folds rouse me from the safety of my coffin? Why can you not pass me by until this unholy affliction is BANISHED FOREVER! Why do you urge me to DESTROY?”
He seems to have some kind of kick against the night. Personally, I don’t think the night has anything to do with it.
Then the dogs go ARROOOOOOO and the bats say EEEK! and that is what it sounds like when you’re roused from the safety of your coffin by night’s black folds.
Now, as haphazardly drawn and non-canonical as this all is, the Dark Shadows comic books aren’t as far away from the TV show as you’d expect. They use a good assortment of main characters — Elizabeth, Roger, Julia, Quentin and Professor Stokes in this story, plus Angelique popping up in some of the others.
Quentin first appeared in issue #6 (August 1970), as a contemporary character living at Collinwood who also happens to be a werewolf. On the show, Quentin’s actually been dewolfed since mid-1897 and never takes it up again, but the usual spinoff logic applies — the audience knows that Quentin’s a werewolf, and that’s the most interesting thing that he can be, so comic book Quentin is cursed and foiled again.
And, like Barnabas’ curse, there’s no explanation for why Quentin is a werewolf. He has an unspecified “disease which courses through his veins” that comes from somewhere, probably. It might be something he ate.
As always, Murder Club rules apply. This story is entirely concerned with protecting the dangerous monsters, and all of the drama arises from other people’s attempts to expose and destroy them. There’s no real sense of why this particular family of mad serial killers is crucial to the world; they just are, that’s all.
So here’s Quentin, suddenly realizing that it’s his time of the month. At the last moment, he races to one of the many empty dungeon cells that the Collins family keeps in the cellar, because you never know when you might need one. He locks himself in and throws the key out into the hallway, and there you have it, the perfect crime. He stays down there for two nights, and nobody appears to be responsible for unlocking the door and letting him out again, once it’s all over. Maybe he’s using TaskRabbit.
The above panel is the first of many impossible running shots in this story, which maybe I’m getting soft on Gold Key but it’s kind of endearing. Characters in this comic don’t really run as much as throw themselves towards the ground, which obediently gets out of the way, most of the time. The artist, Joe Certa, is not great at motion or perspective or faces or backgrounds or really anything, but every panel looks different, which counts for something.
Then there’s another great panel in the mighty Gold Key style — the transformation of Quentin into the werewolf. They’re always doing these multiple exposure panels whenever anybody turns into anything, and I love them. They allow you to choose your favorite; in this case, my pick is the kooky one in the middle who’s looking at the teleprompter.
So there’s a lot happening tonight, what with the ongoing unholy afflictions. Quentin’s locked up, but Barnabas is out there dealing with his urge to destroy. Specifically, he’s planning to destroy Annie, a reckless blonde who lives in Collinsport and still thinks it’s a good idea to go outside and look at the moon. Her boyfriend, Tad, has gone to the car to get the binoculars. This is an obvious security hole that Barnabas crashes right through.
It’s weird that they’re out here, because most Collinsport residents don’t really see the need to look at the moon. I’m sure it’s still there, they say, as they barricade the windows. If something happens to the moon, someone will probably let us know.
Luckily for Annie, she’s wearing a cross which for all I know may be mandatory by civic ordinance. This slows Barnabas down long enough for Tad to come back and not really save the day.
So here’s the question, for this story and really all Dark Shadows stories: why does Barnabas bite people?
I mean, obviously, there’s the rape culture “grab ’em by the jugular” sexual assault aspect, where removing liquid from another person’s body with your mouth makes them instantly compliant and devoted to you, which is very handy for plot point purposes and sexy-time dom-sub fantasies. But does he actually get “hungry”? Does he need blood, to survive?
This is never clear in the TV show, and it’s even more puzzling here, because this story suggests that Barnabas switches back and forth between two personalities. The caption on the first page said that he was “caught in a web between the lust for blood and the peace of normal life,” which by the way is not what being caught in a web means.
Barnabas doesn’t actually get any blood tonight, as far as we know, and tomorrow he seems perfectly fine. We can’t even use an addiction metaphor to make sense of this, because we’re not really seeing him struggling with the problem. This is two different people, who switch off on alternate nights. There’s the guy who shows up for dinner parties at Collinwood, and there’s the guy who goes hunting for humans in the woods.
