First Hammer Films, Now Some "Vampire Tales"!

After that last thrilling entry (to which absolutely nobody replied...seriously, what is wrong with you people?), who wants some more horrific fun? Okay, since you asked so nicely, here we are! I wanted to get away from the Hulk and Firestorm for a while, but don't worry, for they'll be back before you know it. Now, it's time to entertain the seedier side of Marvel Comics, a bygone era where they published black-and-white magazines by the score!

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.
Becoming aware of Morbius from, I believe, one of the one-page pin-up featurettes in the back of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #3 (itself featuring another semi-supernatural Spidey villain, the Man-Wolf)--or maybe it was one of the early issues of the main series--I resolved to pick up each of his appearances, although it wouldn't be until many years later that I'd finish. As a youth in the late eighties and early nineties, I was able to find all of his Spidey appearances--and this was long before he became one of Marvel's "Midnight Sons" and had a series of his own. What books were the hardest to locate? Those would be these babies right here, now available in two digest-sized graphic novel collections, with a third hopefully on the way.

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.
Morbius' features in Vampire Tales are far from the only highlights of this series. Through the two collections already in print is a wide variety of features, from a five-part text piece on Montague Summers' historical overview of vampires in culture, The Vampire: His Kith and Kin; to the first solo story of Lilith, Daughter of Dracula; to the introduction of another of my favorite Marvel characters, Satana--the succubus sister to Daimon Hellstrom (the then-newly-introduced Son of Satan); along with various adaptations of short stories and reprints of Atlas Era monster tales. Satana's stories are particularly noteworthy, with her first appearance in Vampire Tales #2 by Roy Thomas and John Romita Sr. that's an amazing course in graphic storytelling in just four pages, rivaling nearly everything else out there. The next Satana story by Gerry Conway and Spanish artist Esteban Maroto takes her series in a different direction, with wonderfully ornate costumes and a compelling narrative. Sadly, she's never to appear again in Vampire Tales, instead dismissed to co-star with Gabriel the Devil-Hunter in the five-issue Haunt of Horror revival beginning with its second issue. (And if you think I'm ever so slightly in lust with Satana and think she'll be featured in an upcoming entry to this blog, you win the Kewpie doll--the red one, with the horns and tail!)

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.
That I recommend this series of reprints goes without saying. If you like these volumes, I strongly recommend you make your voices heard, in hopes of seeing not only the third and final Vampire Tales collection, but also perhaps magazine series like Tales of the Zombie. Or Monsters Unleashed! or Dracula Lives! Or maybe Marvel could escape the horror genre and reprint the long-running Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. There are certainly some exciting stories and articles throughout all of the above magazines, and it's about time someone threw open the doors to the archives!


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