Vampires and Zombies

While vampires and zombies have been common stock for films and books for much of the 20th century, their presence in comic books has not been consistent due to censorship practices in the mid-1950s. In the early comic industry of the 1920s and 1930s, comics steered clear of tales involving vampires, zombies and most horror motifs. Horror comics arose in the 1940s and with them also came an abundance of stories presenting vampires and zombies.
Vampires and zombies have been used in many ways throughout history to represent fears and anxieties about death; particularly the disruption of a peaceful transition into some sort of afterlife. However, these undead creatures are also used to reveal human fear of fates worse than death. Common elements include returning from the dead, biting or bodily fl uid exchange as a means of infecting, and significant violence to permanently kill the creature (stake through the hearts for vampires and blunt trauma to the head or decapitation for zombies). Vampires are known to have a range of supernatural powers including fl ight, body transformation, telepathy, and super-strength; while zombies rarely have any powers, they typically have a maniacal appetite for human fl esh. Both are typically depicted as gaunt and pale fi gures with vampires weakened or killed by sunlight but often appearing relatively normal with the exception of protruding fangs.
Zombies are often reanimated in a posthumous state, rotting flesh, disheveled appearance and all. Most early zombies narratives (though few contemporary ones) are connected with typically non-Western spiritual beliefs, particularly from African and Caribbean cultures in the form of Voodoo. Zombies can also be singularly reanimated corpses seeking revenge for personal injustices or cursed begotten creatures. However in the last few decades, zombies have largely represented a plague of human mindlessness triggered by any number of reasons including disease, spiritual invocation, alien infestation, or scientifi c experimentation.
Vampires often come from non-Western sources (for instance Dracula comes from the periphery of Europe and the Ottoman Empire), but their mythology is deeply rooted in Christian theology; vampires are generally vulnerable to crosses, holy water, and other Christian relics. While the vampire also invokes anxieties about safe transition into the afterlife, their more conscious nature and more calculated approach to survival means their narratives are predatory by nature. Th e vampire is seductive, scheming, and often subtle in its actions, while the zombies tend to be mindless, ceaseless, and simplistic. Because of its consciousness and overall alluring nature, vampires also carry more over erotic (heterosexual and homosexual) undertones. Over the years, vampires more than zombies have become sympathetic antagonists and even in some narratives actual protagonists.
Several external sources have infl uenced comic depictions of vampires and zombies in the 1940s and 1950s. Bram Stoker’s classic book, Dracula (1897), its predecessor novella, Carmilla (1872) by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, and several cinematic adaptations—including F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1923) and Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931)—helped to shape the early manifestations of vampires in comics, while Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, many short stories of H. P. Lovecraft (in particular, “Herbert West: Th e Reanimator”), and films such as Victor Halperin’s White Zombie (1932), Jean Yarbrough’s King of the Zombies (1941), Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked With Zombies (1943) created the backbone of the popular understanding of the zombie during this time. Th ese sources helped shape the visual depiction, the mythological background, and the narrative range of vampire and zombie comics for much of their early history.
There is some fl uidity in these defi nitions and portrayals of “vampire” and “zombie” since traits like genre conventions can fl uctuate or be manipulated in order to keep stories fresh and interesting. Therefore, in some stories, vampirism might be identified as a blood-born virus; in others vampires might have an aversion to sunlight but have no need to return to the tomb during the day. Also, one’s status as a zombie can sway back and forth depending on the depiction. Characters inspired by Shelley’s Frankenstein are the best example. In narratives that stick closely to the original story, Frankenstein’s monster is less often seen as a zombie since the creature is eloquent, quick-witted, and ultimately, left to his own devices in the Arctic at story’s end, wanting nothing to do with humanity. However, Frankenstein stories inspired by the James Whale fi lm, Frankenstein (1931), are more likely to be read as a zombie since the Boris Karloff version of the monster is lumbering, monosyllabic, and, constructed in large part from a freshly buried body, much more clearly than the original novel suggests. Mummies and ghouls, too, have a way of fi tting or being excluded from the category of zombie depending on the circumstance of their creation, their means of destruction, and intentions as such beings. While vampire stories were easily identifi able, the same could not be said for zombie stories. Many horror stories of the 1940s and 1950s featured people WHO came back from the dead but for diff erent reasons and with different capabilities. Many returned to avenge their death, others came because they were just overwhelmingly evil, and still more were beckoned from the grave or revived by the living. These were the major tropes for zombie stories in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Few stories containing horror were published in the 1930s and usually the horrific elements were mere extensions of the some other genre story. Typically, Classics Illustrated’s adaptation of Th e Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1943 is identified as the first horror comic. Eerie Comics #1 (1947) is often credited as the fi rst ongoing horror series, though there is some debate since Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein series (1945) was inspired by horror but often the early issues were more humor than horror.
