Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fangs for the Memories

Vampire Tales, vol.1

Karen: Recently I picked up volumes one and two of Marvel's Vampire Tales. I'll be reviewing volume one here, which covers issues 1 through 3 of that classic 70s monster mag. For whatever reason, Marvel decided to issue these as digest-sized editions. I have to admit, the small print made it a little difficult for my middle-aged eyes at times. I'd prefer a regular-sized TPB. But all in all, I had a blast going through this book.

I also want to say up front here, that the scans for this review are a bit cut-off, because of the tight binding of the book and my reluctance at bending it too much. So I hope you don't mind.

I only had a handful of Marvel magazines as a kid. I'm not sure why, other than the price. I recall having a few issues of Tales of the Zombie, The Rampaging Hulk, Planet of the Apes, and Savage Tales. But no Vampire Tales, so this was all pretty new to me.

Rather than review each issue, I'm goi
ng to discuss them as a whole. They follow a format: several stand-alone stories, a couple of continuing features (Morbius and Satana), and a few text articles. I found myself actually enjoying the short stand-alone stories the most. Short and to the point, and usually with some kind of surprise ending (which was occasionally telegraphed), I found myself grinning or giggling at a fair number of these. Some of these short stories were also reprints; perhaps the best of them was Jim Steranko's "At the Stroke of Midnight," which was reprinted here from Tower of Shadows #1 (Sept. 1969), a short-lived color comic. I've never seen the color version, but it works exceedingly well in black and white. It follows a whimpering husband and his domineering wife as they search through his recently-deceased uncle's house for treasure. Turns out the couple was responsible for the man's death, and the ending, as they open a door in a deep cellar of the house...well, let's just say they get what's coming to them.

Another short story I enjoyed was "To Kill a Werewolf," which is only credited to artist Bill Everett. I'm not sure how old this tale was -certainly from the 50s, if not earlier. In it, a dog-hating man hires someone to shoot dogs on his property. Things are complicated though when the man is bitten by a werewolf and turns into a wolf. This story was goofy -I loved seeing the wolf trying to write with a pen!

There's another story called "Don't try to Outsmart the Devil" that is by Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino. Again, it appears to be from the 50s, but I would never have known it wa
s Infantino just by looking at the art. It has none of the hallmarks of his later style on Flash or other super-heroes.

Of the continuing features, Satana is the more interesting of the two to me, based solely upon the artwork of Esteban Maroto. Satana is no vampire but the daughter of the Devil, and essentially a succubus who steals men's souls. Maroto's work has a dream-like quality to it. It also seems to have a lot of photo-references. This image of Satana to the side here seems very familiar to me; is it from a picture of an actress? I can't place it but I'd swear I've seen it before.

The Morbius series started in issue one with Steve Gerber writing and Pablo Marcos on the art, but then switched to Don McGregor and Rich Buckler.
Morbius, the 'scientific vampire' from Amazing Spider-Man #101 (Oct. 1971) outright kills people in this black and white mag, unlike in his comics appearances. But he's still portrayed as remorseful. He gets involved with a beautiful innocent girl that he has to save from a demonic cult. The story continues into the next volume. Like typical McGregor work, it is very wordy and for me, the Buckler art is what makes it readable.

The text features were especially interesting. Chris Claremont does an overview of a very old treatise on vampires by Montague Summers called The Vampire: His Kith and Kin. This book was written in 1928 as sort of a manual on vampirism. I found it quite interesting. It's apparently a 5 part article, so it must continue in the next

Issue 2 has an article by Doug Moench on Bela Lugosi's non-Dracula vampire roles - which outnumber the times he actually did play Dracula. Although Lugosi is probably the actor most identified with the Count, he only played Dracula in the original Universal
Dracula, and then again in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. I should note that the text articles all have nice black and white photos from a variety of films, including the Universal classics, as well as many Hammer flicks, which of course, were quite popular in the 70s. Also of note is that the covers for each issue are reprinted here in color -a nice treat!

All in all, this was a happy find for me and I recommend it heartily to any fans of Marvel monster fiction -or anyone who is curious. I hope Marvel will publish some more reprints of their classic horror, sci fi, and sword and sorcery magazines, although a larger format would be much appreciated!


Edo Bosnar said...

Considering that there was only about 10 issues of Vampire Tales, I don't know why they didn't just stuff the entire series into a single Essentials volume (a la Tales of the Zombie - which is a great deal, by the way). I'm also puzzled by the smaller format, since they still seem to be priced the like standard-size TPBs.
Regardless, I definitely want to pick these up, as I also missed out on most of Marvel's b&w magazines back in the 70s - mainly because I just didn't realize they existed at the time. Also, Estaban Maroto...

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,
Funnily enough, I just bought a complete run of Tomb of Dracula, so I’m in the same what-was-that-noise? –when-did-it-get-so-dark?-extra-garlic-on-mine-please place that you are. Man, you really appreciate Palmer’s inking on Colan when you see a parade of different inkers on a sustained run of it. Ernie Chua – always fine on Buscema, was a particularly terrible surprise.

As I’ve reached the Wolfman issues (as in Marv, not as in Lon Chaney Jr) I’m anticipating good things in the writing. The first issue was Gerry Conway and the dialogue was shocking. Then Archie Goodwin, then Gardner Fox, not one of them really with an idea where to take it. Then Marv jumps in and immediately proscons the whole Bram Stoker legend into the modern day and we’re off.

