Dark Shadows #24, "On Borrowed Blood!"

DARK SHADOWS #24; February 1974; Wallace Green and Denise Van Lear,
editors; featuring "On Borrowed Blood!," written by Arnold Drake and penciled
by Joe Certa.  On the painted cover by George Wilson, a sorceress sprinkles
sand downward to form a sandy image of the face of the series star, vampire
Barnabas Collins, while a man fires a small rocket at her from a crossbow-like
device.  Cover caption: "Barnabas, beware!  When your image is
completed by the Sorceress in Sand, your soul is doomed!"  (Review based on
the reprint of the story in the book DARK SHADOWS: THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL SERIES,
VOLUME 4, published 2012 by Hermes Press.)

Review by Bill Henley. 
This may seem like an odd choice for a SAR review, since not only is the comic a
bit late for the Silver Age, but I have never been a fan of either the original
DARK SHADOWS supernatural-soap-opera TV show or the comics or other spinoffs;
and I'm only vaguely aware, from TV reference books, of the characters and
storylines of the show. (If there are any DS fans on the list, you can let me
know if I miss any important character points or in-jokes.)  However, I
picked up the reprint volume from the public library shelf out of curiosity, and
saw that at least two of the stories here are written by Arnold Drake. 
I've been on a roll of reviews of Drake-written comics-- DOOM PATROL #117, from
from Marvel, so I figure I might as well close out the series with a review of a
story from Drake's extensive body of work at Gold Key, where he landed after his
short stint at Marvel in 1968-69.  Jeff Thompson, writer of the book
introduction, calls "On Borrowed Blood" "among the greatest of the comic-book
series" and cites an Arnold Drake interview as saying "I had fun with that
(story)."   Another familiar name to Silver Age experts is among the
creators here; Joe Certa, who did all the interior art for the stories reprinted
in this volume (maybe the whole series for all I know) is best remembered as the
artist of the entire Silver Age Martian Manhunter series in DETECTIVE COMICS and

The introduction notes that the DARK SHADOWS TV
show had been off the air for several years by the time this comic book appeared
(the show ended in April 1971).  But Gold Key kept publishing the comic
book through issue #35 in Feb. 1975.  (A similar phenomenon happened with
STAR TREK; Gold Key only published two ST issues while the TV series was still
on the NBC network, but kept on publishing the comic book until 1979 when "The
Motion Picture" appeared and the license was transferred to Marvel.  Arnold
Drake wrote some of the Gold Key STAR TREK comics, too.)

Part 1, "On
Borrowed Blood: The Millionaire Vampie," begins with a two panel splash in which
the sand sorceresss from the cover chants "Let the sacred sands bring death to
the one of evil!" as she creates her sand sculpture, and Barnabas Collins
screams as he falls down a staircase.  The story proper begins with
good-hearted vampire Barnabas Collins enjoying a "moment of peace" with his
friend Dr. Julia Hoffman as they watch the nighttime stars and listen to the
sound of the sea.  "But this is just another miniscule oasis in my desert
of torment!", declares the morose Barnabas.(The somewhat purple hue to Drake's
dialogue and captions that I noted in his DC and Marvel comics is also present
here.)   Dr. Hoffman tries to console him that she is constantly
learning more about vampirism in her lab and "one day... one day.;."
(presumably, a cure will be found).  Meanwhile, an arrogant millionaire is
rushing along a mountainside road to meet a plane when he misses a hairpin turn
and his car crashes onto the beach where Barnabas and Dr. Hoffman are
standing.  Barnabas rushes to rescue the driver before his car blows up in
flames, but the man still is near death unless he can receive an immediate blood
transfusion.  Dr. Hoffman checks the man's blood type on a medical alert
tag and finds that it is the same as that of Barnabas Collins!  But
Barnabas is horrified at the thought of becoming a blood donor, since "you know
that a transfusion of my blood would doom him!"  But Dr. Hoffman insists
that "we DON'T know for CERTAIN that your blood, under sterile conditions, would
transfer to the recipient!"  And better to take that chance, she says, than
just to allow the man to die.  At Hoffman's insistence, Barnabas flies in
bat-form to retrieve her medical kit and cooperates in the transfusion
process.   As an ambulance is called, Dr. Hoffman says, "Now we can
only pray for his life!", and Barnabas replies, "It's not his life that worries
me, Doctor!  It's his eternal soul!"  He doesn't know whether the man
will thank them for his life "or CURSE us everlastingly!"

