Sunday, 27 October 2019

The Occult Files Of Doctor Spektor

Feel Spektor

The Occult Files Of Doctor Spektor
(The Gold Key Years)

Gold Key Issues 1 - 24 USA 1973 - 1977
plus assorted issues of
Gold Key’s Mystery Comics Digest

Written by Donald F. Glut and drawn by artists such as Dan Spiegle and Jesse Santos, The Occult Files Of Doctor Spektor was a comic which, it seems to me, could never quite make its mind up what it wanted to be in terms of which of the obvious competitors - Marvel and DC - it was trying to emulate. Not to mention a healthy dose of EC comics in there too, in many respects. Doctor Spektor first appeared in the odd issue of the giant sized Gold Key publication Mystery Digest Comics and, in the early days, he was just one of the many ‘narrators’ such as in the the other Gold Key titles presented in the odd issue of this compilation comic. So you had a fair few Boris Karloff Presents... and Twilight Zone stories (presented by Rod Serling) in the pages here and, like the famous horror hosts such as EC's The Crypt Keeper, Spektor’s narration was just a way in to a very short, twisty horror yarn of 5 or 6 pages.

Even some of these early stories are ingenuous though and I especially liked one where a man who is in love with his separated siamese twin brother’s fiance kills himself but, through this sin, returns as a vampire (which is a new one on me). However, he tries to take his brother’s bride for himself and turn her into a vampire. To stop this from happening and knowing that he and his vampire brother still share a bond, the other brother throws himself out the window and kills himself by impaling himself on the railings below before his evil brother can take a bite out of his fiance. This, of course, causes the vampire to feel as if a stake has been driven through his heart and he also dies. And there’s a few of these little stories and this format carries on, for a while, in the pages of The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor, with a definite difference...

The majority of the early issues contain two stories. One stars supernatural investigator Doctor Adam Spektor himself and the other is an unrelated horror tale just hosted by him. Every now and again you will get the occasional issue which is just one long Doctor Spektor story and... after a while, the comic switched fully to this format of just having the one story starring Doctor Spektor plus one or two of a building, regular cast within these tales. And what a cast they are...

The first issue of the regular comic introduces us to Doctor Spektor’s new secretary Lakota Rainflower, who is a mix of Sioux and Apache Indian and who, very quickly, also become’s Spektor’s regular girlfriend. After a while we also meet characters like medium Elliot Kane and his girlfriend, not to mention Adam’s cousin Anne Sara. There’s also a regular cast of villains including the Frankenstein monster, the mummy Ra-Ka-Tep and Dracula.

There's also some interesting plotting decisions, changes and progressions to the various support cast too. I was pretty impressed with the first issue because it involves a vampire, Baron Tibor, who has returned from the dead, only for Spektor to discover that he has long atoned for his sins and just wants a peaceful life. Spektor invents a serum which takes away the majority of Tibor’s powers and allows him to lead a relatively normal life. The Baron continues to make the odd guest appearances as an ally of Doctor Spektor until, in one of the later issues, he wants to steal Adam’s secretary/girlfriend and turns into an evil vampire again... forcing Doctor Spektor to deal with him.

There’s also a lot of name dropping of famous literary or real life characters in the comic, like in the issue which sees Varney The Vampire, Countess Karnstein and Lord Ruthven teaming up with Dracula to try to take out Spektor. It even mentions the famous Borgo Pass for all the Dracula afficionados out there. One of Van Helsing’s heirs is also present as a modern day supernatural bounty hunter but he becomes as much of a villain as the others in the tale and he returns in a later issue to give Spektor more trouble.

One of the great things about the majority of these stories is that, although they are all stand alone tales, they tend to refer back and link up quite thoroughly with previous issues and so an almost constant story arc seems to be in play. It’s a story arc which sees quite a lot of changes in Spektor’s character and, as he gets more involved in the plot of the ancient evil that attacks him from beyond our realm, there’s a real sense in later stories that Glut or the publishers wanted to give him a kind of Doctor Strange vibe, by allowing him to battle with various demons using the odd archaeological relic.

And this all seems to shift a lot in intent throughout the course of the stories.