Tonight, he’s out for blood; the Collinwood social scene is minus one member. After attacking Annie, Barnabas returns to his coffin, thinking, “The need that drives me is matched by my relief that my foul deed was thwarted! When will it all end? When?” And then he has to go to bed. When he gets up tomorrow evening, he’ll be in dinner party mode, and the urge to destroy will be much lower in the mix.
Now, I’m just pointing this out because I think it’s interesting to puzzle over, and not because I have a problem with people writing Barnabas this way. This is a completely appropriate way to depict the “reluctant vampire,” a role which makes very little sense but is super fun to watch.
And here’s an example — a fantastic two-panel coffin talk with a mic drop. He crawls back into the box, and croaks:
“Peace! I seek eternal peace… not this dread and terrible sleep of the dead! What will tomorrow night bring? Another victim saved… or another innocent destroyed?”
And then he just closes the box with a satisfying BLAM! and that is the end of that scene. Meanwhile, Quentin is fine. Don’t worry about Quentin.
But we’re going to need to get a plot rolling at some point, which usually means that some intruder is entering Collinwood air space, from the past or otherwise. Obviously, the status quo currently in place — mopey vampire, locked-up werewolf and never-ending dinner party — is entirely stable, a closed system with no problems. Things only get bad when some dreadful outsider busts in, to make trouble.
This time, the special guest is Ambrose Tybalt, a “student of the occult” who cold-called Elizabeth to wangle an invite.
“He says he believes that somewhere in our family line there was someone afflicted with one of the dreaded curses of the night!” says Liz. “He’d like to do some research!” She seems amazingly chipper about this bizarre project.
Now, if you ask me, there are already too many occult-tinkerers in Collinwood’s orbit for safety. But here comes Mr. Tybalt, rubbing his hands together and chuckling over his secret plans, whatever they may be.
Tybalt is a heavyset balding academic type, and at a glance, it’s not easy to tell him apart from Professor Stokes — or, as Julia calls him in the panel above, Professor Strokes. (Every version of Dark Shadows has mistakes, usually including the decision to make it at all.)
Julia’s all worked up about Mr. Tybalt’s plans, and she tries to get Stokes to intervene. When that doesn’t work, she hurtles toward the house at top speed, because suddenly it’s dusk already.
She performs an epic page-long monologue reminding herself of the stakes, and proposes a baffling plan: “He must meet Barnabas! Barnabas must stay with him until he leaves! Only then will Barnabas’ secret be safe… and his life spared!” I think this bullet-list Powerpoint presentation needs a little more detail around how these steps are supposed to achieve Julia’s objectives.
But Julia talks nonstop in this comic; she appears in 24 panels in this story, and she’s either speaking or loudly thinking in 21 of them. The only reason she pipes down in those three panels is that somebody else has so much to say that she can’t get a word in.
Then halfway through the story, she drops out completely; we see everybody else, but not Julia. Maybe she’s saving her breath for issue #10, when she travels to an island in the West Indies, and destroys a castle full of zombies using a hairpin. Seriously, that’s what she does. Do not underestimate comic book Julia.
Anyway, at this point, she heads down into the strange desert otherworld that is the Collinwood basement. Barnabas doesn’t live in a separate house in the comics; he just crashes in a coffin in the basement that nobody knows about except for Julia. I don’t know what he does when anybody asks where his bedroom is; he probably arranges for a diversion, or kills the person. After a while, people stop asking stupid questions.
Naturally, the basement is extensive enough that Julia’s never noticed that Quentin keeps himself locked up in one of the cells. She hears somebody moving around in the cell, and she finds the key on the floor where Quentin threw it. So she opens the door, like a sap.
Greeting her, the werewolf says “GRRRLLLL,” and then he manhandles her pretty comprehensively. “GGGGRRLLL,” he says, as he swats her upside the head and drops her like a bad habit.
Obviously, what the creature is trying to say is “Hey grrrlll, it looks like you’ve been running around all day. Why don’t you take a rest, and let me take care of things?” Leave it to Quentin; even as a werewolf, he’s making time with the ladies.
So the werewolf escapes, a wild beast of endless destruction, scrambling towards the outside world to run entirely amuck, but first he pauses long enough to lock the door behind him, because werewolves may be ravening maniacs but they still sweat the small stuff.
Barnabas finds Julia eventually, and oh my god she’s still talking a mile a minute. She says that he has to watch out for Tybalt, which Barnabas already figured out while she was unconscious.
Still, it’s nice to see Julia in Dark Shadows spinoff material, isn’t it? Considering this was written and drawn by people who almost never watched the show, it’s actually pretty faithful to the source material.
