“Charting the future is not a whim with me.”
Gentleman vampire Barnabas Collins is terribly concerned about the future, and for good reason; he’s been there, and it sucks. He spent a couple weeks trapped in the 90s, where he found his house tore up from the floor up, and he’s desperate to counteract the oncoming calamity.
But we all know that he’s going to fail; the future for Barnabas Collins is not going to be on ABC-TV at four o’clock in the afternoon. Collinwood will fall, and the family will move to a series of temporary shelters in paperback novels and comic strips and audio plays. That future is fast approaching — not today, and not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of his life.
And he might have figured that out, if he’d bothered to learn anything about the world in 1995. He didn’t even crack a newspaper; the name “Bart Simpson” means nothing to him. He spent the entire time running around the house, looking for ghosts.
Dark Shadows has spent the last year and a half turning inward, gradually losing touch with the world outside the great estate. Even the town of Collinsport hardly matters, these days. Barnabas came back to the present with the name “Rose Cottage” on his lips; nobody’s ever heard of it, but I’d bet money it’s going to turn out to be somewhere on the Collinwood grounds. It’s the only place they care about.
But this isn’t the only example of Barnabas Collins flash-forwarding on a mission of purely parochial interest. In November 1971, he shot a whole hundred years into the future, and you’ll never guess what he was looking for. Nope, don’t even try. Whatever it is you’re thinking, it’s dumber than that.
Today, we’re going to look at “The Thirteenth Star,” from issue #11 of the Gold Key Dark Shadows comic book, and at this point I guess I’m just going to go ahead and like this comic. When I started reading these, back in July 1968, they were ridiculously, deliriously bad — nonsensical and ugly, with characters hurtling around in circles to avoid the obvious consequences of their insane leaps of logic. They’re still basically like that, so I’m not entirely sure why I find them so charming now.
Maybe it’s because the comics have now outlived the TV show — this is the first Gold Key issue that I’ve written about that was published after the show was cancelled in April 1971. The comic strip and the Paperback Library novels both ended in March 1972, but the comic book rattled on, surviving long past the apocalyptic April Third, and all the way up to February 1976. This is what Dark Shadows becomes, so we might as well try to enjoy it.
Anyway, this one is about a magical space comet that appears every hundred years and forms a constellation that wakes up a golem who whales on Quentin Collins. You know, they say that there are only seven basic stories in the world, but this must be one of the exceptions.
Quentin is a werewolf who lives in a little shack called Collinwood with his friends and relations, and once a month he turns into a slavering man-beast with murder fangs and runs in circles around the front lawn, not bothering anybody. He’s not particularly worried about his dreadful curse, except that it’s an inconvenience and he’d rather not be killed by random golems popping up in the middle of his exercise routine.
If you’re not au fait with the concept, a golem is a late 16th century Jewish robot made of clay that sometimes helps people and is hard to operate. The golem is animated by a Hebrew word written into its forehead, or hung around its neck. If you want to turn it off, then you won’t be able to reach the magic word, and if you don’t want to turn it off, then the magic word will probably get rubbed off by accident. Jewish folklore is mostly about materials technology and product design.
So Quentin’s having punch-em-ups on the front lawn with imaginary Jewbots, and they’re observed by Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, who makes the mistake of trying to find out what the hell is happening in her own life.
Terrified, she runs to her cousin Barnabas and says that something terrible is happening, which is usually the case. Barnabas reassures her that it was a shadow or a dog or a prowler or it’s all her imagination or she’s asleep.
In the early issues of this comic book, Barnabas was a murderous hair-trigger psychopath who raced around town trying to exterminate as many characters as he could get his fangs on, but he’s recently matured into a fully-accepted member of the Collins family, living in the mansion along with everyone else, except at sunrise when he sneaks down to the basement and sleeps all day, which nobody seems to notice.
Quentin’s fine, by the way. We see the werewolf getting hammered in four panels in a row, and then he looks at Liz over his shoulder and says “Grr-rr-r!” and that’s the end of the fight scene. The moon sets and Quentin turns back into a human being, although it’s still nighttime and it’s going to stay nighttime for the entire story. I’m not sure what happened to the golem; it may be Shabbat all of a sudden.
I don’t really know what’s going on with the moon in the Gold Key comics; this is not the first time we’ve had to discuss it. The moon appears to have a timetable all its own; for all I know, it’s going to rise and set a couple more times tonight.
But now we’re in the part of the evening when Barnabas and Quentin chat about the golem, which they recognize as an old enemy from a hundred years ago. By the way, comic book Quentin is hundreds of years old. They don’t really explain that very well. Time is super different for Gold Key.
“Only you and I know of the terror which may lurk in the shadows, Quentin!” says Barnabas, and then a couple pages later, he says, “Only you and I know of the real meaning of Collins’s comet, Quentin!” It’s super cute, Barnabas and Quentin are monster bros.
So, the comet. They find a picture in an old book which shows “the sign of the 13th constellation… the double-headed cross of good and evil!” They tear out the picture and race outside to check the sky, and there it is, the double-headed cross, whatever that means.
