“Umba… Umba… Man of no time… Let your will leave your body… Let your will be mine… Umba… Umba… Man of no time… Will leave body… Will be mine…”
We now have only four more weeks of Dark Shadows ahead of us, as Collinwood falls under the sway of several confusing ghosts. To take our minds off the looming pencils-down, let’s look to the future: specifically, April 1973, and the Gold Key comic books.
By this point in the television series, everybody basically agrees that there’s a 1970s status quo, with Elizabeth, Roger, Carolyn, David and sometimes Quentin living at Collinwood, and Barnabas bunking out at the Old House, with slight variations. It’s just Elizabeth, Roger and Quentin in the comics, and just Elizabeth and Carolyn in the comic strip, while Barnabas lives at Collinwood in the Lara Parker novels. But there’s always a stable structure based around the great estate, as a starting point for new stories.
With that basic structure in mind, there are two kinds of plots that the spinoffs can accommodate: #1) a new person arrives at Collinwood to make trouble, and #2) Barnabas and/or Quentin are sent off somewhere else.
That second story type is interesting, because it never happened on the show. Like most soap operas, the Dark Shadows story is tied to a specific town, and often to a specific mansion. The idea that Barnabas would travel to Venice, Cairo or Salem for a storyline would be unthinkable on the television show; they only had enough studio space for the drawing room, the Old House, the mausoleum and some woods, and could maybe stretch as far as Maggie’s house or Widow’s Hill if they were feeling particularly adventurous.
The only real analogues to the “Barnabas adventure” story on the show were his trips to 1897, Parallel Time and 1840, which were treated like exotic locations even though they were located in exactly the same house. That idea was picked up in the comics, which sent Barnabas hurtling into the past and the future of Collinwood, but they also used more exotic locales, as we’ll see today.
The question for the day is: What happens when you set Barnabas adrift in another fictional world? And the answer, obviously, is that he destroys everything and leaves no survivors.
Today we’re reading issue #19, “Island of Eternal Life”, which was published in April 1973. The high-concept premise of the story is that Gold Key would like to throw Barnabas Collins headlong into a pirate adventure, putting him on the high seas as a member of a ragtag crew of bloodthirsty buccaneers. Our hero, the eccentric millionaire vampire, is going to loot a ship, get stranded on a desert island and meet a lovely young jungle girl, and if that requires the construction of an incoherent and needlessly complicated system of eternal life variations, then that is what we are going to go ahead and construct.
The story begins with Barnabas on a lonely midnight walk along the sea, where he finds a dying pirate, as one so often does. By the time Barnabas gets to the stricken man’s side, it’s too late; the foreigner breathes his last rattling breath.
Barnabas wonders why the guy is dressed in such antique clothes, but on further inspection/looting the corpse, he finds a cutlass with the numbers 1609 inscribed into the hilt. He makes the leap of logic to presume that the pirate comes from that year, because obviously if you’re a pirate you’re going to keep your sword hilt up to date.
Barnabas considers telling somebody about the find, but realizes that might present a problem: “I will be accused of witchery if I report a three hundred and fifty year old corpse! I must leave!” It’s not clear why it has to be his problem if he just goes and tells someone that there’s a dead body on the beach; he’s not responsible for the dead man’s outfit, which is obviously a Halloween costume. But he’s already under suspicion for previous incidents of witchery, so he decides to just tell Julia, and let her figure it out.
But then his solitude is interrupted by a couple walking together in the moonlight, who saunter right over the pirate corpse as if it isn’t there. This provokes a whole series of postulates, and as we all know, if Barnabas makes a declaration then it immediately becomes true, thanks to protagonism.
This is about to get a lot more complicated, so we’re going to have to take this step by step.
First: The couple didn’t see the pirate, because the corpse is from the past, and can only be seen by other people from the past, i.e. Barnabas. To him it looked like a regular corpse, but to everyone else the pirate is invisible.
Second: That’s because this pirate found eternal life, having lived more than 300 years, although obviously he’s dead now, so it’s not so much “eternal” as just a really long time.
Third: Barnabas thinks, “I will never know where he came from or how he died! For my own safety, I must leave him!” — even though he just said that the corpse would be invisible to everyone else, so there’s no threat to his safety.