You could make the argument that “The Vampire Trap” is more faithful to Dark Shadows than the Leviathan story. In fact, I think I’m making that argument right now.
Meanwhile, Quentin is out in the woods, punching dogs in the face. This is what you do when you’re a werewolf, you just run outside and pick a fight with the first thing you see.
These dogs are supposed to be assisting some hunters, even though it’s nighttime. Do people go hunting at night? I know next to nothing about hunting, but it feels like that’s not an optimal situation. The hunters can’t really see what kind of animal is cleaning their dogs’ clocks, and they have a discussion about whether it’s a human or a bear. They shoot at it, just in case. This is why maybe you should wait for daylight before you shoot things.
A passing caption says “Shortly at the Blue Whale,” and then we see those same hunters, telling stories about the crazy animal they shot at in the previous panel. And when they say shortly in this story, they really mean shortly. Considering everything in the story from page 10 to page 26 inclusive happens on the same night, the only way this timeline could work is if those hunters teleported directly from the woods to the Blue Whale, while everyone else was turning the page.
But the point is that Tad hears the hunters talking, and wonders if the monster they’re describing is the one he’s looking for. Do you remember Tad? Of course not, nobody does. Tad was the boyfriend of the girl that Barnabas attacked at the beginning of the story. We didn’t really see his face in that scene, and that was 11 pages ago; also, there weren’t any clues at the time to signal that these people were important to the plot. But, surprise! It’s all part of the rich tapestry of Gold Key storytelling.
“There is something living in that house up there,” Tad muses, “something EVIL people are afraid of!” This is an ambiguous statement that may actually be the most accurate description of Dark Shadows ever written.
But Tad is going to do something about his problems. People in Gold Key Collinsport don’t sit around and reflect, they shoot first and don’t ask questions later. Tad’s going to grab some hardware and march up that hill, and then he’ll break into Collinwood, find the monster’s lair and solve some local problems. That’s how you do it in the GK. Go big or go home.
Meanwhile, up at the big house, Barnabas is enmeshed in an awkward social situation. We finally bring occult seeker Ambrose Tybalt back into the picture, nagging Barnabas for details of his life. He’s zeroed in on Barnabas as the member of the family most likely to be a supernatural hellbeast, and he keeps hammering for details until Barnabas gets sick of it and leaves the room.
Barnabas has just realized that the creature that attacked Julia must have been Quentin in werewolf form, so apparently Barnabas is aware that Quentin is a werewolf, but considers it so unimportant that it takes him most of the evening to get around to thinking of it.
Barnabas decides to go wandering into the cemetery to look for Quentin, with Tybalt in pursuit. Once Barnabas arrives at his destination, Tybalt leaps out from behind nothing in particular, to point fingers and make accusations. Barnabas wasn’t even doing anything.
Naturally, Barnabas tries to dissemble, but then he sees the werewolf sneaking up behind Tybalt. This is obviously the perfect way to end this encounter, but Barnabas has a different way of looking at things.
“Great Scott!” Barnabas says, in thinks. “Quentin! Tybalt will see him! He will think Quentin is the one he seeks… he will KILL QUENTIN!”
Now, as far as I know, Tybalt isn’t armed, and Quentin is basically a chainsaw with five o’clock shadow, so how Barnabas comes to the conclusion that Quentin is the one in danger doesn’t quite scan. But Barnabas has to do something, and you’ll never guess what he decides to do.
Yes, it’s good old Plan A, i.e., murder the person in front of you. There aren’t any antiques shops around and Barnabas doesn’t have any matches, so he just goes ahead and murders Tybalt, because that will solve everything.
Things get kind of action-oriented from here, so I’m going to take us briskly through the ensuing events.
First, Barnabas turns into a bat and flies at Tybalt, who screams, “NOW, son of Satan, NOW!”
Barnabas chomps Tybalt, and when the man lies dead and drained at his feet, he says, “He has brought my own fate to himself!” which is hard to figure. He also says, “It was the only way to save Quentin!” which simply can’t be the case.
But what do you know, it turns out that this is exactly what Tybalt was looking for anyway. He came to Collinwood hoping to find a supernatural creature so that he could become one himself, and attain eternal life. So at this point, everyone is happy and the story is over, ta-dah.
Except that Tybalt has his own unique way of looking at the world. He seems to think that he has to destroy Barnabas and take his place, because for Tybalt, I guess being a vampire is a zero-sum game. “There is room for only one Barnabas Collins! ME!” he says, and what can you even say?
