Good Guys Wear Fangs
Short Story Antecedents of Angel and Company
A few years ago, while watching a trailer for the then-upcoming CBS vampire series Moonlight, I began to ponder the literary roots of the heroic vampire motif. Sure, your average sci-fi fan knows about Angel and Spike, maybe has a little recall of Detective Nick Knight from Forever Knight, or, going even further back, of the various incarnations of Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows. More perspicacious observers will remember the 1970’s boom in vampire literature, with the works of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Fred Saberhagen, and Anne Rice all recasting the drab undead aristocrat in a more dashing, conscience-driven aspect. The actual roots of the heroic vampire go back even further, tracing their lineage back into the old pulp magazines of the 1940’s.
Perhaps the first taste of effective vampire angst being introduced into the genre – forget Count Stanislaus Stenbock’s “The Sad Story of A Vampire” from 1894, the vampire still kills his victim at the end of the story – can be seen as far back as Henry Kuttner’s “I, the Vampire” (Weird Tales, February 1937). Chevalier Futaine, predating William Dafoe’s Shadow of the Vampire character by some 60 years, is a vampire-playing-a-vampire in an upcoming Hollywood film. Like Coppola’s Dracula, Futaine has found his long-dead lover reincarnated in the person of ingénue Jean Hubbard. The vampire’s predations on cast members eventually draw the ire of the narrator, Mart Prescott. Instead of killing both Jean and Mart, however, Futaine is struck with regret for his actions and instead offers the hero the silver key which opens the door to his resting place (inside a steel vault of all places).
A few years later, Dracula himself became a tool of justice in Manley Wade Wellman’s “The Devil Is Not Mocked” (Unknown Worlds, June 1943). Set during World War II, the story depicts the fate of General von Grunn and his battalion of Nazi soldiers when they occupy the wrong Romanian castle. Dracula’s motivation for destroying the Nazis is only vaguely hinted at, conceivably based solely on self-preservation rather than actually supporting the Allied cause. The story was later filmed for an episode of Rod Serling’s television series Night Gallery (1970).
Perhaps the first instance of vampire-on-vampire violence was portrayed in Robert Bloch’s “The Bat Is My Brother” (Weird Tales, November 1944). Graham Keene, the newly-undead narrator of the story, refuses to participate in his vampire-sire’s fiendish plans to raise an undead army for world conquest. Horrified at having to now murder for his sustenance, he instead bashes in the older vampire’s head with a wrench and buries him facing upside down in a coffin. Keene then begs the reader for aid in destroying both the incapacitated vampire and himself.
In a similar vein (ouch!), Lorenz, the titular character of James S. Hart’s “The Traitor” (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Fall 1950), takes offense when Casanova himself seeks to sip from the neck of a helpless virgin. Lorenz stakes and decapitates the demon lover, earning the title of turncoat from his fellow “Things.” For his efforts, Lorenz appears to receive a dose of humanity, which in turn allows him to cross running water during non-slack tide hours in very un-Thinglike fashion.
Conceivably the first government-employed vampire appeared in the pages of Gordon Linzner’s Space and Time in 1967. In a story entitled “Butterball,” (written by Linzner under the pseudonym of Irene Anfleming), Linzner introduces secret agent James Blood, the only vampire working for the United States intelligence services. As you can probably guess, Blood was created in homage to Ian Fleming’s James Bond character (yes, in one story he actually introduces himself as “Blood. James Blood.”). Blood takes on assignments not meant for human beings. During his tenure with the service, Blood battles mad scientists, werewolves, mutants, zombies, and even sea creatures. It seems that, while on a mission in the Balkans, the man who would become known as Blood fell victim to a vampire. Upon returning to “life” as a night walker himself, Blood chose to still serve his country, albeit now outfitted with vampiric abilities. In between missions he is kept in a state of cryogenic stasis inside a glass coffin (in the D.C. house of a dead Congressman, no less). Canisters of blood are provided to him every time he is revived, in order to prevent him from feeding on the local populace. Blood is also supplied with special bacteria capsules which can biologically destroy any corpses he leaves behind. He has strict orders not to create other vampires.
Blood’s adventures were documented over 2 decades in the pages of Space and Time. The character eventually received enough attention to merit a full-fledged novel, The Spy Who Drank Blood (1984). Blood was definitely not your average fang-in-mouth vamp. He initially tries to limit his predations to enemies of his country, albeit with occasional lapses. The character also develops a political conscience over time, eventually reflecting the hard-left leanings of his author. Linzer, a fierce critic of the Reagan administration, at one point has Blood quit the agency in disgust at the direction in which the country is headed in the 1980’s. James Blood’s final appearance occurred in “Night’s Stalkers” (Space and Time #70, 1986).
Some observers have noted that the heroic vampires of 1970’s literature seemed to appear out of nowhere (right out of the mist, you might say). Actually, Yarbro, Saberhagen and company had a fertile body of works upon which to base their ideas. Their new conceptions of the undead then formed the foundation for the good-guy vamps we cheer on today. The ancestors of Barnabas Collins, Nick Knight, Angel, and Mick St. John can be seen in the Unknown Worlds, Weird Tales, and Space and Time of the past.
Editor’s note: Apologies to the author, Scott Harper for sitting on this story so long. We really appreciate him sharing it with us.