Although it’s not actually a constellation, because the star at the bottom is Collins’s comet, which loops around every hundred years in order to form this shape and wake up the golem. It’s a little hard to explain, and when you try, the explanation doesn’t make any sense anyway.
You see, this all goes back 600 years to Mordecai Collins, a complete jackass of an ancestor who was super concerned that the Collins family name was being tarnished by all of his family members who were involved in the occult. Mordecai was an early pioneer in branding.
So he opens a window and proclaims, “Those who bear the Collins name who have dealt with the black arts shall perish at my hand! Their evil deeds shall no longer strike fear into the people… nor to those Collinses who follow us!” It’s not really clear why he has to shout that out the window.
And then the next thing you know, Mordecai is murdering a relative with a sword. “Never again will you defile the Collins name! DIE!” says Mordecai, and the relative says “AIEEEEE!” and dies, and this is apparently what the good Collinses were up to, back in the 1370s.
But it’s the next part that’s really hard to figure. Mordecai talks to a monk and says, “When I die, I want my ashes to become the spirit of purity for all Collinses forever!” which for Pete’s sake, how much of an asshole can one guy even be?
Eventually, Mordecai dies, thank goodness, and the Jewish sorceror wizard monk mixes the guy’s ashes with clay, and makes a golem out of it. Once every hundred years, the creature will come to life, and exterminate any Collins who’s dabbling in the dark arts.
“On this night is born the Collins’ comet!” the monk declares, gesturing to the heavens above Collinwood as he magically summons a space snowball that will appear in the skies and awaken the monster. The difference between this and the dark arts escapes me entirely.
So Barnabas and Quentin have apparently encountered this golem more than once, which means that a) Quentin is at least a couple hundred years old, give or take, and b) the golem is really, really bad at its job. I mean, it fights with the werewolf for two pages and then suddenly disappears, leaving Quentin unharmed, and now it has to wait a whole other century to come back and try again. Why are we worrying about this?
By the way, it looks like the monk is supposed to be casting his magic spell over Collinwood, except it’s six hundred years ago, which is several centuries before the Collinses even got to this continent. The past is very confusing, in Gold Key Dark Shadows.
So then they start doing the thing that I love the most about these comics, which is awkwardly running. That is the only mode of transportation that Gold Key characters need. You can tell when the plot’s really kicked into high gear, because all of a sudden everyone’s hurling themselves from one panel to the next, desperate to get to wherever they imagine they’re supposed to go.
In this case, Barnabas has decided that he needs to check his coffin, because the golem appears to be gone, but maybe it messed with his stuff.
And then, the big moment! Barnabas opens up the box, and cries:
“He has found it! He has it!… He has taken my soil!”
And that’s it, that’s the plot point that’s going to get us through the next fifteen pages of mad monster action. The golem broke into Barnabas’ coffin, and took his grave soil.
So the idea, as far as I can figure it, is that Barnabas keeps a couple handfuls of dirt from his original grave in his coffin, and it protects him during the day somehow. This is a bit of vampire lore that never made its way into any version of Dark Shadows besides the comics, because fussing around with a special pile of dirt does not lend itself to drama.
But here we are, that’s what this story is actually about — Barnabas, and his precious grave soil. That’s what he calls it, on two separate occasions: “my precious grave soil.” That is actually a thing.
Barnabas continues to rush around and act crazy, and this is my favorite panel, a graphic depiction of what it looks like when you run outside and find that the comet you were looking at a minute ago is gone.
So this is how I understand the sequence of events:
The moon rises.
Quentin turns into a werewolf.
The comet flies by.
The golem appears out of nowhere and attacks Quentin.
The golem runs away somewhere.
The moon sets.
Barnabas and Quentin look at the constellation picture.
While they’re having impossible flashbacks to fourteenth century Maine, the golem slips into the basement, and grabs Barnabas’ soil somehow.
The comet passes out of the night sky, and the golem disappears, this time for good.
Barnabas is screwed.
This leaves us with two important questions. First: How easy is it to elude this curse? The golem shows up for maybe an hour every hundred years. Just stay inside for the night. Second: How is it still nighttime? The moon went down seven pages ago.
But Quentin has an amazing brainstorm: The future!
Don’t you see? The future!
Okay, I’ll try to break it down. They don’t know where the golem has hidden Barnabas’ precious grave soil, and the golem won’t be back for a hundred years. So all Barnabas needs to do is travel into the future, and then…
Okay, I don’t know. But they gather everybody together for a seance, in these spare hours between the moon setting and the sun rising, and they ask everyone to hold hands and generate mental force, to help solve a problem that Barnabas refuses to describe. You can apparently get the residents of comic book Collinwood to do almost anything.
The show ended seven months ago, of course; this story is already over. What we’re seeing here are the side effects, the unpredictable spasms of a narrative that refuses to entirely die. The TV writers stopped back in April when they ran out of ideas, but the comic book writers don’t have that problem, because “ideas” are not an important ingredient in this particular recipe. You just throw ink at the page, at top speed.