Karen – somewhere on a thread you said that you found the black & white reprints in the Essentials off putting. Over here in Limeyland, we had our own Marvel comics in 70’s which reprinted US Marvels, and the British ones had it all over the American comics in several ways – they were larger (taller, wider, more pages) they featured three reprints per comic (or more in the case of the landscaped, really) and they had no was all story, so you got way more bang for your bucks and they were weekly, so you didn’t have to wait a month to find out if Gwen was really dead.

The one thing they didn’t have going for them: they were black & white! There are probably some die-hard UK fans here who will tell you that being in B&W gave the art a different quality, or made certain facets of the artwork more interesting or some old cobblers like that...but it’s not true. Colour = better, end of conversation.

Having said all that, I am finding Dracula a notable (if only) exception. Somehow they were darker, more mysterious and creepier in black & white, and the larger format, and that swirly, misty Colan/Palmer art does actually gain something from being in B&W. Now reading them in colour, I am finding it a little like watching a classic old movie which has been colourised (sorry...’colorized’). And is that EVER an improvement?


P.S. And yes, I did make up the word proscon....I don’t know what the opposite of retcon is, but I reckon I may have invented it here today. Remember where you were, people.

Doug said...

Richard (and our other friends in the UK) --

Question about the B&W reprints: Were they truly B&W? That is, is it your impression that they were shot from the original art, or shot from the color comics that were released in the States?

I ask this, based on my ownership of The Essential Avengers, volume 3, which reprints much of the Thomas/Buscema run. There are issues in that collection that are strictly B&W, while there are other issues that were obviously shot from the color comics -- they reproduced in more of a grayscale fashion, which is quite off-putting. And I'm not talking about the use of zip-a-tone -- shades of gray is what I'm inquiring of.

Just curious,


Anonymous said...

Hi Doug,

All a bit of a mad hotch potch really. In the 60’s a company called Odhams produced comics with the subtle names of Fantastic, Pow ! and Smash ! (I think Adam West had a lot to do with that). They were totally B&W except the covers and featured reprints of US Marvels alongside British original stuff. I remember Giant Man very fondly. These were pure clean B&W repros. Likewise TV21 ( a TV based comic which curiously printed the Surfer).

When these wrapped up in the late 60’s, there was nothing until Mighty World of Marvel (MWOM) was launched in 1972, actually published by Marvel. They were edited in the States and printed here. ORIGINAL covers by the likes of John Buscema and Jim Starlin, so, I hate to tell you, there’s a whole shedload of art by your respective favourites that you’ve never seen.

To British Marvel fans, Mighty World of Marvel is practically a single word. Then Spider Man & others got their own titles. MWOW specifically had pages that were coloured, but not actually coloured in, it was like the whole page would be sepia or a pale terracotta or other colour. I think it’s called spot colour. I think at the start MWOM had a few pages that were full colour as well. I have no idea to this day what the point of the spot colour was. It did not look good. Later on it just went B&W.

Hard to imagine, I know. If you follow this link you can see the first page of FF1 reprinted in green (though why anyone would want to see that I can’t imagine). If you look at the Hulk page, you can see it does not suffer from the shades of gray you’re asking about.

There’s a period when all the colour has gone, but before they’re being properly reproduced in B&W when a lot of grey shading (which is nowhere in the original US comics) appears. I think this is what you’re referring to. It makes the whole thing look a bit muddy and vague. I would guess it was done to compensate some other problem that occurred reproducing colour as B&W because it certainly brings nothing to the party.

Later, it’s better, and I would say from the mid 70’s it was taken from the original artwork, post-inker, pre-colourist.

I’ll try to find the gray pages somewhere.


PS - Karen, if you’re a Starlin completist, best you don’t follow that link !

Doug said...

Richard --

That is fascinating information! Thanks for the link, too!

And now, back to a discussion of all things vampiric...


J.A. Morris said...

Thanks to Karen for the review! I was a little surprised when I saw that book at the local comic shop. It's amazing how 'Twilight'/'True Blood'-mania has finally gotten Marvel to reprint some of their 70s horror series.
Richard is exactly right about 'Tomb Of Dracula'. I recently got the first 2 tpbs of the series and the inking & writing makes it hard to get through the first few stories.

When Palmer's name finally showed up in the credits, I let out an audible sigh of relief.

Karen said...

Richard and J.A. - I also bought the Tomb of Dracula TPBs last year and this, and so far I've done three reviews (you can check the sidebar to the left or check this out for the first one:

I would agree heartily, no one knew what to do with this book initially. Wolfman came in and started it down the right path, but even so, I'm finding his early stories a bit weak. I haven't started the third TPB yet but I'm hoping it gets to the good stuff.


jefsview said...

I was waiting for these, and when solicited became uttered disenfranchised.

These should have been Essentials, like the rest of the Marvel Horror line. In fact, I was hoping this would be Volume 2 in Essential Marvel Horror (Volume 1 featuring the Son of Satan).

These were once magazine sized issues, and need to be in a larger format. I was also hoping for reprints of the Aventures into Fear color issues once the B&W ran its course.

But this showed that Marvel didn't have as much faith in the property. Even the mummy got reprinted in Essentials.

So I passed these up, hoping for a more thurough collection

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