Monday, February 13, 2012

A look at the Dark Shadows/Kolchak crossover

In 2009, Moonstone published a comic featuring Carl Kolchak and characters from Dark Shadows. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but the Kolchak Tales Annual is the definition of the word "inessential." There are a few good ideas present in the script but the writer never found a proper story to present them.

The story begins with a nod to the first episode of Dark Shadows. Instead of Victoria Winters arriving by train we get reporter Carl Kolchak, who wastes a few pages summarizing the Night Stalker/Night Strangler movies. He goes on to explain that he'd received a suspicious letter from a gentleman named Barnabas Collins in Collinsport, Maine ... as well as an invitation to his home.

A "letter" that appears to be the size of a broad-sheet newspaper.

Being curious and unemployed, Kolchak accepts the invitation and begins his journey. He's met by a man identified as Willie Loomis but we pretty much have to take the writer's word for it because the likeness is terrible. The art in "licensed" books (comics based on existing properties such as movies and TV shows) are usually spotty, at best. Because of a variety of contractual reasons the publishers of licensed properties almost always hire artists who are good at capturing the likenesses of actors instead of hiring, you know, GOOD artists. John Byrne, once one of the biggest names in comics, intentionally avoided drawing Star Trek comics because he doubted his ability to make Captain Kirk look like William Shatner. Meanwhile, members of the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer were reportedly so unhappy with how they were drawn in comics that they insisted on having input into the editorial process.

The end result is that nobody buys a book like Kolchak Tales for the art. Keep that in mind when looking over these pages.

Kolchak becomes convinced that Collins, who is away on Bangor for business during the reporter's daytime arrival, is a vampire seeking revenge for the slain Janos Skorzeny. This leads to a glorified slap-fight when Barnabas arrives home later that night. He and Willie disarm him, allowing for Barnabas to show Kolchak how they do exposition in Collinsport.

Yep. Barnabas is no longer a vampire. Among the many women he murdered in 1795 was one who turned into a vampire, herself. This woman later turned Janos Skorzeny, leading to the problems Kolchak experience in Las Vegas during The Night Stalker movie. Barnabas invited Kolchak to Collinwood to thank him for his efforts.

And that's pretty much it.  A lot of inner monologue, a few Three's Company-level misunderstandings and a little chit chat and Kolchak is sent home. The end.

I'm not entirely certain what I was expecting from the comic. Dark Shadows is very romantic and sentimental, while the two Kolchak movies were much more realistic and cynical. Even though they share a few occult similarities the two properties are very, very different. The final product is something that is empty of story, unless you count obligatory fan service (such as mentioning Tony Peterson's law firm) as "story."

In other word, give this book a miss. If you need a Dark Shadows comicbook fix there's a perfectly good series now being published from Dynamite. The first collection is due in trade paperback in April.

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