I mean, at a certain point, you have to stop trying to understand the motivations of Gold Key characters, and that point is usually right here, in the last five pages of the story. So Tybalt grabs a dollop of dirt from the place where he fell, and he’s planning to carry it back to Collinwood, find Barnabas’ coffin which he apparently thinks he knows where it is, and then replace the soil from Barnabas’ grave with his own soil, which means Barnabas dies and Tybalt lives forever, hail Tybalt. This is what happens when you introduce more students of the occult into an already occult-rich environment.
Meanwhile, Tad — do you remember Tad? — Tad walks up to the front porch with two fistfuls of hardware. “You are in there somewhere!” he yells, directly in front of the house. “You have attacked your last innocent victim! Tonight… YOU DIE!”
Tad is not stealthy.
And then there’s another one of those odd tricks of time. According to this comic book story, there appears to be a period just around dawn when the werewolf turns back into Quentin, but Barnabas gets a little overtime to walk him back up to Collinwood. The comic is postulating an interim period between the moon going down and the sun coming up, which is some kind of freestyle unilluminated no-man’s-land.
So Barnabas and Quentin rejoin the dinner guests, who have apparently been partying all night long. “Quentin, Barnabas! We were just chatting! Sit down!” say the happy hosts. People really do enjoy their nightlife in Collinsport.
Downstairs, Tad — anybody remember Tad? — he’s broken all the way in, and now he’s winding his way through the trackless miles of the Collinwood subway system. Surfacing directly under the drawing room, he hears the family speaking to Barnabas, and he decides that Barnabas can’t be the creature, because otherwise, he couldn’t possibly be alive and circulating after daybreak.
Let’s take a moment to consider that. Tad is saying — correctly — that if Barnabas is a vampire, and a vampire has to return to his coffin at dawn, then Barnabas can’t be a vampire, because here it is, already dawn. But Barnabas is a vampire, and he is upstairs past dawn. So what in the wide world of sports is going on here?
As Tad exits, leaving the hammer and stake on the floor like a plate of milk and cookies by the chimney at Christmas, he does a sad little disappointment monologue.
“Maybe the whole thing is a legend! Maybe I was too ready to believe in it! The man who attacked Annie… just a man! The thing the hunters saw… just a bear! I better clear out and forget the whole thing!”
Tad isn’t quite thinking straight — he hasn’t slept a wink, he must be exhausted — so he fails to make the connection that could blow this case sky-high.
The man who attacked Annie — just a man! The thing the hunters saw — just a bear! Or was it — a man-bear??!?
Anyway, Tad clears the room, and then it’s time for one of the absolute Great Moments in Dark Shadows Storytelling.
Tybalt is on his way to Barnabas’ coffin, and — entering the room in something of a hurry — he somehow ends up horizontal, diving through the door in a tragic belly-flop, directly onto the stake which has been haphazardly left on the floor.
And then the villain — a word which here means “a character who has not deliberately tried to harm any human or domestic pet in the entire story” — gets his just rewards, in a nightmare basement accident that, let’s face it, is probably the best-case scenario for someone who visits Collinwood for any significant period of time.
But at least he dies doing what he loves, yelling “Die, Barnabas!” at an empty room.
So that’s the end of the story. I guess the problem basically worked itself out, without the need for anyone to actually do anything. Julia was rescued, Quentin turned back into Quentin, the dogs are probably okay, and Barnabas returns to his coffin to rest — a little late, but he gets there eventually.
And here lie the remains of Mr. Ambrose Tybalt, unmourned and unloved; the perfect ending to a perfect day.
Tomorrow: Walking Around and Pretending to Have a Plan.
Extra: Did the Dark Shadows comic book writers ever watch Dark Shadows?
As I talked about in today’s post, the Gold Key comics are a strange mix — faithful to the show in some ways, but not in others. There’s a cast of core characters: Barnabas, Julia, Liz, Roger, Professor Stokes, Angelique and Quentin, and they’re all recognizable as simplified versions of those characters. But there aren’t any kids or governesses, they never mention Josette, Barnabas apparently lives at Collinwood, and so on.
The writers weren’t credited on the comic books, so we don’t know who wrote which issues. We only know two names — Donald J. Arneson and Arnold Drake — but not which or how many issues they worked on. It was probably several people, over the run of the book.