Regardless, by the end of the 1940s, vampires and zombies were being featured prominently in many horror comics. Often, early vampire stories were formulaic in that they followed in the tradition of both the fi lm and book versions of Dracula. For instance, in a story published in Adventures into the Unknown #3 (1948), “Th e Vampire Prowls” features many things that invoke the fi lm, Dracula, more so than the book. Th e story contains a well-dressed vampire akin to Béla Lugosi’s fi lm version of Dracula who lusts after a woman he meets at the theater though she is married to another. Th e doctor of the story wields an herb (juniper sprig) to repulse the vampire and later stakes the vampire through the heart in its coffi n. Th is is more aligned with the fi lm since in the book, there is no theater scene and it is the husband who helps slay Dracula.
Regardless, vampires and zombies continued as reliable characters in the increasingly gory and violent comics of the 1950s. Th e visual and moral debauchery exhibited in crime and horror comics led to the publication of Seduction of the Innocent by Dr. Fredric Wertham and to meetings of the U.S. Senate’s sub-committee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency with a focus on comics. October, 1954 saw the creation of the Comics Code of the Comics Magazine Association of America, Inc, in which comic stories involving vampires and zombies would be all but eliminated in comic books for about 17 years. Under General Standards Part B, the Comics Code stipulated several clauses that would signifi cantly hinder these narratives, including the second clause which prohibited “all scenes of horror” and the third clause which banned “all lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations.” But vampires and zombies were offi cially sent back to their coffins en masse with the fi fth clause which clearly stated, “Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism and werewolfi sm are prohibited.” For most publishers, this kept them from publishing such stories until 1971.
Th e revised Comics Code in 1971 amended and opened up some room by rewording the fifth clause as such: “Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, or torture, shall not be used. Vampires, ghouls and werewolves shall be permitted to be used when handled in the classic tradition such as Frankenstein, Dracula,and other high caliber literary works written by Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, Conan Doyle and other respected authors whose works are read in schools around the world.” With horror reemerging as a popular fi lm genre in the wake of creation of the Motion Picture Movie Association of America’s new rating system in 1968, comics also looked to cash in on the macabre. Films such as George R. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) helped shape the minds and visual expectations for the next decade as they have continued to do to the present. Therefore, while the Comics Code clearly indicated that stories with zombies were off limits and vampires would be limited; this did not prevent these tales from publication in horror comics during this time. By the late 1960s, publishers were bypassing the Comics Code altogether by publishing their “comics” as black and white magazines, thereby not needing the Comics Code’s Seal of Approval. Th e tradition was started by EC Comics in the 1950s with their publication of Mad as a magazine but others followed this tradition including Warren Publishing with Creepie (1964), Eerie (1966), and Forrest J. Ackerman’s Vampirella (1969). Th e initial run of Vampirella presented the title character as hostess and even character in a few stories in each issue. In comics, Vampirella is the fi rst sympathetic recurring vampire to appear, and her pleasing, voluptuous appearance led to legions of fans.
Seeing the success of bypassing the code, Marvel Comics moved forward with its imprint, Curtis Magazines (also known as Marvel Monster Group), to publish some of its most famous monster stories including Dracula Lives (1973), Tales of the Zombie (1973), and Vampire Tales (1973). Tales of the Zombie portrayed a revamped character from a short piece previously published in Menace #5 (1953), Simon Garth. Brought back from death by voodoo magic, Garth is enlisted repeatedly to do harm and occasional good. He is the earliest sympathetic recurring zombie to appear in comics. Within the actual comic books, the word “zombie” was prohibited, so publishers used other replacements including Marvel Comics use of the term, “zuvembies.”