In the
operating room, the doctors are amazed at the vitality of their patient, whom we
learn is named Andre Markovian.  ""I can't understand what kept him
alive!"  "He's worth $700 million, they say!  That kind of money would
keep ME alive, Doctor!"  Just 90 minutes after the surgery is completed,
Markovian is in his hospital room surrounded by phones and files, making
business calls.  The doctors try to insist that he rest, telling him that
"only a miracle" kept him alive.  Markovian insists that the miracle wsa
his rise from impoverished immigrant boy to an oil and shipping tycoon owning
"half the Caribbean". "I AM the miracle!"  The doctor responds that "Some
day you will face a problem to which money is no answer!   Then we'll
see the tune you whistle!"  That night, as Markovian finally falls
asleep,Barnabas Collins seeks to meet him alone and find out if he has inherited
the vampire's curse.  But before Barnabas can reach him, a shadowy man
fires a gun at Markovian at point-blank range!  But as Barnabas grabs the
would-be killer, Markovian wakes up apparently unharmed!  As the gunman is
dragged away by hospital security men, Markovian thanks Barnabas for the rescue
effort and pulls out a checkbook to offer him a monetary reward.  But
Barnabas disdains the reward and instead begins to tell Markovian of the vampire
curse.  The millionaire thinks Barnabas is insane or running some sort of
con game, but Barnabas proves his point by showing Markovian the instantly
healed bullet wound and displaying a shaving mirror which shows no reflection of
Markovian.  "You bear the eternal curse of the VAMPIRE!" (In traditional
vampire lore, a person bitten by a vampire has to die and spend three days and
nights dead before rising as "undead".  But I guess Markovian was in too
much of a hurry for that. Or maybe the rules are different in the Dark Shadows
mythos, or for people who get the curse from a blood transfusion rather than a
bite.)  Markovian reacts with laughter; he is convinced that he is now a
vampire, but he does not regard this as a curse!  He now has "the one key I
lacked" to become "king of the world", starting with the Caribbean republic of
Romanique, of which he is the behind-the-scenes leader.  He would have
taken power officially except that he would be exposed to constant assassination
attempts, but now that "your 'curse' places me beyond the assassin's bullet," he
can go forward with his grab for power.  And he will have Barnabas Collins
himself for his second in command, or else he will expose Barnabas' vampiric
nature to the world.  Of course, Barnabas points out, he has the same hold
over Markovian; "We have a brotherhood in BLACKMAIL!" 

Markovian's plane lands in Romanique, his chief guard and his sister Christine
are puzzled by the appearance of a coffin among the cargo, but the guard
supposes this is just some "dark jest" of Markovian's.  That night,
Barnabas releases Markovian from the coffin and the millionaire begins planning
to "expand (his) island empire with the power of YOUR BLOOD!"  Barnabas'
private thoughts reveal that he is stringing along with Markovian not just
because of his blackmail threats, but "to guard against his misuse of the power
I gave him!"  After introducing Barnabas to Christine, Markovian summons
his puppet President Alonzo and then stages a fake suicide for El
Presidente.  The millionaire then orders the windows of one chamber of his
castle to be painted over in black, and supplies the building with urns of the
native earth of both himself and Barnabas, so that both vampires can function
within the "Black Chamber" in daytime without having to sleep in coffins. 
Soon, Markovian arranges with his "hand-picked Senate" to name him President of
Romanique, and holds a nighttime rally for the country's impoverished citizens,
complete with free food.  Christine is skeptical, however, whether her
brother's rise to power will actually lead to the end of "slavery and
starvation" for Romanique's people. As the new President walks among the people,
one man shows his lack of support for the new order by firing a submachine gun
at Markovian.  But "Idiot!  Do you think you can destroy Markovian so
easily!"  The sight of their new leader escaping certain death inspires the
crowd to hail him as "Markovian the invincible!"  And Barnabas, observing
from the sidelines, bitterly reflects, "And hail Barnabas, who brought this
unspeakable wretch to undreamed of heights!" 