My theory is that the first four to six issues were written by someone who had seen some Dark Shadows, and if a character or concept was introduced in those issues, then they were part of the comic. After that, no new Dark Shadows concepts appeared, because the writers used the first six issues as the source material.
Here’s how it breaks down:
Issue #1 (Dec 1968): Clearly written by someone who knows the show. Barnabas is being tormented by Angelique, who lives in Collinwood but is also kind of a ghost. In one panel, he calls her Cassandra. Barnabas trapping Reverend Trask behind a wall is a major plot element. Willie appears in two panels, but they don’t say his name. Barnabas confides his fears in Julia, a doctor who lives at Collinwood, and she gives somebody an injection to make them forget they’ve seen Barnabas turn into a bat. People go to the Blue Whale. The epilogue includes Elizabeth and Professor Stokes, trying to rid Collinwood of an angry ghost. The writer has definitely watched some of the 1968 episodes, from mid-Dream Curse on.
Issue #2 (Aug 1969): The ghost of Angelique torments Barnabas. The all-powerful fire marshal mentions Victoria Winters, Julia Hoffman and Willie Loomis, but they don’t appear.
Issue #3 (Nov 1969): Elizabeth, Roger and Barnabas are worried about an angry spirit from the family’s past. A grandfather clock falls down, almost hitting Roger. Professor Stokes leads a seance to evict the ghost. Barnabas travels through time by standing in the graveyard and wishing.
Issue #4 (Feb 1970): Barnabas isn’t a vampire anymore. There’s another angry ancestor, and a werewolf in a dark blue frock coat. Barnabas travels back in time to help the ancestor find peace.
Issue #5 (May 1970): The cast is now settled: Barnabas, Julia, Liz, Roger, Stokes. There’s a werewolf that Barnabas knew in the past.
Issue #6 (Aug 1970): Quentin joins the present-day cast; he’s a werewolf and Barnabas helps him. This is the last time a new character or plot point from the series is introduced in the comic.
Issue #7 (Nov 1970): Just uses elements we’ve seen before: Barnabas, Angelique, Liz, Stokes, a serum that cures vampirism.
Issue #8 (Feb 1971): This is the issue from today’s post. The cast is now settled, and Barnabas is a vampire again. Julia helps Barnabas, and Barnabas helps Quentin.
And that’s pretty much it. The show ends in April 1971, and the comic book rattles along until February 1976, up to issue #35. It looks like they stopped watching the show in early 1970, basically now — when Barnabas is a vampire again, and he’s friends with Julia and Quentin. Anyone who writes the comic only has the early issues as source material, so anything that wasn’t used in the first six issues never appears — Carolyn, Maggie, Vicki, the kids, etc. There’s at least one later issue that refers to Liz and Roger as husband and wife, which is a perfectly understandable mistake if you’re just reading the comics.
If you want to check out some of the comics, you can get the first 21 issues for your tablet, phone or computer at ComiXology. They are bug-ass crazy, and totally worth your time.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Barnabas and Julia’s act 1 conversation is a complete failure on his part. He loses his place in the script completely, and she just soldiers on, moving the scene forward even when he loops back to a previous line. He starts by saying, “Jeb never came out, although I know it was there — he was there when it started.” She says, “You know you can’t kill him,” and he replies, ” I know poison can’t kill him!” Then he runs into trouble.
“Inhuman…” he says, and then starts over: “but every inhuman creature has one vulnerability, one way the earth can finally… get rid of him.” Then he says, “What…” and trails off, obviously in distress. Julia takes charge, saying a line that sounds like it should be his: “Barnabas — he’s not finished with you. He will not be until he puts a stake through your heart.”
He moves across the room, looks at a different teleprompter, and says, “Yes, every inhuman creature has one vulnerability.” She follows him and starts talking about the injections, because otherwise we’ll be here all day. He turns toward her, and gets nine words out before he has to check the teleprompter again: “You’re a good friend, Julia. But my one personal…” (teleprompter break) “My one personal score is with the Leviathans is to settle the way that they made me harm you.”
In act 2, when Jeb appears in the Old House, there’s a boom mic and a studio light visible overhead.
In the carriage house, Jeb tells Liz, “I like being near Collywood.”
When Barnabas visits Philip in his cell, he says, “They’re going to accuse you, and try you, for three murders you didn’t commit.” They’ve already accused him; now they’re going to try him.
Tomorrow: Walking Around and Pretending to Have a Plan.
— Danny Horn