Marvel Comics also responded to the relaxed code with the creation of the character Morbius. This “Living Vampire” first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #101 in October, 1971, then continued in the horror anthology series, Adventures into Fear starting with #20 and finally, into the Vampire Tales comic magazine. Th is human with vampire powers was a foray into the new territory. Once the character was approved by the code and accepted by readers, Marvel Comics followed up with the series, Tomb of Dracula in 1972. The other famous human-vampire hybrid character, Blade, made his fi rst appearance in Tomb of Dracula #10.
DC Comics too was publishing zombie and vampire stories in horror or speculative anthologies series such as Ghosts (1971), Secrets of Haunted House (1975), Secrets of Sinister House (1972), The Unexpected (1968), Weird Mystery Tales (1972), and Weird War Tales (1971). However during the 1970s, Marvel Comics dominated horror with ongoing series that featured recurring zombies (Simon Garth) or vampires (primarily Blade, Morbius, and Dracula), as well as many anthologies series, including Crypts of Shadows (1973), Dead of Night (1973), Monsters Unleashed (1973), Giant-Size Chillers (1974), Haunt of Horror (1974), Supernatural Th rillers (1972), Tomb of Darkness(1974), Uncanny Tales (1973), Vault of Evil (1973), and others.
Marv Wolfman both wrote and edited many of these series for Marvel Comics including extended stints on both Tales of the Zombie and The Tomb of Dracula. Both series portrayed and developed these monsters beyond their typical cinematic representation of unambiguously evil. For most of their history, comics featuring zombies and vampires took their lead from books and film, but with Wolfman and others, comics developed distinct trends within the overall vampire and zombie mythology.
Since the change in the Comics Code, vampires have been featured regularly within Marvel Comics’ continuum. Blade and Morbius made it into mainstream continuum of Marvel Comics on a regular basis, while Dracula and vampires in general make occasional appearances. Dracula fought the Defenders in Th e Defenders #95 (1981), the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men Annual #6 (1982) and also encountered Apocalypse (X-Men: Apocalypse vs. Dracula, 2006), and Captain Britain (Captain Britain and MI13, 2009). In the 1990s, Marvel Comics launched the crossover series, Rise of the Midnight Sons, which featured many of the supernaturally-based superheroes including Morbius, Blade, and characters related to, or inspired by, Abraham van Helsing and Dracula. Plots focused on the occult, thus vampires and zombie characters were reoccurring villains.
DC Comics pitted both Superman and Batman at diff erent times against Dracula and other vampires, though not always in their main continuum (Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, 1991; Batman: Bloodstorm, 1994; Batman: Crimson Mist, 1999; Superman #180, 2002; Superman and Batman vs. Vampires and Werewolves, 2008). There are occasional vampire and zombie villains, but DC Comics has few recurring vampires or zombies. Andrew Bennet was a “good vampire” attempting to fi ght against evil ones. He appeared as a regular character in House of Mystery starting with issue #290 for 30 issues and then appeared sporadically in diff erent series throughout the 1990s and 2000s. DC Comics also created Solomon Grundy, a recurring zombie supervillain who first appeared in All-American Comics #61 (1944) and has repeatedly battled Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Starman and others over the years.
In the 1980s and 1990s, there were several short-lived zombie series among the various independent publishers but one series, was repeatedly revived, Deadworld (1987). First published by Arrow Comics and created by Stuart Kerr and Ralph Griffith, the series was praised for its gore factor, compelling black and white art and complicated plot. When Arrow Comics folded, Caliber Comics gained control of the title and finished the initial series, released a series of one-shot issues and miniseries before relaunching the series again in 1993. While the fi rst series lasted 26 issues, the second series lasted only 15. However, Deadworld received another reprieve in 2005 when it was relicensed and published as an ongoing series by Image Comics. Th e series revolved around a set of characters trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic setting where the world is dominated by both brain-dead and intelligent zombies, including King Zombie who seeks to open a portal to another dimension.
