“I cannot go through eternity alone!”
Samantha tells Julia how Roxanne is feeling, and then Barnabas sneaks into Collinwood and leaves a note for Ben, and then Gerard thinks about killing Samantha but doesn’t, and then Ben and Julia read Barnabas’ note and go over to the Old House where they talk about Roxanne for a while, and then Gerard talks to Samantha about Gabriel, and then Samantha finds Roxanne, who’s been bitten in the gazebo.
So Samantha runs into Collinwood to get Gerard, but by the time Samantha and Gerard get back to the gazebo, Julia and Ben have taken Roxanne to the Old House. Julia sends Ben out to get alcohol, which I don’t know if he ever does. Then Gerard finds Julia in the Old House, which makes him suspicious, but then he stops being suspicious and goes home. And then Barnabas shows up and has a fight with Julia. Okay, that’s over with; now we can talk about something else.
Because who has time for runaround episodes these days, when there’s comic books to look at? In October 1970, Marvel Comics decided to jump into the Mad Magazine ripoff competition, producing a single issue of a new comic called Spoof, and you’ll never guess what they spoofed.
Mad Magazine, as I’m sure you know, is an unbelievably long-lived comics periodical that started in 1952, and will continue for as long as there are ten-year-olds in the world. Each issue is a mix of acerbic comic strips and stories about sex, politics, pop culture, current fads, celebrities, advertising and so on. It can be stupid and juvenile, smart and incisive, angry, scary, educational, worthless and utterly essential, depending on how old you are and what happens to be in the issue. These days, of course, pretty much every kid’s show thinks it’s sarcastic and self-aware, but back in the pre-Ren and Stimpy days before snark became the dominant mode of kid culture, Mad was a window into the adult world, a peek behind the curtain. It meant a lot to me when I was a kid — I wasn’t a fan and pretty much only read it at summer camp, but it meant a lot anyway. Camp was the place where I got to look at Mad Magazine and Playboy, and I learned much more from Mad Magazine.
The core features in Mad are the TV and movie parodies — five to seven-page takedowns of pretty much every popular show or film, in a detailed, hyper-accelerated story that often jumps from one scene to another in each panel. Every character is given a silly name — for example, Mad’s original Star Wars parody featured Lube Skystalker, Princess Laidup, Ham Yoyo, Chewbacco and Oldie Von Moldie — which all I can say is that it works for ten-year-olds.
So Mad’s been doing that for decades, and they’ve been so successful that pretty much every other publishing house has tried to make their own version. The best-known is Cracked, which ran from 1958 to 2007, and still exists as a clickbait website. But there was also Panic and Sick and Plop! and Nuts! and Eh! and Get Lost and What and Riot and Flip and Madhouse and Trash, each of them lasting as long as it took them to realize it’s not as easy as it looks.
Marvel Comics decided to take a whack at it in October 1970, with the first issue of Spoof featuring riffs on Dark Shadows, The Mod Squad and the 1969 Gregory Peck space thriller Marooned. I was going to say that Spoof must have picked Marooned because it was the only movie that hadn’t been done by one of the other magazines, but I just checked and Mad did it too, so who knows.
Spoof’s story is called Darn Shadows! and it turns out to be a lot better than you’d expect. It was written by Roy Thomas, a longtime Marvel editor who co-created Wolverine, the Vision and Man-Thing, and wrote the memorable Avengers “Kree-Skrull War” story. The artist was Marie Severin, who drew Doctor Strange, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner. They’re not, like, giants in the field or anything, but they’re a lot better than whoever wrote Panic or Sick.
And they knew the show, or at least more than the people who were making Dark Shadows merchandise. The story features Barnacle Crawlins and his cousins Quinine and Elizaburp, along with the kids, Daybed and Mamie. It includes the opening narration and the boom mic, and it’s up to date as of mid-1969, with references to Quentin’s haunting Collinwood, as well as the Quentin werewolf story.
I’m going to post the whole story below so you can see it for yourself, but I’ve got a few observations first.
This story may be unique, because it offers a contemporary critique of the show that’s at least partially balanced. The teen magazines published endless articles about Dark Shadows, but they were always 100 percent positive, and gooey over the guys. On the other side, there was a 1969 hatchet piece in TV Guide, and that weird 1968 Jane Goodall style Saturday Evening Post article where the writer hung out with the cast for a week and didn’t pay attention to the show.
Darn Shadows is written by someone who’s very aware of the show’s flaws — there are well-deserved swipes at the dialogue misfires, the teleprompter and the boom mic appearances, as well as several gags about Dark Shadows strip-mining the classics for storyline ideas.
But there’s also some sympathy with the show’s creators, here. Rather than do a straight parody of an episode, the comic steps backstage, and tells the story from the point of view of the cast and crew.
Barnacle is presented as the guy in charge, which makes a kind of sense, and he’s struggling over the course of a week to get the ratings up and avoid cancellation. He’s the one reading Master Plots of Five Zillion Horror Movies looking for story ideas, because “after all, five days a week eats up a mess of material!”
In the most true-to-life part of the comic, Quinine has an attack, dashes behind a curtain and then hurriedly jumps into his werewolf costume while Barnacle continues the scene without him. When Barnacle throws open the curtain, Quinine is still getting the werewolf mask on. “I’m not ready!” he yells. “Go back and count to a hundred!” It’s a nice confirmation that people were watching Dark Shadows in 1970 the same way that we watch it today, as a weird stage play performed on television by lunatics.
They’re facing cancellation in the comic, although I wouldn’t read anything in particular into that; probably 60 percent of these Mad-style TV parodies end with the show getting cancelled.
Still, Barnacle’s opening comment seems apropos as we head into the last six months of the show: “Night falls on the great house at Crawlin’wood! It should only fall harder, and turn the whole cockamamey firetrap into toothpicks!” It will, given time.
Tomorrow: Meanwhile, Again.
Marvel didn’t publish another issue of Spoof for two years, as it happens — I guess this one didn’t go over too well. They brought it back in 1972-1973 for four more issues, including parodies of All in the Family, Blacula and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, plus an issue where Shaun Cassidy becomes president. Then they changed the name and the format, and published it as Crazy for another ten years, ending in 1983.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
The opening narration says that Barnabas died in 1795. Recent episodes have also dated his death in 1797. He actually died in 1796.
Samantha tells Julia, “Her bedroom was almost completely dark, and when I went to close the drapes, she seemed alarmed.” She means “open the drapes.”
Samantha also tells Julia, “She admitted that there was someone new in her life, and that she was in love with him. But she wouldn’t tell me what it was.”
In act 2, Samantha steps on Gerard’s line, “You are important, you know. At least, to me you are.”
Gerard asks Samantha to give him her hand, and she draws back and says, “I beg your pardon?” He kissed her in the last episode; why is she shocked now?
How did Ben and Julia get the unconscious Roxanne from the gazebo to Josette’s room in the Old House, especially with Samantha and Gerard running back and forth between the gazebo and Collinwood?
When the scene shifts from Samantha and the smelling salts to Julia tending to Roxanne, Julia looks up for a moment to check for her cue.
After Julia tells Ben that she needs to find Roxanne some fresh blood, she sniffs, wipes her nose on her hand, and then rubs it with her other hand.
When the camera pulls back from the sleeping Roxanne to Barnabas standing in the room, you can hear footsteps in the studio.
Behind the Scenes:
On the day that this episode aired (October 5th, 1970), Joan Bennett appeared on The Dating Game.
Tomorrow: Meanwhile, Again.
— Danny Horn