Fourth: The dead eternal pirate is being pursued by his living eternal crewmates, who see that he’s washed ashore on the beach, and that Barnabas is nearby. The lead pirate says that it’s not a problem if Barnabas is mortal because he won’t see the dead guy — but if Barnabas isn’t mortal, then that’s a huge problem, because then he’ll know that they’re not mortal, and that will be bad, and I’m not sure why. These are basically invisible ghost pirates, so who’s going to give them a hard time?
Naturally, this turns into a cane fight. Barnabas is up against about seven different pirates, and actually holds his own pretty well for a couple of panels, until one of the pirates sneaks up behind him and clocks him on the head with the flat of his sword.
Okay, now sixth: The lead pirate says that they can’t kill Barnabas, because he’s cursed to eternal life, which is different from them. “We have chosen to live forever! This poor wretch can’t die!”
So it seems there are two different classes of people who have eternal life: the cursed immortals like Barnabas, who is visible but cannot be destroyed in any way, and the intentional immortals like the pirates, who are invisible but can be killed by Barnabas, or each other. Does everybody have that straight now? Good.
Cause here comes Farnsworthy, the umba umba guy. I don’t know if every pirate ship has an umba umba guy, but this one does, and his name is Farnsworthy.
Dread Pirate Targut looks at Barnabas and intuits that he’s a man of both worlds, who can see eternal invisible people. In a couple of pages, the captain will recognize that Barnabas is a “creature of night”, but he hasn’t caught on to that yet, so apparently, there are several different types of people of both worlds. I don’t know what the other ones are.
According to the captain, it would be dangerous to set Barnabas free in case he found their secret island, so instead, they’re going to take him directly to the secret island, which will save everyone time. Now, on with the umba umba.
Farnsworthy chants, “Umba… Umba… Man of no time… Let your will leave your body… Let your will be mine… Umba… Umba… Man of no time… Will leave body… Will be mine…”
I don’t know where Farnsworthy learned how to do that, but he is apparently very skilled at it, because it’s already finished. I would imagine that he’s on salary, rather than being paid by the umba umba.
So what that achieved was to extract Barnabas’ will and trap it in a little glass vial, which makes his former life mean nothing. “Whoever he was, whatever he was,” Farnsworthy observes, “his will is now in this vial… It is yours, captain!” The captain congratulates him; this is going to look good on Farnsworthy’s annual review.
“Get up! Your will is no longer yours!” the captain says; this is apparently Barnabas’ onboarding.
Now, let’s take a moment to think about what the concept of someone “having your will” could mean, in the context of this story.
No, it does not mean that, whatever you just thought of. You’ll be shocked at how much it doesn’t mean that.
For one thing, it means that Barnabas isn’t a vampire right now, because his will is in a magical vial. He’s transitioned from the cursed immortal to the intentional immortal, which means that he can be out in the sunlight but also he’s invisible. If you didn’t think that was what it meant to take someone’s will, then you have just learned an important lesson. There are more to come.
And then it’s on with the plundering! The pirate ship sights an unsuspecting white-privilege themed pleasure cruise, with members of the leisure class traveling to Bermuda by sail, worrying about tax rates and asking to see people’s managers.
Gold Key wants us to enjoy the imminent sacking and pillaging, so they very economically set up a boat full of people that we instantly hate. I don’t know why the phrase “I can hardly wait, darling!” uttered by a white lady in sunglasses activates my schadenfreude gland this way, but what the hell, let’s enjoy ourselves.
The thing that makes this situation particularly pleasurable to the reader is that we’re in on the prank. The people on the yacht have no idea that there’s an invisible pirate ship within cannon range, but we do, which means that narratively we’re allied with the pirate side of the exchange, and we think of the yacht people as clueless idiots, which they obviously are.
So how much fun is this sea battle, is the pertinent question at this point, and I think you’ll agree that so far this is potentially the best story about the ocean that anyone has ever written. I’m not big on sea stories but I feel pretty confident about that.
So the pirate captain, who has more than three hundred years of experience in pirate ship management, decides that the best way to dominate this situation is to send over a Canadian character actor, armed with the wolf’s head cane that he refuses to put down for any reason.
