Reprint reviews: 'Dark Shadows v4-5,' 'The Phantom: The King Years v1,' 'Rio'

Dark Shadows – The Complete Original Series Volumes Four-Five

Hermes Press, $49.99 each

Stories by various, art by Joe Certa

Reprinting Dark Shadows #22-35 (Oct 73-Feb 76)

 

These two books wrap up Gold Key’s Dark Shadows run, and I confess I will miss it. But not because these are really good comics, because they’re not.

 

The writing on these stories rarely rises above mediocre, almost always when done by Arnold Drake (Doom Patrol), who is credited on two stories in Volume Four and one in Volume Five. (The rest are uncredited.) Sometimes the writing is just terrible, such as Dark Shadows #28, where the unknown author gets his own mythology wrong: He presents Elizabeth and Roger Stoddard as husband and wife, when they are apparently brother and sister.

 

And I say “apparently,” because after 35 issues, I’m still not quite sure who everybody in the main cast is or what their relationships are to each other, which is the worst indictment of the writing that I could possibly make. Those of you who watched the TV show wouldn’t notice this; you already know who the principal characters are. But for those of us to whom Dark Shadows was a show we only read about  -- it never aired when I was home to see it, back in the days before VCRs – it was irritating that neither the omniscient narrator nor the characters themselves gave enough information for me to be really sure who they were.

Sure, sure, I understand that Barnabas is a reluctant vampire, and that his cousin is a reluctant werewolf. Cool, got it. At least both of them are named “Collins,” so I know they belong at Collinwood. But why does this Elizabeth person seem to be in charge of the house? Why is she sometimes referred to as a Collins, and sometimes as a Stoddard? Who is Roger Stoddard, and why does he seem to live there (but not show up very often)? Who are Professor Stokes and Dr. Hoffman, and why are they always hanging around (they seem to have independent residences)? How come Prof. Stokes knows that Barnabas is a vampire only some of the time?

Further, there are aspects of the status quo that are probably known to the TV fans, but are never explained here. For example, why can Angelique only show up occasionally, why does she hate Barnabas, and if she does hate him, why doesn’t she simply kill him? What are the limits of her powers? (And I’m forgiving the fact that all of her plans are nonsensical, overly complicated and seemingly designed to only annoy the heroes rather than actually succeed – that’s pretty standard for Silver Age bad guys.) While it’s all well and good that Barnabas is a reluctant vampire, how can all those in on his secret (which only occasionally includes the good professor) turn a blind eye to the fact that he is killing people every night? How come the police in Collinsport don’t notice that people are being drained of blood on a regular basis? How stupid is Elizabeth that she believes Barnabas works on a book EVERY SINGLE DAY without coming out for meals or the bathroom? And – now I’m just being cranky – how come it’s Collins and Collinsport, but only Collinwood instead of Collinswood? The TV show may have ponied up answers for these things, but the comic book never does.

 

The artwork isn’t much better. I had only known Joe Certa from his dreadful work on Martian Manhunter in Silver Age Detective and House of Mystery, and to tell you the truth, his Dark Shadows work is significantly better – especially with Barnabas, who grows to look more like Jonathan Frid with each succeeding issue. But there’s a limit to how good it can get; Certa is simply not a very imaginative or flexible artist. His range is extremely limited and his skills sub-par.

 

So why will I miss Dark Shadows? I think it’s because it had its own stately pace. It had a rhythm to it, and I enjoyed it like a song whose words I don’t know but is catchy enough that I hum along until I get to the chorus. (“Dum, de, dum, dum, BORN TO BE WIII-II-IILD, dum de dum dum…” ). In short: I think I just got used to it, like an old couch, and I will miss having it around.

 

The Phantom – The Complete Series: The King Years

Hermes Press, $49.99

Scripts by Bill Harris, Pat Fortunato and Giovanni Fiorentini; art by Bill Lignante

Reprinting The Phantom #18-28 (Sep 66-Dec 67)

 

I was pleasantly surprised to see that King Features changed very little about The Phantom on the 11 issues they published after taking the franchise back from Gold Key. Bill Lignante, whose Phantom will always be THE Phantom to me, continues on the artwork, and for the most part, the stories are in much the same vein. Since I enjoyed the Gold Key issues, I enjoyed the King issues as well.

To tell you the truth, I expected a drop in quality because the King covers are so inferior to those of Gold Key. Most of the Gold Key covers were original paintings by several regular artists that were always striking and sometimes magnificent; the King covers are adaptations of scenes from the Phantom comic strip that range from OK to terrible. Really, nothing approaches the quality of Gold Key covers, but King could have tried a little harder.

I was also pleased to see that the four Phantom stories originally printed as back-ups in King’s Mandrake the Magician title reprinted here, which means that these reprints are truly comprehensive. Points to Hermes! 

There are a couple of minor things I noticed that bear mention. One is that The Phantom actually answers the question “are you The Phantom?” with “yes” in issue #18, when traditionally he never calls himself that – he usually says “I’m a friend” or somesuch, and the questioner finds out later who this guy is. That’s all part of the mystique, you know, and I was annoyed to see the tradition dishonored.