For instance, there’s a three or four issue set of tales where Doctor Spektor is suffering from the ill effects of a lycanthropic bite and he seems to be suddenly transformed into something from out of the pages of one of his nearest, popular Marvel comics rivals for a bit... Werewolf By Night. There’s even a Swamp Thing/Man-Thing (take your pick from DC or Marvel) kind of character introduced to the pages towards the end of the run.

However, all these ups and downs in terms of the status of the lead character do keep things interesting, although there are also a few things which are a bit more irritating. Such as...

Doctor Spektor seems to have an almost supernatural talent for being knocked unconscious by the villain of the month in order to allow either his own capture or for the abduction of Lakota Rainflower. I mean, this guy must have brain damage or something by now because I’m talking about him getting knocked unconscious nearly every issue.

Also... and this is really annoying... since Doctor Spektor is narrating his own tale, he also seems to have knowledge to relate to his personal adventures which he can never actually know about at times. For example, stuff will happen when Spektor is not present and all parties involved may die or disappear into the ether but, somehow, Spektor knows all about it to be able to relate it to the reader, first person. It’s a bit much and a bit of a schoolboy error.

Another obviously bad lack of attention to detail comes in the form of the artwork. In the issues where Doctor Spektor transforms into a werewolf, he more than likely rips his clothing and his top may be beyond repair very quickly. So the question I was dying to find out was... why is it that when he comes back to his normal, human form, he comes back fully clothed again? I mean... seriously.

Plus, I think I would have liked a little more of a back story to the Bruce Wayne-like, wealthily independent Adam Spektor, owner of Spektor Manor. Where does he get all his money from... not to mention his lust for seeking out the supernatural? Questions like these are never answered.

However, there are more than enough good things on hand to make this comic a nice read and there are even some unexpected crossovers which turn up in the stories unannounced. For example, The Owl, who first appeared in a 1940s issue of Crackerjack Funnies, makes an appearance in one issue as he tries to clear his name when a real life demon owl-man is causing havoc. Similarly, Doctor Solar makes an appearance which is presumably set between the initial Gold Key run of Doctor Solar - Man Of The Atom (which I reviewed here) and the later, short lived Whitman branded series of four issues. The look of Solar when he’s not in uniform in this, though, not to mention some slight tweaks to his demeanour, make him seem like more of an old hippy than the character as written in those original Gold Key comics, it seemed to me.

All in all, though, the artwork is good although somewhat sporadic when it comes to the look of the characters. In some of them Spektor seems a little haggard and just what you’d expect from a male horror host whereas, for the majority of the issues, he’s more the kind of Errol Flynn style heartthrob who you could actually believe a few of the female characters lurking within the pages are so mesmerised by, which is the case of some of the lead villainesses. Ditto for some of the supporting characters like Elliot Kane... who is sometimes a fairly thin individual and at other times, somewhat pudgy I would say. The layouts are a far cry from the days of Doctor Solar though, it has to be said, with some much more dynamic designs  making up the majority of the stories.

A couple of issues towards the end, Spektor’s girlfriend Lakota leaves him for reasons which aren’t quite made clear. As he tries to dull the pain of her departing over subsequent issues, one gets the feeling that, despite a few encounters with other women to tide him over, this is supposed to be a set up for a dramatic return of the character. Instead, the comic was cancelled, presumably before any such arc had time to play out. There was, after the final issue of the series, one last appearance of the character in a comic called Gold Key Spotlight, Issue 8. Alas, I haven’t been able to, as yet, track that one down but my understanding is that Lakota is a ‘no show’ in this tale too.

This wasn’t quite the last of Spektor, however. My understanding is that there was/is a more modern reboot of the character... although I think it was quite short lived. I’ll try and track that one down again for this blog at some point but for now, that’s me done with The Occult Files Of Doctor Spektor, I think. I have to say though that, like Doctor Solar, I thoroughly enjoyed these comics, despite (and in some ways because) of their faults and would recommend these to anyone with an eye for four colour horror. Give these ones a go... they are quite entertaining and Donald F. Glut, who I mostly remember for writing the novelisation of The Empire Strikes Back, has an eye for the dramatic, for sure.

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