Friday, October 2, 2015

Vampire Tales #1 - First Blood!

Vampire Tales Volume 1 Number 1 is dated August 1973. This title along with Dracula Lives, Tales of the Zombie, and Monsters Unleashed formed a wave of magazines Marvel produced in the early 70's to tap the somewhat more adult market for comics outside the confines of the four-color world still ruled by the Comics Code. It was a chance to extend some horror characters and create others which challenged the status quo of what a Marvel character had long been. The first issue featured a very atmospheric cover by Esteban Maroto.

First among equals in Vampire Tales is Morbius the Living Vampire created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man a few years before. In the debut story by Steve Gerber and Pablo Marcos Morbius is operating in Los Angeles and falls in with a group of hippie satanists who take him to see an alluring psychic who causes him all manner of trouble when her spells unleash a demon. To read this one go to this very groovy link.

In an article titled "Blood Is Thicker..." the editors set up the premise of the magazine and state its mission to follow the exploits of life suckers of all sorts.

Next up is a reprint story from 1954's Menace #9 with art by Bill Everett titled "To Kill a Werewolf" and it's pretty much what you'd expect. Marvel made use of vintage 50's material quite a bit early on in these hefty magazines to fill out the page counts.

"The Vampire - His Kith and Kin" by Chris Claremont is a five-part look at the history and lore of vampires from a 1928 book by Montague Summers. This initial installment discusses general tropes of the monstrous undead bloodsuckers.

"The Vampyre" by writers Roy Thomas and Ron Goulart and artist Winslow Mortimer adapts what is arguably the first vampire story by John Polidori, a tale concocted at the same party which gave the world Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It's a journeyman effort which records the events of the yarn without much damage and sadly with little excitement.

Next up is another 1954 tale from Journey Into Mystery #15 titled "Satan Can Wait" with Paul Reinman artwork. All the 50's material in this issue is very handsome to look at, though the stories themselves are pretty tame.

"The Worst (No Kidding) Vampire Films Ever Made" mocks some of Hollywood's lesser cinematic efforts. I'm not sure I agree with all the movies included on the list as the vampire western Curse of the Undead is included and I rather like that genre-blending effort. Others mentioned are Billy the Kid Meets Dracula, Blood of Dracula, and Atomic Vampire, all deserving I suppose, but to my mind many still fun in their own hapless ways.

The magazine closes with a story by Gardner Fox titled "Revenge of the Unliving" featuring very handsome and moody art by Bernet. The story of an ancient vampire who rises once more to find her treacherous lover has some classic twists and turns.

The debut issue of Vampire Tales feels a little bit like what it is, a somewhat rushed effort to get something under two covers and onto the stands for the little bloodsucking audience to gobble up. The lead Morbius story feels like it was done very swiftly and lacks much of the atmosphere that Marcos often brought to his best work. Likewise the Polidori adaptation seems rather staid and lackluster, not the least of which is owing to Mortimer's tried and true but very humdrum artwork. Gardner Fox was fresh to the Marvel Bullpen at the time and he cranked out a lot of these horror yarns, this one of the better ones for sure.

There is a breeziness to the text articles which frankly reminds me of the relaxed and conversational tone often used in blogs like this one. Clearly the writers felt they were talking shop to a close-knit group who would get many of the offbeat references.

The series will really connect, fulfill more of its undead promise in the second issue. More on that next time.

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