Part 2, "Emperor of
Darkness," begins with the execution by firing squad of the would-be assassin of
President Markovian.  Before being shot, the man shouts defiantly, "I die
for my land-- for my people!  But-- ESTEBAN WILL AVENGE ME!" 
Markovian, however, sneers privately to Barnabas that he was warned the
assassination attempt was coming and allowed it to happen in order to impress
the people of Romanique with his invincibility.  Barnabas says that he no
longer needs to feel guilty about destroying Markovian's sould with his vampire
curse, for "your soul is beyond debasing!"  But Markovian thanks Barnabas
for his "unintended compliment," and indicates that he still expects Barnabas'
help in his campaign to become "emperor of all!"  Later, Barnabas spots
Christine Markovian leaving the palace on "a pre-dawn errand," and decides to
follow her and find out what she is up to.  She meets and embraces a
handsome young man, and Barnabas concludes that this is "an affair of the
heart," but still may be relevant to Romanique's troubles.  And indeed it
is so, for the young man is none other than Esteban, leader of the underground
opposing Markovian's rule.  But though Christine is impatient for Esteban
to act against her brother, he is reluctant to order a premature attack that can
only result in "mass suicide".  As Christine runs off in frustration,
Barnabas approaches Esteban to offer him "a way of insuring victory". 
Esteban thinks Barnabas is Markovian's spy, but Barnabas insists "I alone have
the power to destroy Markovian"-- but only if "I know you are not just another
rising despot!"  Esteban leads Barnabas at gunpoint to the slum hovel where
he and his elderly mother live.  His mother's family were formerly "among
the great families of Romanique," escendants of gypsy settlers who were refugees
from the Inquisition.  "My mother still believes in their mysteries!" 
Barnabas responds, "And do you know enough of life's secrets to be sure that
this is only madness?"  The elderly woman at first greets Barnabas
hospitably, amid a delusion that she still lives in a palace of luxury, but then
looks at him suspiciously when he says he must return to the presidential palace
before daylight.  "Yes!  Before the first rays!  I
understand!  I can see it in your evil face!"  She shouts to the
slum-dwelling neighbors that a vampire is among them, and for a moment Barnabas
fears he may be mobbed, but instead the neighbors laugh at the old woman's
superstitious fears. 

Returning to the "Black Chamber" in the
palace which Markovian has shielded from deadly sunlight, Barnabas
encounters  one Knute Bjornson, a notorious munitions dealer with whom
Markovian is dealing.  Markovian boasts that he has tripled the small
nation's arsenal, including even ICBM's, and turns on a TV report by one of his
propagandists that Romanique faces attack from its neighbor country
Managuay!  Shortly, says Markovian, men in Managuayan uniforms will be
found shot dead on Romanique beaches.  "But those 'Managuayans' will be
from your own prisons, eh, Markovian?  You provide your OWN invasion-- and
excuse for WAR!"  (Here, Drake takes a leaf from real-life World War II
history.  That war started with a similar plot by the Nazis, as they
dressed concentration camp inmates in Polish army uniforms and used them to
simulate an attack on Germany by Poland.)   After Markovian retires
for his daily ration of vampiric sleep, Barnabas reflects on how he may actually
succeed in using tiny Romanique as a base for world conquest; "Corsica was an
island of olives and sardines-- but it gave life to NAPOLEON!"  (Yeah, but
Napoleon had to go from Corsica to France, a major power of the time, before
launching his career of conquest.)  Barnabas resolves to take a warning to
Christine who can relay it to Esteban, even though the "reflected sunlight will
be painful" in the palace halls outside the Black Chamber.  But meanwhile,
the ancient gypsy, Esteban's mother, is taking measures against the "evil
vampire" she thinks threatens her land.  As she sprinkles the "sacred sands
of Salaka," they form an image of Barnabas' face-- and as the image forms,
Barnabas is struck with pain far greater than he expected from his partial
exposure to sunlight!  Barnabas falls down a stairway, realizing that
something even more dangerous than the sun's rays is destroying him. 
Christine finds him lying helpless but is unable to aid him.  Fortunately,
Esteban is annoyed with his mother's continued dabbling with "gypsy nonsense",
and sweeps an arm to destroy the sand image-- enabling Barnabas to make a quick
recovery.  He persuades Christine to believe his story about Markovian's
vampiric nature and his evil plans, and she takes the message to Esteban-- who,
however, as a confirmed skeptic, only thinks "this wild story of vampires is a
trap for me"-- in which Barnabas and maybe Christine herself are
complicit.  Then, however, his mother has a change of heart. "I knew the
man had the blood curse!  But that he fought his own evil was unknown to
me!  Esteban-- help HIM!"