Another is that the female Phantom gets a few more adventures in the King years, and I was quite pleased with them. (For those just coming in, the 17th Phantom – if my count is right – was a pair of twins, with the female filling in for the male when he was elsewhere or injured.) She had one adventure in the first Gold Key collection – she may have had more at Gold Key, the series isn’t finished yet – and it was incredibly sexist. In that adventure she was routinely defeated by men, needed a man to save her, fell in love with a bad guy (women are so EMOTIONAL, you know) and generally survived by sheer luck. In these adventures, she shows a bit more pluck, daring and training – she physically defeats men except when badly outnumbered, is quick-witted and uses clever tricks typical of all Phantoms to achieve ultimate victory. Diana finds this Phantomess admirable, and so do I.

I’m still surprised that Hermes is printing these books out of order: The second, as-yet-unpublished Gold Key collection, reprinting issues #8-17, should have preceded this one. But that’s a minor quibble, as I look forward to them all.

 

Doug Wildey’s Rio: The Complete Series

IDW Publishing, $49.99

Art and story by Doug Wildey

Reprinting all “Rio” comics from Comico, Dark Horse, Eclipse Graphitti Designs and Marvel, plus two unpublished stories

 

This is one beautiful book.

Doug Wildey, famous for Jonny Quest, came to "Rio" late in life. He had previously worked on books like Atlas’ Outlaw Kid and thought them stupid; he had worked on Western comic strip named Ambler that failed to find an audience. So Wildey decided to do a Western “right.”

 

And, boy, is "Rio" done right.

 

Rio is a thin, tall ex-gunslinger looking to make a few bucks and stay on the right side of the law. But he still has all the skills of his outlaw days, much to the chagrin of those who try to take advantage of him. And those unfortunates run the gamut of what the old West had to offer; riverboat gamblers, gunslingers, card sharks, native Americans, railroad men, you name it. It’s exciting stuff, with action, humor, occasional sexiness and more than a whiff of Maverick subversiveness.

 

But as good as Wildey’s stories are, it’s the art that is the star. Wildey does everything, from inks to lettering, and it’s virtuoso work. He mixes media; plays with light and shadow; creates gorgeous, elaborate establishing shots; blocks angles and uses body language like a movie director; evokes emotion with color. This is prime stuff from an artist in his prime.

 

IDW deserves some credit, too, for a gorgeous package. It’s a solid, well-bound book with an ornate, Western-motif hard cover using cut-out technique for a layered cover.

 

I hate to repeat myself, but it's true: This is just a beautiful book. And this from a guy who usually doesn’t like Westerns!

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I learned from this post at the blog "Who Created the Comic Books?" that Dark Shadows #34 paid homage to the Silver Dagger story from Doctor Strange. John Warner, who wrote the issue, also wrote for Marvel in the 70s. (Forgive me for repeating myself: I've posted this information previously in the Dark Shadows thread.)

 

Bill Lignante drew the Phantom Sunday strip for a period in 1961-62. (This is where I go for information on when Phantom and Mandrake newspaper strip sequences ran and who drew them. I should note the index doesn't list the ghost pencillers Barry worked with. Rich Buckler worked on the strip for a period in the 70s; George Olesen, who succeeded Barry, was a longtime collaborator.)

Cap, there was a brief discussion about Rio here.

...I think the King THE PHANTOM also , itself , included Mandrake short-shorties and some Gold Key-esque " educational  comics plus text page?? quickies in early issues ., anyway .

  I assume that those are not included ???

Right, not included. But Hermes has a Mandrake collection scheduled, so we can hope to see the Mandrake shorts there.

Whoa! A new forum! I didn’t know this was here! I just discovered it by accident today when I guess I scrolled down a little further than usual. Hermes is now up to the point at which I read my first Phantom; I have nothing to add about Rio I didn’t already say in the other thread Travis linked above; I can, however, answer your questions about Dark Shadows characters.

ELIZABETH COLLINS STODDARD—Collins family matriarch, sister of Roger.

ROGER COLLINS—Elizabeth’s younger brother

JULIA HOFFMAN—Windcliff Sanitarium blood specialist who attempts to cure Barnabas

PROFESSOR STOKES—College professor, occult expert and confidant of Julia and Barnabas

ANGELIQUE BOUCHARD—The witch who cursed Barnabas

Other than Barnabas and Quentin, that’s about it for the comic. Issue #28 is often cited as being the one which identifies Roger and Elizabeth as husband and wife, but the key word is “identifies.” No other Gold Key comic “identified” them correctly as brother and sister; it is my belief the writers/editor incorrectly assumed they were husband and wife throughout the entire series. Julia knows Barnabas’ secret, but Stokes never learned it, at least in the TV show; the comic is unclear on this point, just as the depiction of the werewolf is inconsistent in the comics. Can Quentin speak in wolf form or can’t he? Angelique is more about making Barnabas suffer than actually killing him. At least that much is consistent with the TV show.

Know that I know this forum is here, I’ll have to scroll down more often.

Is there a Mr. Stoddard?

Thanks for all the info!

On TV, Elizabeth's husband Paul mysteriously disappeared in 1948, and Elizabeth spent the next 18 years in self-imposed exile, confining herself to Collinwood and the grounds of the estate. Did Paul Stoddard abandon his wife, or is the truth more sinister? that is one of the many mysteries hidden in the "Dark Shadows."

RECOMMENDATION: If you're going to miss the cheesy Gold Key Dark Shadows, you should try the current ongoing new series. It picks up where the TV show left off, and whereas it's not as good as the show at its best, it's way better than the shows later years (not to mention the Gold Key version).

I'll add it to the "possible" list. Is it by Dynamite?

Yes, I believe it is. (I was going to say that, but i wasn't quite sure.) I think there's a tpb collection of the first story.

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