“The fire which will burn Collinwood cannot destroy a figure of four!”
So what, you may ask, of the young set? It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with the middle schoolers, who used to be one of the driving forces of the show’s popularity.
They got on board with Dark Shadows in early ’68, as the show took a hard swerve toward Halloweentown, with a vampire, a witch and a Frankenstein monster all featured at the same time. The young set is here for the skeletons, the dream sequences, and the disturbed graves. A magic mirror that lets you peek into a basement full of mad science equipment. A werewolf, crashing through a plate glass window. A woman screaming, trapped inside a ring of fire. A devilish man, calling to the dark creatures of nature as he passes his hands over the body of an unconscious babysitter. These discerning viewers demand playground games, and if Dark Shadows doesn’t provide them, then there’s a risk that they’ll drift over to Scooby-Doo, and stay there.
And now, it seems like that’s a demographic that the show is no longer interested in serving. This 1841 PT storyline is just people talking all the time, and occasionally pulling knives on each other. Nobody’s casting any spells, or bringing anything to life. They just put people’s names into a vase, and then take them out again and throw them away. There’s nothing here to stir the soul of a ten year old, and give them ideas for interesting things they could do with a curtain tie.
So it’s a good thing that Gold Key is still publishing the Dark Shadows comic book, a welcome voice of insanity in these untroubled times. Today, we’re going to look at “The Night Children” from issue #15, published in August 1972, in which the witch Angelique wreaks her wretched revenge on Barnabas Collins by sending him just what he thought he’d never lay eyes on again: children.
Angelique, as we all know, is a boggle-eyed redhead who lives on some haunted, barren Star Trek set located somewhere south of reality, directing her tiny troops to destroy the stuff she doesn’t like.
Right away, the narration throws us a curve ball that sets the appropriate tone: “Deep within the black pit of eternal evil dwell many strange and terrible creatures! Some are not so strange as they are evil!” Which is hard to figure.
On the show, Barnabas Collins began his career as one of the strange, evil creatures who would be right at home, here in the black pit of eternal evil, and that was carried over into the comic book, which began with a couple stories about Barnabas trying to kill anyone who he thought was close to discovering his secrets. But by issue #3, published in November 1969, the comic started taking its cues from the 1897 storyline, and showed Barnabas traveling through time to protect Roger and Elizabeth from an angry ghost. Since 1970, Gold Key has been treating Barnabas like he’s running a detective agency for ghosts, who show up with a hard-luck story that he feels the need to remedy.
So Barnabas is apparently “good” now, which he rarely was on the show. If you recall, he killed a bunch of people in 1795 and 1897, and kept right on going. During the Leviathan story, he killed Megan, Sky and Nelle Gunston; in Parallel Time he enslaved Carolyn, Will and Buffie, and killed Cyrus, and in 1995, he killed the sheriff. The fact that he stopped killing so much over the last six months just reflects that he didn’t have much to do in the later storylines. When Barnabas is really involved in a story, his main contribution is biting and strangling people, and that’s how we like him. That’s what made him a star.
But now Barnabas is supposed to be “good”, which means that he gets invited to Collinwood dinner parties, where Professor Stokes is constantly starting conversations about the dark arts.
Meanwhile, Quentin is locked up in the basement tonight, transformed by the full moon into a creature of terror, but it doesn’t seem like he’s missing much.
But the party really gets started when two little kids show up at the door complaining that they’ve lost their dog, and they need an adult stranger to go wandering around in the dark with them, looking for it.
Their names are Andras and Cali, which sound like they should be anagrams or something, but they’re not. “What interesting names!” Barnabas says, strolling off into the woods with them. “I am sure you are very interesting children!” Well, I hope so.
Then we get a full page and a half explanation of what these creatures actually are: they’re Night Children, the most dreaded creatures from that place below, because they can hypnotize people with their huge, sad Margaret Keane peepers.
“Nobody with good in his heart can refuse their innocent eyes!” the narration gasps, and then a page later, “Only those with good in their hearts can be trapped by Night Children!” It’s important that they get this across, because these rules are going to start getting more complicated soon.
“Cali, queen of demons!” the breathless narrator continues. “One look into her child-like eyes and the strongest of men do her bidding…” which seems like it could come in handy, if she could get off the “lost dog” material and start thinking more creatively.
“Andras, Grand Marquis of Hades!” is the boy’s intro. “His glance can bring an army to its knees…” That one seems less plausible. You’d have to get the whole army to look at his eyes at the same time, and even then the entire squadron would all have to have good in their hearts, which doesn’t happen that often.
