Dark Shadows #3

A comic review article by: Shawn Hill

"Darkness draws in on the great estate at Collinwood..." That was the way so many Dark Shadows episodes began, back in the heyday of the titular series, with waves crashing on a rocky cliff, and a brooding house set back on the hill. The opening page always thrusts us back to that signature opening, immersing us in the idea that each issue is but one episode in the ongoing serial. Which almost makes sense, a lot of them were only a half hour, which is a good equivalent to one comic book as far as story goes.

We are squarely in 1971, following one likely next avenue had the show continued from that point back in the day. That's a retro and nostalgic approach, but it's a pretty good one for this property, because Dark Shadows is about nothing if not ghosts coming back from the dead. The unexpected first star is the cursed but suave vampire Barnabas Collins, and this installment sees the complete return of his unavoidable nemesis, the immortal witch Angelique. Manning and Campbell have done their homework, and in fact Campbell shows his strongest command yet of the likenesses of the faces and fashions of that long ago epoch. There may be a bit of photo-sourcing, but he's not too transparent about it, and the photos don't stop the action or the brooding sense of shadows that occupy those nights when Barnabas walks.

I'd actually prefer a more relaxed approach to likeness as far as adapting a visual property, something similar to the way George Jeanty and Karl Moline approach the Buffyverse, coming up not with photo-realism but rather comic book universe analogs for our familiar stars. Each issue has been fairly variable on the issue of realism thus far, so I think Campbell is still in his R&D phase on this title. 

This issue he really needs the likenesses, I suppose, because Angelique has somehow reanimated her own stone statue back to some semblance of human life. This sort of thing could easily have happened in the original series, and it's just as horrific in a comic book too. I hope Campbell doesn't lose his capacity for invention, because the scene where the eerily familiar Angelique levitates into the air after her resurrection and flies off into the night is wonderfully surreal. She's literally silhouetted against the moon as she flees, and she looks scary as hell rather than ridiculously cliché.

Equally unsettling is the mental control she places the Collins family under (symbolized by glowing blue eyes). Seeing the fractured family (never anything so simple as a nuclear one, but instead a matriarch, brother and nephew) gathered together, embroidering or writing "she approaches" over and over without knowing it is a chilling effect.

We've got a group here at this late point in the series who know each other's secrets, but who act as a unit despite their curses, so when werewolf Quentin allows vampire Barnabas to feed, you know it's just a way of powering up to face Angelique. Her confrontation with Carolyn in the town pub is well-played, a war of the blondes between the good human one and the reanimated porcelain doll. 

Is all this melodrama too fey for wide appeal? One wonders what tone the impending movie will take, since it also aims to be a period piece. Manning keeps the supernatural soap opera steaming ahead in classic style, but what may be missing from the 1970s aesthetic is a real sense of empowerment and hope for the characters involved. That may still be forthcoming, because Julia usually figures something out before it's too late.



Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.

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