Back at the palace, Barnabas watches the
sleeping  Markovian and reflects that I could drive the stake through him,
now-- myself!  But the people must do it and create their own
freedom!"  Upon arising, Markovian is ready to launch his war with
Managuay, but instead he finds a war at home, as Esteban leads his rebel troops
against the palace!   Markovian's armed guards get the upper hand
against the rebels, however, and Esteban realizes the only chance for victory is
to expose and exploit the dictator's vampiric nature.  He fires a
submachine gun burst which shatters one of the blackened windows of the Black
Chamber-- and sunlight pours into the palace, causing Markovian to scream in
agony, as Barnabas ducks for cover.  Markovian retains, however, enough
vampiric power to transform himself in a bat and try to fly away. 
Esteban's gunfire is useless against the fluttering villain, but Barnabas
advises Esteban that a crossbow hanging on the wall, and its wooden shaft, can
kill Markovian!  Esteban grabs the weapon and with remarkable aim shoots
the flying bat-- which falls back to the ground and reverts to the corpse of the
dictator.  "The 'Emperor' is dead!  Long live free Romanique!" (It
appears that the cover painter George Wilson didn't read the story very
carefully.  The cover painting combines two separate scenes from the story,
the sorceress making the sand face and Esteban shooting the crossbow-- seemingly
at his own mother-- and on the cover the crossbow is firing a tiny rocket rather
than a wooden quarrel.)   That night at the airport, Barnabas receives
the farewells of  Esteban, Christine and the gypsy sorceress before heading
back to his home.  The sorceress asks for and receives forgiveness for the
pain she caused Barnabas when she thought he was only an evil carrier of a
"blood curse," and Esteban and Christine invite Barnabas to return for a visit
after they have succeeded in transforming Romanique into a happy land. 
"You'll do your jobs well-- both of you!  And I shall return-- if the
shadow over me will permit such freedom!"  (Don't miss the exciting sequel
in which the CIA comes in and assassinates Esteban and Christine and digs
Markovian up out of his grave and sets him back up in power.) 

a bad yarn, actually, but I noticed something odd about it.  Though the
hero and the villain are both vampires, neither of them engages, at least
on-panel, in the traditional vampiric necessity of drinking human blood! 
Now, not being all that familiar with DARK SHADOWS, I'm not sure if the would-be
good guy Barnabas had some sort of special means (perhaps an invention of Dr.
Hoffman?) to survive without attacking people for their blood.  But
presumably Markovian would have needed to drink blood and would have had no
scruples about doing so, probably by attacking some of his helpless
subjects.  I haven't read the entire reprint book carefully, but in leafing
through it I don't see any blood-drinking scenes in the other stories
either.  Did Gold Key's strict censorship standards, more stringent than
the Comics Code, mean that though GK could publish a comic about vampires it
could not actually show them doing what vampires


Posted by: WRHBill@aol.com

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