These ancient terrors take the form of innocent children in JC Penneys slacks and Mary Janes, because everyone knows that children are manipulative and selfish. Kids always need to use their pleading eyes to prey on the adults around them, because they don’t have any money. Pretty much all of the kids who got someone to buy this comic book for them did so using this exact technique.
The dog walk doesn’t get very far from Collinwood before Barnabas notices that the kids don’t have shadows, which means that they’re Night Children, which is something that he already knows about. The kids might have been more successful if they hadn’t come on the night of the full moon, but apparently Angelique doesn’t take that kind of thing into account.
But they manage to tackle him from behind somehow, jumping up onto his back and forcing Barnabas to look into Andras’ eyes. Their eyeballs are supposed to be pretty powerful on their own, but this one has a vision of Angelique inside it, who says, “Now I shall destroy you because you think you are stronger than me! Perish, Barnabas Collins, die!” And he does, more or less.
At least, he falls over backwards, and stays that way for long enough to allow the children to construct a homemade burial platform out of stones and moonlight, and leave Barnabas there to await the sunrise. “It is the only way!” Andras explains. “Even we do not have the power to destroy one of our kind!” This is a convenient plot contrivance that allows them to finish the page and move on to the next one, which is the only thing that the creators of the Dark Shadows comic care about.
That’s done, so now the NCs have to go and burn the house down, and then Collinwood’s stones and Barnabas Collins’ bones will be proof of the power of evil over good! Ha ha ha! You have to admit these kids know how to have a good time.
Back at the dinner party, Professor Stokes is still trying to interest people in his lunatic obsession with the occult, when the door opens and in walks some of it.
The Night Children quickly exercise their sway over the hapless grown-ups, who instantly become their playthings, because they have good in their hearts and they were sick of listening to Stokes anyway. This is actually the best case scenario for a Collinwood dinner party.
Then things start to get a little complicated. Cali’s excited to have dominion over the group, but Andras points out that there are only four people, which is a problem.
“The figure 4 is a sign of the square!” he boysplains to his female counterpart. “The square is the sign of good! We must have another victim to complete the double pentagram! The fire which will burn Collinwood cannot destroy a figure of 4!”
So that is news to me, the stuff about the square being the sign of good, and fire being powerless over the number four. It’s possible that everybody else already knows this, and they just haven’t thought to mention it to me until now.
The kids are pretty concerned about it, because they’ve gotten the adults to move all the furniture out of the room, and then lie face down on the carpet and form what they call a double pentagram, which is its own thing.
“The double pentagram… an imperfect figure of evil!” says the narration, drawing a helpful diagram to explain the concept.
So four is good and five is evil, according to the Night Children; I don’t know where kids pick up these ideas. You know, parents say that reading books is more educational than watching TV, but then you look at a book like this and you realize there’s got to be more of a middle ground.
Finally, the stupidity of their plan catches up with these half-pint demons, as they go downstairs to find a fifth patsy to complete their imperfect geometry. They hear pounding from the dungeon room in the basement, which apparently the dinner party didn’t notice earlier, what with Stokes droning on about his latest monograph on Klerksdorp spheres.
So the kids dart downstairs and crack open the prison cell without stopping to look through the bars in the window, and what do they find but Quentin Collins, a crazed animal who it turns out was locked up for a pretty solid reason. When these two said that they wanted to find a lost dog, they should have been more specific.
They try to reason with the hound for a hot second, saying, “Don’t you see? We are from the other side, too!” but it doesn’t have the impact they were hoping for. In his lupine state, there’s not enough good in Quentin’s heart to fall for their eyeball tricks, and not enough evil to recognize them as teammates. So he just hares after them, hoping to teach them a valuable lesson about breaking into other people’s homes and arranging them into shapes.
You know, when you think about it, it’s kind of remarkable that everyone still thinks of Quentin as the werewolf, because he wasn’t a werewolf for a lot longer than he was. His werewolf curse only lasted from May 1969 to the end of October, when he acquired his magic portrait and never changed again. There have been three additional Quentins since then — four, if you count Night of Dark Shadows — and none of them had anything to do with werewolves; after around March 1970, I don’t think anybody even mentioned the word anymore.
But in the comics and the Paperback Library gothics, Quentin is cursed forevermore, because people remember visuals better than they remember dialogue. The visual of a handsome man transforming into a snarling beast with a snappy wardrobe is easy to fix in the mind, but later on when they explain how he stopped being a werewolf, it’s all words, which people are terrible at remembering accurately.
The only competing visual that could have erased this impression is Quentin standing next to his portrait, as the painting turns into a werewolf instead of him, but they only did this a couple of times, and anyway, it’s still an image of Quentin becoming a werewolf, so it wouldn’t help.