By the way, this might not be the most opportune moment, but does anyone know why Barnabas Collins carries a cane around with him all the time, especially in the spinoff media? I mean, he doesn’t use it to walk, and yes, it repels werewolves and you can hit Willie Loomis with it, but what if there are no werewolves around? I suppose it’s possible that this story could potentially introduce sea-werewolves in the coming pages, because it’s Gold Key and it can only get weirder from here, but still, it seems like Barnabas is always carrying a weapon around with him and nobody ever calls him out on it.
Okay, back to the invisible pillage, which I believe is unique in the canon of nautical vampire fiction. This is a 1971 pleasure yacht where the rich people are being murdered and plundered by seventeenth-century pirates that they can’t see.
“Harold! Someone’s holding me! Can’t you see?” says the blonde girl in the pink top, and Harold — expertly attired for his sea voyage in a tasteful brown suit — says, “There’s nobody but — UNGH!” Meanwhile, another capitalist pig shouts, “Show me what to do, captain, and I’ll — AGH!”
I tell you, this is not a good day to be a rich white person, and that doesn’t come along very often.
Barnabas’ entire contribution to the looting is to threaten one of the invisible pirates with his invisible cane, telling him to leave the girl alone. This is an impressive display of gallantry, considering Barnabas is currently operating without a will of his own. Barnbas Collins is that respectful of blonde women.
So this is where the “will” concept starts to come a bit unglued. So far, Barnabas is acting more like a clueless trainee than a mindless slave.
This story is basically trying to figure out what makes Barnabas Collins special, which everyone agrees that he is, but finds it difficult to define. He can see the eternal invisible people from the past because he’s from “the past” as well — defined here as a region that includes both 1609 and 1795. He’s a vampire, a condition that does not involve fangs or blood today. He’s also a pirate now, but he’s not good at it, and nobody gives him a uniform or takes away his cane. Even without a will, he’s able to struggle against his pirate captors, and the captain says that he’s “still got a bit o’ the goodness” left in him. I’m not sure what you call this kind of being. It’s never come up before.
Oh, and fuck the unsuspecting pleasure yacht, by the way, and all who sail in her. It turns out the pleasure was mostly experienced by other people.
So the days wear on, and Barnabas is super bummed about his will. The comic book series involves a lot of Barnabas moaning about his curse and how terrible it is, and now he’s under a different curse, and he’s still complaining about it. One of these days we’re going to have to get together and figure out a way to make Gold Key Barnabas cheer up a little.
Then there’s a gag that I think is legit amusing, with the pirate crew wanting to attack a boat and the captain saying it’s not a good idea, and it turns out in the next panel that it’s an aircraft carrier. I don’t have anything to say about it, but this comic almost never tries to be openly funny, so I want to show some respect.
Okay, now it’s part 2, where the pirates arrive at their secret island headquarters, which is populated by an exotic jungle girl with romantic aspirations. She clocks Barnabas as soon as he arrives, wondering whether he’s going to bring hope to her sad, tormented existence or more despair. The smart money’s on despair, but let’s see how it goes.
Arriving on a gorgeous, unspoiled tropical beach in the bright sunshine after centuries of endless night, Barnabas can’t let up for a minute. He’s still wandering around complaining about his will and his curse, and he’s not trying to make friends with the other pirates at all. You’d think after all this time they’d have looted some amenities for this island resort, maybe set up a beach volleyball league or something, but Barnabas isn’t getting into the spirit of things at all.
Then it’s time for another round of “what is a will for,” as the captain tells Barnabas to go help the other pirates carry all the stuff that they stole from the yacht, including some flatscreen TVs and several unnecessarily complex wristwatches. Because Barnabas doesn’t have a will, he has to go along with it, although honestly he should probably be helping out anyway.
But as soon as Barnabas grabs a box in the next panel, he spots a ship rolling by, so he throws it on the ground and tries to wave at the boat, who can’t see him because he’s invisible and so is the whole island. This seems to me like classic will-having behavior, but clearly I am not an expert.
The romantic jungle girl is a prisoner on the island as well, and probably not a happy one, if I know pirates. She decides that Barnabas can help her to escape, so she whispers at him from the underbrush that they should team up.
