As some of you who know me might be aware, my fascination with Marvel Magazines started some years back when I bought the first few issues of the Doug Moench/Walt Simonson Rampaging Hulk series. Around the same time, I also purchased the first and only issue of The Legion of Monsters, with its cover by Neal Adams. Unfortunately, that one-shot wasn't the best book to start with, as it featured the middle of a few storylines, namely Moench's "Monster of Frankenstein" opus and the Roy Thomas/Dick Giordano adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. True, it also contained the first (and until relatively recently, only) appearance of the Manphibian, a Creature From the Black Lagoon riff--but that wasn't enough to save it. During my college years, I finally completed that 27-issue run of the Hulk's magazine, and thanks again to Eide's Entertainment in downtown Pittsburgh I began to track down the much larger contingent of Marvel Magazines devoted to the horror genre. Unencumbered by the Comics Code Authority, these magazines allowed Marvel to tell some truly horrific tales. In addition, the artwork was by some of the true luminaries in the field, like the Peruvian artist Pablo Marcos, Colombian artist Carlos Garzon, Filipino talent Ernie Chan, and the Spanish draftsmen Esteban Maroto and Vicente Alcazar. They filled books like Dracula Lives!, Tales of the Zombie, Haunt of Horror, and Monsters Unleashed!, but I want to talk about another title, one very near and dear to my heart. And it's the first, but I hope not the last, to be published in Marvel's digest format.
Yes, friends, I'm talking about Vampire Tales.
|Morbius & Lilith haunt the covers to the Vampire Tales collections.|
I've long held a fascination with vampires, going back to the movie Fright Night, as mentioned in my previous entry, and soon afterward, I enjoyed seeing vampires in fiction (with Stoker's novel an early favorite, a gorgeous hardcover copy with painted art by Greg Hildebrandt in my possession). Could vampires in comics be far behind? Although later favorites would include the Lord of Vampires himself as rendered by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan & Tom Palmer in Tomb of Dracula, as well as Andrew Bennett of DC's House of Mystery feature "I...Vampire!", my original vampire of interest was Dr. Michael Morbius, the Living Vampire!
A victim of a bizarre blood disorder, fated to die unless a cure could be found, Morbius conducted experiments using electro-shocks combined with enzymes extracted from vampire bats to alleviate his affliction. His friend Nikos and lover Martine watched as he tried cure after cure. One such purported cure instead changed him into a scientific vampire--a living human being that exhibited many of the traits associated with traditional vampirism, including chalk-white skin; the ability to fly or rather glide through the air; superhuman strength and senses; and an inhuman lust for blood. Originally introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man #101, shortly after the Comics Code relaxed its restrictions regarding the depiction of the undead, Morbius was the forbearer of Marvel's charge toward horror-related comics in the 1970s. He appeared in two series concurrently throughout the mid-seventies: the color Adventure Into Fear and the black-and-white magazine which is the topic of this article, Vampire Tales.
|Rich Buckler & Pablo Marcos use dramatic page layouts on Morbius. From Vampire Tales #2.|
The stories in Vampire Tales featuring Morbius are generally regarded as being among the best depicting the character. The first feature in issue #1, titled simply "Morbius," is by Adventure Into Fear writer Steve Gerber with artist Pablo Marcos. It's a self-contained venture, but the next issue's story would begin a multi-part adventure by new writer Don McGregor, introducing the character of Amanda Saint, whose lover Justin was trying to sacrifice her to a satanic cult. The series continued with a variety of artistic talent, from Rich Buckler, Ernie Chan and Tom Sutton. As the tentpole feature of Vampire Tales, it was often the best thing about the magazine, but after eleven issues and one annual, the series concluded in 1975, and once more Morbius was relegated to guest villain status in Spider-Man's titles until he was "cured," however temporarily, in 1980.
|Satana, with awe-inspiring art by Spanish artist Esteban Maroto. From Vampire Tales #3.|
Overall, there's a lot to like in this series, and I'm thrilled to see it in graphic novel collections. (The second volume just went on sale last week.) If there's one shortcoming aside from the size of the collections, it's not the print quality--which is pretty stellar, certainly better than I could have hoped--it's the fact that Marvel chose to spotlight the black-and-white interior artwork from the series on the covers instead of the gorgeous, full-color images that adorned the magazine on a regular basis. True, the black-and-white-and-red covers do set the tone for what's inside, but wouldn't splashes of color better entice readers to look inside? All I can do is sigh heavily at the choice, because with the first two volumes already designed this way, there's no hope they'll change course for the final one. Let's face it, wouldn't you rather see this striking Bob Larkin image?
|Morbius looks for his next meal. Cover to the all-reprint Vampire Tales Annual by Bob Larkin.|