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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dark Shadows: The Original Series Story Digest by D. J. Arneson

Unless you've been sleeping the days away in a pine box, deep inside some dusty old cellar, you likely know that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are bring Dark Shadows to the big screen in 2012. Given that Arneson's story takes place outside the main Dark Shadows storyline, at a time when Barnabas is no longer a vampire, it seems an odd choice to tie into Burton's movie, but it's still a wonderfully nostalgic look back at the origins of the franchise.

Over 40 years after it's original release as a Gold Key Comics Original Series Story Digest, D. J. Arneson's Interrupted Voyage is being republished, complete with the original artwork, beautifully recoloured to match the original printing. 

Interrupted Voyage is slightly cheesy, completely melodramatic, and so earnestly romantic it hurts. If that sounds like a complaint or a criticism, nothing could be further from the truth - Arneson captures the original soap opera feel perfectly, almost as if this were an unfilmed episode of the series. This is a story with as much atmosphere and emotion as plot, which is exactly what we should expect from a Dark Shadows tale.

That's not to say that the plot here is particularly thin or unimpressive. Transporting an ex-vampire and a ghost back to Salem to rescue a young lover's soul from the clutches of an evil witch, is genius. The paranoia and the tension is almost palatable, creating a situation that drives the story along at a breakneck pace. What makes it even more interesting, adding a note of dread to the proceedings, is the fact that the beautiful Angélique is waiting in the wings, ready to reclaim Barnabas' soul should he fail.

There are also some impressive narrative touches to the tale. The scene in which the Captain's room slowly devolves back into a storm-tossed ship, prompted by Annabella's tale of her own demise, is particularly mesmerizing. It's so carefully crafted, you don't quite realize what's happening until Barnabas is drenched with seawater. The transition is so seamless, without relying on any surprises or dreamlike states to help bring it along, you can't help but reread it to see how Arneson accomplished it.

Even though I suspect the audience for this will be slightly different from that of Burton's film, it's still nice to be reminded of the saga's roots, and to once again experience the melodramatic thrill of so many years ago.

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