Monday, August 19, 2019

Dark Shadows: The Marilyn Ross Codex #1 - Dark Shadows


I suppose I owe you lovely readers an apology first and foremost.

It has been a good while since I have graced the hallowed halls of the CHS. So long in fact that my typewriter and paltry desk lamp have been moved BACK down to the Cupboard Under the Stairs, right back next to the mop and spare encyclopedias. It really is my bad.

Truth be told, some freelance work took me up to accursed Bangor and kept me there far, far too long. I got to talk about Swamp Thing over at Newsarama a bunch. I covered some horror film festivals AND wrote in a quite good zine (available now and with issue #2 on the way!) over at Dis/Member. I was even in a magazine! The Eisner winning PanelXPanel #25, all about the Sandman franchise, which was a trip and a half. It would have all been worth it had I not been in that festering cesspool of mediocrity that is Bangor. Schlepping down to what they pass off as a bar, filling pieces while choking down that weak freaking tea they call beer all while dodging mouth-breathing jabronis who haven't heard a goddamn Steely Dan song they didn’t love.

Anyone who tells you Bangor is a “decent enough town” is WRONG. Dead wrong. And probably selling you something.

But I’m back! And I have plenty of work ahead of me, work that will hopefully get me out of the broom closet and back into something at least resembling a workspace. Which brings us to this new column! The Marilyn Ross Codex! That’s right, after all these years, the Paperback Library’s’ Marilyn Ross books are finally receiving the audiobook treatment thanks to Oasis Audio. We here at the CHS have gotten a hold of some of these beauties and are going to be taking a listen to them. The immensely talented and far smarter than I am Alice Collins (@VampAly!) will also be joining us eventually along the way, and maybe a few other guests, if yer lucky! Welcome to The Marilyn Ross Codex!

So, I have a special relationship with the Marilyn Ross books, in that I DON’T have a relationship with them. Like my beloved Big Finishverse, I had only become aware of the cult classic tie-in novels here recently. Which is a bummer as I have heard they are quite insane. Like, fighting mummies and offering a completely separate prose universe alongside the TV canon insane. All of that sounds very much my jam. A lot of fans seem to really like these, and I have always meant to get around to them but a 32 book long series is daunting even for the most devout of fans. The closest I have come to really getting into these is listening to the fantastic Bodice Tipplers podcast episode about book #6 Barnabas Collins, by all rights, the horniest of the Marilyn Ross affairs.

Which is why I am excited to get to these reviews! I now have a pretty great in point for these and should I want to double-dip, buying both the old novels to display while keeping the audiobooks as my “reading copy” I totally can! It is nicely symmetrical for the obsessive collecting dork in me.

So how is the actual content itself, you may be asking now. And to that I say, pretty great! Though lacking the production values of the Big Finish audios and clocking in at a pretty decent chunk of time (which I will get into later), this first audio, carefully and lovingly read by Maggie Evans herself Kathryn Leigh Scott, is a fantastic entry point into this “Expanded Universe” of Dark Shadows.

Stop me if you have heard this before, but Victoria Winters has come to Collinwood. Lured by an offer to work at *checks notes* Collins House as governess to a child that lives there. Something, something beginning and the end of the world, you get it.  What follows is a pulpy, fairly loose adaptation of the first dozen or so episodes of the original TV series, stocked with all new characters and variants on the show’s opening dynamics. Characters like Ernest Collins, a seemingly famous concert violinist and suspected murderer who lives in Collins House (a canny anachronism that continues for the first few Ross books).   

As a fan of Expanded Universe, I sincerely love the idea of a semi-independent canon that stands alongside the TV canon, with it’s own cast and storylines. That said, the lack of production values is a bit of a bummer, especially when compared to the still ongoing Big Finish Dark Shadows line. Another bummer is the lack of any other cast members. Maybe the idea further down the line is to get other cast members in the booth and I DO love hearing Scott talk just in general as she has a smooth, caring tone that I find psychologically soothing. But part of the charm and drive of the Big Finishverse is hearing her play once again against other actors. I fear these might sound a bit stuffy after the full-cast efforts.

I also fear that the time commitment of this opener might be a turn off for casual fans. Clocking in at six hours, this thing really is a true blue audiobook (which, honestly, should have been something I anticipated going into this). Which means it's just bare bones reading for the whole time. Not helping matters is the fact that this first book is largely worldbuilding, setting up Vicki, Collins House, and the expanded cast of these novels. It has a pretty good hook, but anyone familiar with the TV canon won’t really be too surprised here. That said, I think die-hard Shadows people will find it a pretty great adaptation of this weird EU starter, but not having the frills of music or other cast members might be a tougher sell for me when I yell at people to get into the franchise. 

You might think that is a contradiction to what I said above, but I really, really did enjoy Dark Shadows. I think Scott continues to be really comfortable behind the microphone in any capacity and Ross’ odd, but engagingly written prose provides a spooky weekend listen for those still wondering what the hell this Dark Shadows thing is all about anyway. Those in the know too will find this fun as well as it brings the weirdness of tie-ins and the franchise overall into a wider market, hopefully snapping up more fans and devotees. To quote a great man, Joe Bob says, check it out.

NEXT TIME! Marilyn Ross #2! 1967’s Victoria Winters! To be honest, I’m just hoping we can get to the mummy fighting. Be seeing you!

Justin Partridge has always loved monsters and he thinks that explains a lot about him. When he isn’t over analyzing comics at Newsarama or ranting about Tom Clancy over at Rogues Portal, he is building Call of Cthulhu games, spreading the good word of Anti-Life, or rewatching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace for the dozenth time. He can be reached at the gasping Lovecraftian void that is Twitter @j_partridgeIII or via e-mail at Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.

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