Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Your wolfman's idling a little rough there, buddy, you'll want to get his timing belt checked.

One of the most frustrating things about the genre of superhero comics is intrinsically tied to one of its most rewarding features; the wild imagination on display – on a monthly schedule in most cases, no less – is so often abandoned in the long game. The realm of Comicdom is littered with the corpses of the most unbelievably weird and inventive concepts which, nurtured and fostered in the right hands, could be turned into the rich soil from which an entire universe of new and even more bizarre inventions could spring – but rarely is.

And among these much-beloved left-behinds and almost-weres is … TRANSILVANE!

A product of Jack Kirby’s landmark run on Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (specifically issues no. 142 and 143, Oct-Nov 1971), the cellar world of Transilvane debuted behind a cover which promised “The Vampire Bit! But like you’ve never seen it before!” And, as usual, Kirby was not kidding.

The story opens with Count Dragorin of Transilvane – a genuine fang-toothed vampire type – and his fuzzy wolfman assistant Lupek emerging into the night around metropolis and putting a whammy on WGBS secretary Laura Conway, formerly in the employ of a mad geneticist for whom the late-night horror movie duo are desperately searching. With psychically implanted vampire bites marking the unwitting receptionist’s neck, she finds herself transformed the following morning into a bona-fide vampire right before the disbelieving eyes of Jimmy Olsen and Clark Kent. This brings Superman into the affair and ends up in the basement level of a nearby mausoleum – where resides a tiny horned planet, orbited by active movie projectors!

And Grant Morrison thinks he's such hot shit.

Transilvane turns out to be the project of Dabney Donovan, a mad geneticist who’d been among the banes of the plucky protags in the King’s unfortunately abbreviated run on Jimmy Olsen’s solo title. The citizens of the pocket-sized planetoid Transilvane turn out to be an impressionable lot, comprised of an “atomic liquid” structure which allows itself to be changed and molded according to outside stimuli. With the orbiting movie projectors sending loops of classic monster movies into the skies of Transilvane, the populace necessarily took the forms they had been shown …  those of classic movie monsters.

Famous Monsters of Kinbaku
To summarize: Amorphic subatomic artificial beings were turned into B-Movie monster clones by a mad scientist who showed late night horror flicks into the upper atmosphere of their schoolbus-sized home planet, accessible by the door at the back of the kitchen. Oh, and I forgot, they transport themselves to the exterior world by special space-travelling size-changing coffins.

While struggling to save himself and Jimmy from the misguided malice of Count Dragorin and his quest for the missing creator Dabney Dovoan, Superman does his best to save the Transilvanians from Donovan’s “Demon Dog,” a pesticide-spewing robot gargoyle scheduled to spit death on the tiny creatures of Transilvane at the hour of midnight, as part of some sort of palate-cleansing super-Lysol. That was a mouthful, but I swear it was like two whole pages of plot.

Of course, the Man of Steel saves the day and leaves the Transilvanians in peace, but he and Jimmy find themselves musing on the sorry lot visited upon his creations by the mad scientist Donovan.  Leaving the malleable monster people of Transilvane to the mercies of gory horror films has turned them into antisocial antagonists, but the limitless imagination of Superman is up to the task. Playing God-slash-Leonard Maltin, Superman replaces the monster movie film reels in the orbiting projectors with “the only musical Donovan had” in his apparently expansive library, “A solid smash hit whenever it’s played!! OKLAHOMA!”

Although the closing caption teases a possible return to Transilvane, we never make it back (except in the form of an occasional retelling and retrofitting of the plot). This is a genuine injustice because surely Superman’s plan to save the people of Transilvane would have resulted in CREATING A TINY PLANET FULL OF HIGH-STEPPING, ALL-SINGIN', ALL-DANCIN', ROOTIN'-TOOTIN' COWPOKE MONSTERS! If that’s not a world worth revisiting periodically, and better yet a world where an entire ongoing series of continuing adventures should be taking place, then I don’t know why we even have comics in the first place.

"Unfortunately, all I could find was Paul Blart, Mall Cop."

1 comment:

John Longenbaugh said...

Thanks for yet another masterful juxtaposition of snark and sincere appreciation for the weird majesty of comics, in this case Jack Kirby's certifiable and irreplaceable imagination. Also you made me laugh so hard I was snorting.

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