From 1968 to 1976, Gold Key Comics published Dark Shadows, a series based on the hit television show of the same name, but which focused more on the vampire Barnabas Collins, his werewolf cousin Quentin, and Angelique, the ghost-witch devising new tortures and trials for Barnabas, as if cursing him with vampirism hadn’t been enough. Each of the thirty-five issues featured stories loaded with monsters, evil sorcerers, time travel, and general gothic intrigue. Gold Key also handled titles derived from other pop-culture sources, including Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery. Twenty-six of the thirty-five issues went out after ABC cancelled the Dark Shadows television show, so essentially the magazine served fans looking for a fix of their favorite vampire, even if the narrative diverged from the original show.
Wallace Green edited and supervised production for all thirty-five issues, and Joe Certa – who’d penciled Doc Savage for Street and Smith, and Robotman and Martian Manhunter for DC Comics – supplied art for the entire run. Donald J. Arneson and Arnold Drake were the most notable writers, Drake being famous for co-creating the Doom Patrol and Deadman for DC. The first seven covers were stylized photos from the television series but beginning with the eighth issue George Wilson’s wonderful paintings began shining from spinning racks everywhere. Quite a workhorse was Wilson, who supplied numerous covers for many Gold Key titles throughout his tenure. Recently, George Jusko celebrated Wilson with an article for 13th Dimension. Experience them here: https://13thdimension.com/13-glorious-covers-a-george-wilson-salute-by-joe-jusko/
The following are the only five issues that I owned during my childhood. I share them with you out of pure nostalgia, and to illustrate the series’ goofy plots and continuity gaffes that so tempt the Suck Fairy. Hermes Press has released a five-volume, hardcopy set including the entire run, and although pricey it’s worth the investment. Jeff Thompson, a Dark Shadows scholar and Professor of English at Tennessee State University, provides a wonderful introduction that outlines how the comic wound up with Gold Key, not DC or Marvel, and how that involved the repressive Comics Code Authority.
Dark Shadows #11 (November 1971)
D. J. Arneson constructs a wild time-travel plot loaded with hurricane-generating handwaving. Every one hundred years on a night when Collins’ Comet completes a thirteen-star constellation, a vengeful golem created in the fourteenth century arises, destroying evil Collins family members before disappearing again. In 1971, the sneaky golem steals and hides away the soil from Barnabas’s coffin, and we know what happens to vampires who lose their native soil.
Cousin Quentin the werewolf suggests that Barnabas should travel to 2071, one hundred years into the future, when the golem will return, so that Barnabas can learn where’s he hidden the precious dirt. No TARDIS ride or slingshot effect for Barnabas, however. His mode of time travel relies upon a séance. That’s all it takes. So much for the laws of physics. Feel the mighty wind from Arneson’s waving hand! Barnabas finds his soil, of course, returns to 1971, and all is as well as it can be for a cursed Collins.
Dark Shadows #24 (February 1974) “On Borrowed Blood”
Crash victim Andre Markovian requires a blood transfusion to save his life. The attending physician? Julia Hoffman, of course, who works tirelessly toward helping Barnabas Collins find a cure for his vampiric curse. To save Markovian, a ruthless multi-millionaire, Dr. Hoffman transfuses him with Barnabas’s blood, unleashing another vampire upon the world, which works against finding a cure for the original, you might conclude.
Our new vampire sets off for Romanique, a Caribbean nation that he soon conquers and rules Doctor Doom-style from his throne in Castle Blanco. He extorts Barnabas into becoming his prime minister, but all is not lost, since Christine, Markovian’s younger sister, connects with Esteban, a rebel, and his psychic mother to revolt against her brother’s tyranny. In the end, Esteban slays Markovian, the island is free, and Barnabas’s new friends agree to keep his tragic secret.
When I first read this during my childhood, much of the politics flew right by me, but rereading it I see where enterprising academics could analyze the metaphor of a white vampire colonialist sucking the life blood from an oppressed nation. Surely Arnold Drake didn’t intend such a deep dive, but why resist?
Dark Shadows #25 (April 1974) “The Immortal”
Every eighty years or so, the sorcerer Xanis transfers his soul into a new body when the one he currently inhabits becomes too old. Barnabas becomes his next victim, finding himself trapped within an aged, infirmed body. He retains his vampiric powers, however, so here we have writer John Warner matching Drake and Arneson’s continuity-destroying energy if you recall how in issue #11 Barnabas was able to share vampirism through a blood transfusion. Continuity disambiguation plagues the entire series, but one person’s plague is another’s delight, and I lean toward delight.
Dr. Julia Hoffman builds an electrocution machine to shock Xanis from Barnabas’s body, but since this will kill Xanis she can’t throw the switch. I think you know who can, though – our favorite ghost, Angelique. No way will a wizard steal the pleasure she gains from torturing Barnabas, and no way will anyone cut before her into the “I get to kill Barnabas” line. The planets shift, however, pulling Angelique away before she can finish the job.
Dark Shadows #26 (June 1974) “The Witch Dolls”
Evil dolls fascinate me. While out walking one night, I found a toddler-sized pouty doll, her hands obscuring her weeping face, that someone had left on a curb with a sign attached: “Please adopt me!” I did, and upon posting a photo on social media, friends began commenting, “Do you want ghosts? Because this is how you get ghosts.” Three years later, and still no ghosts.
Once again, Angelique, the ghost-witch who had cursed Barnabas with vampirism, returns, disguised as Granny Bumpers who owns a large collection of lovely dolls, marionettes, and hand puppets. Many, however, are human beings that Angelique shrinks and uses for evil missions, this time to drive a stake through Barnabas’s heart while he slumbers. Poor Quentin the werewolf even finds himself shrunken at one point.
Arnold Drake injects romance into the story, since the marionettes are Sybil Lennon and Carlo Mancuso, two young lovers from rival families, although their fates are much more positive than those of Romeo and Juliet.
Evil dolls, a miniaturized werewolf battling a cat, and young romance – I want to read it again just because.
Dark Shadows #27 (August 1974) “My Blood or Yours?”
Once more, Barnabas travels through time. Quentin’s lycanthropy has been getting worse, so Barnabas must go back two centuries and find Isaac Salter, who’s concocted an “anti-evil” elixir that might cure Quentin’s lupine situation. Salter gives Barnabas the potion right before he’s arrested and tried for witchcraft. Barnabas rescues him, but upon returning to the twentieth century discovers that the formula has “mental side-effects” that Quentin can’t tolerate. Alas.
But wait! Does Barnabas time travel via séance? No. Writer Arnold Drake has Barnabas simply light a candle and enter a trance. So much for the séance method devised by D. J. Arneson for issue #11, and I imagine generations of Time Lords screeching when they find out how easily Barnabas breaks temporal boundaries when who knows how long it took them to develop their TARDIS technology.