So Barnabas finds himself somehow one hundred years in the future, where Collinwood has been abandoned and extensively spider-webbed. This part of the story is actually a bit like 1995, with Barnabas wandering around an empty house, trying to figure out what’s going on. But instead of haunts, he finds a hipster.
His name is Halperin Collins, and he is excessively groovy. He has a cool open-neck shirt belted at the waist, and a mustache and everything. Apparently the twenty-first century has a 70s too.
So this is what the Collins family will become, a laid-back kombucha drinker who’s surprisingly amiable, considering he just found an intruder in his house who tried to brain him with a candelabra. He cheerfully explains that Collinwood was abandoned a hundred years ago, after Barnabas was found dead in the basement.
And then they do this!!!
It’s a complete scale model of the Collinsport of the Future, a space-age art deco steampunk cityscape, with Collinwood perched on a ledge overlooking the Tinkertoy town. I wish that I could say that this sequence goes on for a million pages, as Barnabas travels in an autonomous flying car to a moonside grave soil outlet staffed by nanites, but in reality, this is the only panel where we see anything futuristic. After this, we return to Barnabas and Halperin in the house, as they head downstairs to look at the murder scene.
Halperin makes with the backstory.
Apparently, back in 1971, the golem stole Barnabas’ grave soil, and when the sun came up, the vampire instantly decomposed into a bundle of bones on the floor. “They found him in there!” says Halperin. “He was lying on the floor! Nothing but bones… just his skeleton dressed in a black cape!”
And when they discovered the body, they arrested Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, because why not.
“They never figured out how she did it or why,” Halperin explains. “They just found his bones! But it didn’t make any difference!” Yeah, I guess not. Collinsport law enforcement is apparently just as incompetent in comic book form as they are on the show.
And this gives Barnabas another motive to find his soil — he has to get back to Collinwood and survive the morning, so that Liz won’t be accused of a non-existent murder that she clearly has zero connection to.
Now, as weird as that plot point is, this is actually pretty coherent for the Gold Key comics. The thing that’s really hard to get your head around is what happens next.
I need to take this step by step, because the motivations get a little complex from here.
Frantic to secure his crucial soil cache, Barnabas rushes down to the basement and starts searching through a pile of wooden crates, which if that was the plan then I don’t know why he couldn’t have done that in the present day, rather than fool around with time-wasting seances.
Also — and this is seriously my main issue with this story — why would the golem store the soil in a box, as opposed to, I don’t know, the ground? It seems like the obvious hiding place for dirt, you just throw it outside and forget about it. But no.
It says a lot about the shape of Dark Shadows stories that they posit a magical Tomorrowland future world just down the hill, and then they instantly pull back from it, and focus on the main character rummaging around in the basement for a hundred-year-old bag of dirt.
And then, in a slap-happy moment of frantic action, the huge clay golem creature sneaks up behind Barnabas and tackles him, and they fight for five panels, ending up in some part of the house that I can’t understand what they’re going for.
They start here, in the basement, where they smash some boxes, and then the golem picks Barnabas up and carries him over his shoulder.
And then I really don’t know what happens. It kind of looks like the golem carries Barnabas to the roof? And then Halperin appears out of a door in the tower room? And then he chases the golem… where? I can’t figure it out. At this point, the backgrounds are just a vague suggestion of abstract four-dimensional space.
Also, doesn’t Halperin have a phone? There’s a golem fighting a vampire right in front of him, he should be live-tweeting this.
Anyway, it all works out okay. The golem has to run away if it encounters anybody who’s good, which Halperin is, obviously, except for the belt, so they follow the golem to a secret dungeon room, and there’s a bag that contains Barnabas’ grave soil.
But it doesn’t do him any good here; he has to get back to his own time. He does this by running outside, where Julia asks him what’s going on, and hooray! He’s back in the present day, for no reason. So now he just needs to locate that secret room where he knows the soil would have been a hundred years from now, and he takes it back to his coffin, and everything is entirely fine. Except that means that the soil won’t be there in a hundred years, so Barnabas won’t be able to find it, setting up a three-ring time paradox that destroys everything about the future.
Tomorrow: The Night of the Sun and the Moon.
Sometime in the next couple weeks, I’m going to draw up some star charts, and post individualized Dark Shadows horoscopes. I’ve got enough birthdates, thanks to everyone who posted in the comments! The horoscopes will be in an upcoming post.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
The Chromakey appearance of Daphne at the gazebo is painful; it looks like the image has been stretched out somehow. When they cut to David’s reaction, you can see a blue screen behind him. Also, it’s not a very interesting scene.
Nancy Barrett’s name is misspelled “Barret” in the credits again, as it was a couple days ago.
The “13th constellation” is Ophiuchus the serpent-bearer, a guy who spends all his time in the night sky grasping the snake. Some people say that Ophiuchus is the 13th sign of the zodiac, because the constellation is situated behind the sun from November 30th to December 18th. I’m not sure how well received that concept is among the astrological set. Ophiuchus is also the name of the planet that’s going to collide with its moon in the 1954 Rocky Jones film Crash of the Moons, ruled by the wicked Queen Cleolanta. Just in case you were wondering.
Tomorrow: The Night of the Sun and the Moon.
— Danny Horn