Vampires also grew in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, owing much to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles books and an inundation of vampire fi lms. Taking a lead from this trend, independent publishers also launched new series and revamped old ones. Gary Reed of Caliber Comics published a miniseries on Reinfeld, the servant of Dracula, and the Vampirella series, now under Harris Comics, was relaunched as well as featured in dozens of one-shot editions and cross-over series. Cassidy, an Irish vampire featured prominently as a side-kick to Jesse Custer, the main character in the Eisner Awardwinning series, Preacher (1995).
An explosion of zombie stories occurred in the fi rst decade of the 2000s. Comics featuring or centering on vampires had been continually increasing since the 1980s. However, zombie narratives became very popular, very quickly, at this time. Of over 100 titles in which zombies feature prominently in the comic series published in the last 50 years, over 70 were published in the 2000s. Many factors played a role, including the disintegration of the Comics Code and the cultural legitimacy comics were now receiving. Th e boost also stemmed from highly successful zombie films in the theaters including the release of Resident Evil (2002), 28 Days Later (2002), and the remake of George R. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (2004), all of which hit record box-office receipts that had not been seen for zombie fi lms since the original Dawn of the Dead (1978). Added to this, comics were experiencing a general horror renaissance that balanced on several factors. IDW Publishing was hitting its stride publishing both original horror content including the vampire series, 30 Days of Night (2002), as well as licensed titles based on television, movies, and video games such as Angel (2005), Underworld (2003), and Silent Hill (2004). Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night) quickly became very popular and were involved in numerous horror projects throughout the 2000s. Niles’ miniseries Remains (2004) revolved around survivors of a zombie apocalypse in the middle of a show-down of fast-moving zombies (represented in movies such as 28 Days Later and the 2004 Dawn of the Dead) and slow-shambling zombies (also known as the classic Romero zombie). Th is marked the fi rst acknowledgement and use of this shift in zombie abilities.
This reciprocal relationship of genre fi lm and television with comics is best exemplified by Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire series. While a comic series ran concurrently with the television series, Whedon went on to craft a comic book continuation of the television series after its termination called Buff y the Vampire Slayer Season Eight (2007). This comic series was distinct from previous Buff y series, which did not advance the ongoing plot of the TV show. Niles performed a similar feat as writer of 28 Days Later: The Aftermath, published in April, 2007, a month after the launch of the first issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight. Th is graphic novel fi lled the gap between the film 28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later (2007).
30 Days of Night was the most infl uential vampire narrative in the comics of the 2000s. Meanwhile, Image Comic’s Walking Dead (2003) was the most powerful and impressive zombie series to come out, surpassing Deadworld as the most popular ongoing zombie series. Written by Robert Kirkman, the story revolves around former poliçe offi cer, Rick Grimes and his family as they try to live in a world where zombies have destroyed civilization.
In 2005, Marvel Comics launched its Marvel Zombies series, which was well received by fans and critics alike. Th e premise originated in Ultimate Fantastic Four in which Reed Richards taps into a parallel universe where a virus has turned all of Marvel’s superheroes into zombies who feast on the entire world (and eventually universe). The zombies appeared in two short runs on Ultimate Fantastic Four and by year’s end, Marvel Comics had hired Kirkman to write what would be the first of several Marvel Zombies series.
By the end of the decade, zombies continued to thrive with the vast majority ofnarratives still focused on the zombie as villain. Very few narratives were particularly sympathetic towards these undead, though there were a few exceptions, such as Zombie Cop (2009), in which one “good” fi ghts against the other zombies. However, vampires had developed much more complex narratives in large part thanks to the Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Whedon’s Buff y the Vampire Slayer and Angel series, Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries, and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. Certainly, narratives still focus on vampires as villains such as the Blade series and 30 Days of Night, but the shift to vampires as complex, sometimes tragic fi gures rather than clear villain continues to infl uence comic narratives and sales.

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