Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Nothing even remotely resembling this happens anywhere in any issue of this series.

Naturally, the Atlas-Seaboard equivalent of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies is “Cram together two mildly compatible contemporary pieces of pop culture until a bland, flavorless paste can be made of the pulp,” and that’s certainly what they did with Planet of Vampires! Stirring together equal parts Omega Man and Planet of the Apes, the resulting simmering brew was strangely devoid of either vampires or planets in much of the traditional sense of the words.

Initially brought to life by writer Larry Hama and artist Pat Broderick, Planet of Vampires related the harrowing tale of the crew of the Aries VII in the post-apocalyptic world of the far-flung 2020 AD. Having been on a mission to discover life on Mars, the Aries astronauts return to Earth only to find that the planet has reverted to a state of primitive barbarism. Crash-landing in the water near a futuristically dilapidated Coney Island, the five surviving astronauts (the cover promises us six, but I’m assuming the other five used that one to cushion their landing) discover that roving street gangs, speaking a lumbering patois of barbarian grunts and Noo Yawk slang, have conquered the once thriving metropolis.

This charming shit starts on page 1, issue 1, and never lets up.
The astronauts in question are led by Captain Chris Galland, a quick-to-anger sexist jag whose constant verbal barrages are unleashed on the majority of the crew only twenty percent of the time, while the remaining eighty percent of his violent ire is directed at his wife (and fellow crewmember) Elissa every time she clears her throat or doesn’t get space-dinner on the moon-table fast enough. Lest he be the only misogynist jerk on the crew, the caucasian Galland in backed up by his African-american second-in-command Craig, whose wife is also a crew member and who, between them, have spent pretty much the entire American space-exploration budget on maintaining their enormous afros. No worries though - when they're rendered on the cover to issue three, they're both depicted as white and Craig gets long, strawberry-blonde locks. Hm.

If there’s one interesting premise in the entirety of Planet of Vampires, it’s that none of the astronauts can fucking stand each other. When not biting each other’s heads off or running around crying over hurt feelings, they’d contemptuously sneering about each other’s refusal to obey orders. It must have been a fun trip to Mars.

A fifth member of the crew is elderly Ben Levitz, scientific expert and the only guy who went into space without someone to periodically stick it to, evidently. Ben’s opposite number might have been the mysterious sixth astronaut promised earlier, but it doesn’t matter because Ben dies in the landing anyway. One down, four to go!

Everyone's hair is GORGEOUS.
Captain Galland (no relation) and his remaining crew don’t endure the clutches of the local barbarian’s union for too long before flying cars rain stun-beams on the savage crowd, rescuing the spaceman and depositing them inside a dome-encased Empire State Building. If the idea of the Empire State Building encased in a dome wasn’t inspired by a cheap New York newsstand souvenir snowglobe, I’ll eat my hat.

Inside the Empire State Building are the remnants of the ruling class of the pre-apocalyptic world, in case you were ever wondering what Atlas-Seaboard’s take on America’s long-running class warfare would end up resembling. More than merely disconnected one-percenters, the inhabitants of the dome are also … VAMPIRES! Lame-ass, no-account vampires who apparently survive on the blood harvested from abducted barbarians. It doesn’t seem like the most productive way to feed a captive population, just sucking the life out of axe-wielding yobbos and hucking the dessicated husks in the green glass bin, but I guess “Planet of Vampires” sounds cooler than “Planet of Well Thought-Out Agrarian Principles.”

By the second issue, the astronauts are on the run from their vampire overlords when they fall back in with the local barbarian groups. Now scripted by John Albano, the street gangs start to pick up actual New Yorkisms and talking more like Big Apple regulars, which is terrific. I honestly wish they’d devoted a subplot to arguing about where you get the best pizza north of Canal and why the C Line sucks dick.

This sounds legit.
Along these lines, native knuckle-dragger “Bruiser” briefly becomes the actual protagonist of the book, uniting warring tribes and shepherding the astronauts around the city and away from danger (courtesy in no small part to the assistance of a scavenger delightfully named “Spanish Eddie”). This doesn’t last long as the book undergoes some streamlining, starting with the unfortunate lady astronauts getting snuffed by vampires when no one was looking.

By the third issue, the city dwellers have developed fangs for no reason except that no one told incoming artist Russ Heath – turning in some great art for such a barker comic – that they shouldn’t, and blood-sucking spiders the size of golden retrievers show up outside the Bronx Zoo, so at least it’s getting a little vampirey.

A dynamic two-page spread in the Kirby style seems to promise some sort of vampire Neanderthals in an untamed wilderness gearing up for the constantly bickering, big-haired astronaut heroes of the book, but Atlas-Seaboard  went and folded, denying the world a conclusion to a genuine roller coaster of bullshit.



neofishboy said...

I distinctly remember seeing the cover for #3 on the rack at our local dime store when I was five. I wasn't entirely sure what was going on, but I found the action to be strangely ... compelling.

Stergios Botzakis said...

I just got this series at a local comic con and yowza were they a trip into Sexist Sci-fi Land. My favorite part was when crewman Craig's wife gets killed and Capt. Galland's reaction to his crying "friend" is "Well, that sucks. Now help me find my wife, who is still alive." These were some batshit crazy books, and thank you for highlighting them!

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