The important characters on Dark Shadows are all monsters, and that’s how people remember them: the vampire, the werewolf, the witch and the mad scientist. They can get cured and give up their powers and throw away their test tubes as often as they like, but in the eyes of children, these images will never fade.
The Midwich Cuckoos manage to keep ahead of the monster all the way outside and up the hill, which is impressive for creatures with short legs and penny loafers. This is where they find the entrance to the black pit, right next to the vampire parking structure that they built, and they slip down the hole, followed immediately by Quentin, who drops into the underworld with an agonized howl. Kids never remember to close the screen door behind them.
All this time, Barnabas has been moonbathing on the stone platform, unaware of the chaos raging around him; as far as he knows, there’s still a lost dog around here somewhere.
“Will Barnabas die?” asks the trembling narrator. “Has Angelique succeeded at last?”
And then, poignantly: “Is evil more powerful than good?”
Up until now, this has absolutely been the case; the evil characters have won on points, while the good characters get a faceful of carpet fibers. The only setback evil has experienced is due to somebody being even more evil in return.
And that is the correct answer for Dark Shadows, as we know from the resolution of every storyline since late ’69. Count Petofi was killed by crazed jailer Garth Blackwood; the Leviathan villains all murdered each other; Judah Zachery’s moment of triumph was ruined by Angelique killing her captor with a candlestick, and then running around with a severed head in her arms.
That’s why all the really important characters on the show are murderers; they know how to get things accomplished. Barnabas, now universally regarded as the “hero” of the series, conducted a centuries-spanning killing spree that sprawled across several timelines; sometimes he would kill someone, and then go back in time and kill them again, in a different way. Evil is much more powerful than good in Dark Shadows; the only thing you can hope for in this bleak narrative universe is that the ruling class of evil people will like you enough to fight other evil people on your behalf.
Entering the house, Barnabas discovers that once again the kids have been playing with their toys, and not putting them away when they’re done with them. Somehow, he recognizes this loose arrangement of unconscious acquaintances as a double pentagram with an empty space, so I guess this is a thing that people actually do in Barnabas’ world.
Barnabas does a quick vitals check on his friends and finds that they’re just unconscious, so he decides it’s probably better just to leave them where they are, slumbering on the shag.
Now, what follows is pretty complex, so we’re going to have to take this step by step. Finding that Quentin’s cage is empty, Barnabas makes the impossible but absolutely correct deduction that the kids have taken Quentin into the black pit, via one of the known hellmouths on the property.
Worried, Barnabas tells himself, “If the moon sets while Quentin is with them below… his hope for salvation is lost! Unless I can get him out!”
So that makes sense, as a ticking clock countdown: get Quentin out of the underworld before the full moon sets. Roger that.
Transforming into a dark creature of the night, Barnabas reflects, “Those on the side of good cannot see the black pit! We who linger in both worlds can…” which is not what they established earlier, as far as what side Barnabas is supposed to be on, but whatever. He dives into the black pit, and the world beyond.
As he lands in the place of eternal darkness, there are further concerns. “If Angelique finds me in my human form, I am doomed!” he recalls.
“But I must not think of myself!” he vows. “I must find Quen — AAAHHH!” and with an enormous Marvel Comics PWOOF!, here’s Angelique, finding him in his human form. So that went great, another classic two-panel faceplant from the astounding Mr. C.
Luckily, he’s brought his cane with him, which Angelique recognizes as Silver! The cursed metal of purity! AAH!
And then Barnabas starts… flying, I guess? It looks like he’s running, but he’s above Angelique, and gaining altitude somehow. Life in the black pit is full of surprises.
And then there are the zozos, which I cannot believe I have lived my entire life without knowing about.
Barnabas recognizes them immediately, of course, as “the creatures which bear fallen spirits from above to this terrible place.” But we know that these are winged monkeys, straight from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which means that Gold Key’s Dark Shadows, for all its flaws, is indeed a worthwhile successor to the TV show.
I mean, let’s face it. You did not think of Barnabas Collins fighting flying monkeys. I did not think of Barnabas Collins fighting flying monkeys. No person of sound mind would even consider it. And yet here it is, and it is beautiful.
The only way that you could possibly arrive at this particular destination is to tell a barely competent team of comics professionals that they need to create a brand-new twenty-five-page comic book story for children every two months, about a vampire with good in his heart named Barnabas Collins, and the stories need to include chases, fight scenes, fire, and trips through either time or alternate dimensions. After a while, you’re bound to get flying monkeys, one way or another.
Fending off the ravenous zozos, Barnabas scours the skyways to find his friend Quentin, still in werewolf mode, and he drifts downward to say hello, like a chump.
And once again, we learn the lesson that should not need to be learned this often: You are not friends with a werewolf. The werewolf is not interested in whether you are on his side or not. That is not a factor in your relationship.
