Monday, June 20, 2005

Today's Retro-review is: VAMPIRE TALES #1

Finally, with this debut issue, we have the fourth and final title from Marvel's early 70's B&W Monster Magazines. Joining Dracula Lives!, Monsters Unleashed! and Tales of the Zombie is Vampire Tales.

Vampire Tales #1 contained five stories (three originals and two reprints) and two text pieces. The cover (see above) is a painting by Esteban Maroto. Esteban was a regular penciler on most all of Warren's '70's horror magazines at the time (Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella) so it's not too surprising to see his work surface here. The cover itself I found to be less than exciting for a first issue. It's well done, a depiction from the inside story "Vampyre", but it's cropped image and less than dynamic layout doesn't help it leap off the magazine rack.

According to the editorial inside, this title would concentrate on tales and stories dealing with the undead that weren't named Dracula, Who better than to headline this first issue than Marvel's resident hollow boned blood sucker, Morbius!

The first story, a twelve page original by Steve Gerber and Pablo Marcos, is simply titled "Morbius". I've always like the character of Michael Morbius, the dying scientist who inadvertently becomes a blood sucking killing machine, but I was less than thrilled with this story. Morbius is in Los Angeles and searching for his lost love Martine. On the way he encounters a sexy clad cult member, an equally sexy clad mystic and a demon. The "plot" is nothing more of a way to reintroduce Morbius, perhaps to an audience who missed his appearance in the color comics and to give Marcos a chance to draw some sexy women (not that there's anything wrong with that...) At the end there's a blurb announcing that Morbius will return next issue. Good, but hopefully in a more fleshed out tale than this one.

Next up is a reprint, "To Kill A Werewolf" (wait a minute, what the hell is a werewolf story doing in a Vampire magazine????). It's five pages long, which is perhaps three more pages than needed. Really, the "shocking ending" is pretty apparent by the second panel! Kenneth Long is a brat who teased dogs as a child and grows into an equally bigger jerk as an adult, still teasing dogs. Hmmmm, I wonder how this will end? The only saving grace is the artwork by Bill Everett. It's a shame that Everett, the creator of Namor the Sub-Mariner, never got more exposure. His pencils have a beautiful fluid feel here and his inks are clean and crisp.

Following this is 3 page article by Chris Claremont, "The Vampire His Kith and Kin". It's Part One of an analysis of the book (of the same name) by Montague Summers. I've never read the book and as this is just the first of five parts, it's hard to really judge the validity of this piece. Perhaps by issue five.....

Now, here we have the cover feature, "The Vampyre!", adapted by Ron Goulart, Roy Thomas and Winslow Mortimer. "The Vampyre!" has the distinction of being the first ever written vampire story. History tells us that long ago on that immortal evening when Mary Shelley told a group of friends her tale of Doctor Frankenstein and the monster he created, that John Polidori (traveling companion of famed English poet Lord Byron) was also in attendance and told the crowd a story featuring Lord Ruthven called "The Vampyre".

This thirteen page adaption follows the exploits of a 19th century nobleman, Master Aubrey and his strange and scandalous friend Lord Ruthven. Aubrey travels to Greece and falls for the young and innocent Innkeeper's daughter, Ianthe. Ianthe shows him the local temples and tells him of the mysterious legends that haunt the old relics. That a Living Vampyre dwells among the ruins and feeds upon the lifeblood of young women.

I think we can all see where this is going. The end is a nice little twist though, and not as predictable as first thought. Mortimer's artwork fits the gothic feel to the story. He draws noblemen and innocent young women very well, but that being said, it looks very dated and not as powerful as it could be.

It's reprint time again and here's a five pager titled "Satan Can Wait!". It's a story that's as old as the hills, man meets mysterious stranger in a bar, said stranger offers him untold wealth if he sells him his immortal soul, and the man making jest of the whole situation, does so. There's a pleasant little twist in the end and the artwork by Paul Reinman is very nice, he's an obvious pro.

Next up is a very funny four page text piece by Mark Evanier (yes, THAT Mark Evanier) called "The Worst (No Kiddin'!) Vampire Films Ever Made!". It's like the title implies, a listing of the worst vampire films ever made. From "Invasion of the Vampires" to "Guess What Happened to Dracula" thru "Atom-Age Vampire" and of course "Plan Nine from Outer Space", my only complaint with this feature is that it's too short. I wanted more, especially pictures from all these blood sucking dogs!

To end this first issue is an eight page tale written by Gardner Fox, "Revenge of the Unliving!". An ancient house has been torn down, uncovering a long buried coffin and thus freeing the vampire within. This vampire though is an alluring woman, a woman seeking revenge on the man who imprisoned her those many years ago. The conclusion here is well done, though the weapon of death, a TV antennae, really dates this story.

What helps set the tone here is the very graphic artwork by artist Bernet. He uses stark blacks and white and shies away from detailed pen work, giving an interesting atmospheric look that elevates what could be a standard tale.

Well, that's it. The blurb on the cover says Mind Boggling First Issue! and while I can't say that my mind was actually boggled, it wasn't bored. Overstreet lists a Near Mint copy ofVampire Tales #1 at $50. It's an average effort, for a first issue, though one hopes that following issues will get better.

Stop by next Monday for a return to the swamps of New Orleans, and everyone's favorite zombie, Simon Garth, in Tales of the Zombie #2.

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