“Meet me by the reflecting pool when the moon is at its highest!” she says. “Come alone! Answer ‘yes’ by dropping your burden!”
So he drops the box for the second time in five panels, which probably means “yes” although he clearly doesn’t want to be carrying it anyway. I hope there’s nothing fragile in there.
At night, he manages to slip away from the pirates, who are probably drinking La Croix and eating the gluten-free crackers they got from the yacht, while tapping on the rich people’s phones and wondering what “Face ID” means.
The woman doesn’t really have the typical jungle girl accent, although she manages to produce a couple cliches, including “New one! I am here!” and “I am called Lani! In my islands, it means ‘hope’!” I bet it does.
Lani spends a page and a half explaining the island’s backstory to Barnabas, which involves the pirate gang kidnapping a wicked island sorceror, who revealed to them the secret of eternal life.
There’s a special vine on this island that produces an Alo leaf, and if you drink tea made from the leaf, then it gives you everlasting life and makes you invisible. I don’t know why mortal people can’t see the boats and the cutlasses, but that may be tea-related as well.
Standing in the moonlight, the besieged prisoners gently fall in love a little bit, because that’s another thing that’s special about Barnabas Collins; he has Kirk powers, which allow him to instantly attract the only woman on any given planet. It turns out they’ve been making Lani drink the Alo tea as well, so she’s part of this mad island cult.
All of Lani’s loved ones are dead now, and frankly she’d rather just grow old and die as well. She’s the only woman around, and presumably the crew of pirates have been passing her around for a couple hundred years, so she’s sick of this life and wants out.
The pirates get annoyed with Barnabas for pretty much still having as much of a will as ever, so they grab him and Lani, and spend a couple pages threatening them. Lani tries unsuccessfully to save Barnabas as per jungle girl regulations, and we get some more exposition from the pirate captain about how things work in this dump, which seems to have just as many random rules as the Lost island.
First: To remain immortal and invisible, they have to drink the Alo leaf tea once a year.
Second: To perish on the island means the loss of your everlasting spirit, which is a fate worse than death.
Third: If Barnabas drinks the Alo leaf tea, he will become one of the eternal pirates forever, and as a former cursed night dweller, he’ll be able to identify others of his kind so that the pirates won’t have to worry about them somehow.
So they lock Lani up, and they tie Barnabas to a tree, as they locate the magic vine and prepare the tea. But what the dastards don’t realize is that it’s the night of the full moon, when Angelique’s power is greatest for some reason, and that means her curse is even stronger than ever, and Barnabas is able to change into a bat and kill everybody.
And with one bound, Barnabas is free, slipping the surly bonds of earth and turning into a ravenous bat creature, who attacks the nearby pirates and disarms them.
Then he breaks Lani out of stir and sends her off with a little outrigger to paddle away to freedom, which in this case means that she’ll grow old and die, returning to her loved ones who died so long ago. She wants Barnabas to come with her, but he tells her, “Now go! In happiness and love!” and that’s kind of sweet, if you want it to be.
Now it’s time for the pirates to learn what happens when you allow Barnabas Collins anywhere near your culture.
The pirates are all busy making their tea and chanting umba umba, so Barnabas can just run in and push over the pot. You’d think the assembled pirates would swarm him and cut his throat, but apparently it doesn’t occur to them, so he grabs somebody’s sword and prepares for the final page.
And so Barnabas Collins does what he always does, namely: survive at everyone else’s expense. No matter where you put him or what you ask him to do — join a pirate crew, travel to Venus in a rocket ship, sneak behind enemy lines in World War I — it’s a safe bet that he will be fine, and you will not.
If there’s a vine that you need to protect, in order to sustain your ghoulish existence, then he is going to snap that vine — or, worse, get you to snap it, so that suddenly you’re the asshole.
And you will die, and your people will die, and everything that you’ve fought for and loved will be ground into the dust. And then he has to figure out how to fly all the way back to Maine.
Tomorrow: Bar the Shouting.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Julia tells Flora, “He said he wouldn’t take any amount of money to see — to not see Melanie.”
Tomorrow: Bar the Shouting.
— Danny Horn