Fortunately, the thing happens that was the specific thing that Barnabas said he couldn’t let happen: the moon goes down, and Quentin turns back into a human.
“If the moon sets while Quentin is with them below,” Barnabas said, five pages ago, “his hope for salvation is lost!” Except it’s not, because who even remembers what people say five pages ago?
So now we’re just playing Calvinball, there’s no other word for it. These characters are going to continue to postulate new rules from one panel to the next, and there’s no way to stop them. Barnabas falls prey to the Night Children because he’s good, but he can fly into the black pit because he’s not that good; if Angelique finds him, then he’s doomed, but she finds him immediately and he magically flies away; silver is good, and squares are good, and the moon is chaotic neutral.
The rules for good people and evil people are so complex, that it makes me glad I decided early on that I would try and be a mix of the two. It makes doing your taxes more complicated but overall I think it’s been worth it.
Quentin’s back to normal and Angelique doesn’t have any more monkeys, so she calls up a flock of harppes. No, I didn’t misspell that word; they aren’t harpies, they’re harppes. Totally different. It turns out that harppes don’t like silver either, go figure, especially when it’s wielded by someone who has good in his heart, which it turns out Quentin does.
But that means the Night Children are back in play, and they tap in to mess with Quentin and get him to hand over his pretty silver stick. When he looks in their eyes, he’s helpless; they transform him in an instant from an action-adventure monster hero into a wet blanket who wants to play with ten year olds.
So this would not be any Quentin that we recognize, even if Joe Certa could draw people’s faces properly. The idea that Quentin is righteous and good-hearted — especially if he’s stuck in his 1897 werewolf phase — is simply absurd. He is no such thing. Quentin is concerned with brandy, money and female companionship. He is so evil that he owns a magic portrait designed to stop him from turning into a werewolf, and he turns into a werewolf anyway, just for the fun of it. Quentin is not a toy for middle schoolers to play with.
And this is the problem, really, with the eyes of children, a fundamentally fun-limiting force which fights against the slap-happy madness of a vampire swatting at flying monkeys. These children want to see everything in terms of “good” and “evil”, which flattens out the story and makes it less interesting.
Angelique isn’t supposed to be a screeching Wicked Witch of the West just waiting for a righteous person to come and dump a bucket of water on her, and she doesn’t launch waves of creatures at you like a boss in a video game. Angelique is an actual person, who sighs as much as she schemes. She does terrible things, and then she does less terrible things, and then the terrible man that she loves decides that he loves her back.
Whatever you might think about the resolution of Angelique and Barnabas’ tragic romance a week and a half ago, you have to concede that that version of Angelique is more interesting than this single-minded hell denizen. This is what happens when you let the young set take over; they flatten a three-dimensional story into two dimensions.
And so, as the righteous Quentin ascends from the pit, backing slowly sideways up the wall of this vertical tunnel and warding off the zozos using the cursed metal of purity, take a moment to look around at the children in your life. Are they really just smaller versions of humans, or are they demonic nightmare creatures plotting your eternal destruction? Maybe check one more time, just in case.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Bramwell smacks Morgan to the ground, he falls face up, and then appears to make the conscious decision to turn over, and smash the table and vase clearly placed there for the purpose, before losing consciousness.
Josette tells Melanie, “Bramwell and I are not in the inner circle, and it’s must – much better, I think.”
Morgan vows, “He must get out of Collingwood.”
At the end of act 2, when Catherine tells Morgan that Bramwell won’t be able to make them unhappy, the mirror shows the reflection of someone in the studio holding a script. When Morgan sits down on the bed, the first person moves away, and a second person can be seen in the mirror.
At the top of act 3, Josette is looking for her cue, before she turns and says her first line to Bramwell.
When Melanie starts to follow Bramwell, a camera is clearly visible at the left side of the screen.
For the duel, walking ten paces is really too far for the gazebo set — you can see the edge of the burlap on the ground, and when the camera tries to correct for that, a studio light is visible.
Behind the Scenes:
This episode is the first appearance of Mary Cooper as a mature Josette Collins; she’ll appear in five episodes. Cooper was a stage actress who appeared on Broadway in Winged Victory (1943-44), The French Touch (1945-46), Harvey (1949), Cloud 7 (1958) and The Ninety Day Mistress (1967). She also had a role in the 1951 film Bright Victory, and in the 1980s, she appeared on the soap opera Edge of Night. She was a close friend of Joan Bennett, who she met when they costarred in It’s Never Too Late in Miami in 1963.
Also, Maine outlawed dueling in 1820, although obviously Morgan and Bramwell would have been dumb enough to do it anyway.
— Danny Horn