Halloween Month is racing toward its end so here’s another seasonal post. It’s a review of the first three volumes of Graveyard Shift, the “monsters as superheroes” series by Jon Malin, Mark Poulton and Aaron Alfeche.
GRAVEYARD SHIFT Volume 1 (2019)
Professor Blood, the Monster, the Bride, Monster Girl, Sea Urchin and Ghost in the Machine. I’d call this team the greatest heroes alive … except they’re all dead. This initial Graveyard Shift installment was a critical and financial triumph, blending horror, science fiction, superheroics and OUTSTANDING artwork into one of the most acclaimed independent comics ever. (Yes, these sequential art visionaries left the creative suffocation at the Big Two publishers to pursue their own projects.)
Each volume is the length of almost 3 regular comic books. The unfolding story in Graveyard Shift also pays homage to many horror classics through the names of several characters and organizations.
Atlantis Corporation, a subaquatic base for scientific research run by a man named Abraham Van Helsing is pursuing many projects for its charming but nefarious founder. One of those projects is an enormous spaceship that is being readied to transport thousands of scientists and colonists into space to explore distant planets.
Another undertaking (as it were) is Project Wormwood, which involves Regen Chambers to restore life to newly slain soldiers in order to form an unbeatable army, and Mind Wipe technology to reprogram the revived dead to know nothing but their new existence as servitors of whatever nation buys them (but really as servitors of Van Helsing himself).
Professor Vladimir Blud has isolated elements in human blood which provide the animating life force. As an assistant to Doctor Lilith Mayhew, Vladimir was part of the development of Project Wormwood. The pair find themselves attracted to each other despite her marriage to the base’s Security Chief Mick Mayhew.
Alongside Jonathan Harker, who runs the subaquatic base, Security Chief Mayhew investigates Van Helsing and the pair have unearthed some of his shady plans. Before they can do anything about it, the villain interferes, mortally wounding Mayhew with exposure to mutagenic substances which have caused him to grow into a hulking skull-faced monster. Van Helsing at first keeps Harker in line by threatening his niece, Sarah, a child who lives with him in Atlantis Corporation’s headquarters.
Matters escalate when Vladimir, Lilith and others in the undersea base are warned by Mick’s dying words about what is really going on. Van Helsing attacks the scientists through some of his Crimson Guard – armored, mind-wiped soldiers brought back to life in the Regen Chambers. Things get out of hand and a series of battles and explosions cause Lilith, Vladimir and the two Harkers to join Mick in death.
Amid the total destruction of the undersea laboratory, our heroes wind up exposed to the Regen Chambers AND mutagenic substances from other research being done at the base. This not only brings them back to life but bestows supernatural powers on them. And thus our team is formed:
Vladimir Blud becomes Professor Blood, Mick Mayhew becomes the Monster, Lilith Mayhew becomes the Bride and Sarah Harker becomes Monster Girl. Jonathan Harker resurrected himself by using his dying moments to upload his essence into the master computer of the huge spaceship he had designed, thus becoming the Ghost in the Machine, able to run the ship single-handed AND manifest himself as a holographic ghost.
That ship is christened Castle Dracula and serves as the flying headquarters of Graveyard Shift. The rest of Volume One deals with the team’s efforts to thwart the global conquest schemes of the evil Abraham Van Helsing.
Yes, Van Helsing also survived the destruction of Atlantis Corporation’s subsea base and used Project Wormwood to usher in “the end of war” since he could provide every world power with unkillable soldiers like his own Crimson Guard. In theory this brought global peace (?) and the villain won the Nobel Peace Prize.
From there he found himself revered, Anti-Christ style, as a global savior and became President of the United States. (NOTE: The team behind Graveyard Shift preserve the escapist element by avoiding making Van Helsing a caricature of any real president from either party. He’s basically a charming, cunning, power-mad villain with political clout, more like Damien Thorne in Omen III than anyone real.)
After the Graveyard Shift strike a major blow against Van Helsing and his Crimson Guard in an attack on the Capitol to expose his supernatural thralls in Congress he gets them declared terrorists and international fugitives. (NOTE: This first volume was published in 2019, so no, this is NOT an attempt to incorporate January 6th, 2021 into the storyline.)
The opening installment ends with a major battle at the White House in which Van Helsing suffers a colossal defeat at the hands of our heroes. A cliffhanger sets up Volume Two as we learn that this Van Helsing is a descendant of both the Dracula and Van Helsing bloodlines and he is just a front man for the very much alive Lord Dracula himself.
Along the way, we readers got treated to some comical sendups of BOTH sides of America’s biased, partisan media in generic ways that didn’t detract from the storyline. NOTE: I wish that the Monster had been given a more colorful nom de guerre like Dreadskull or Deathskull or something.
GRAVEYARD SHIFT Volume Two (2020)
With the characters and situations established, this synopsis will go much more swiftly. Again, the artwork is phenomenal.
Time has passed since the end of Volume One. Van Helsing, under Lord Dracula’s behind the scenes guidance, has exploited the exposure of Congress as undead monsters to justify seizing total control under his rule alone. This has allowed him to intensify the global manhunt for Graveyard Shift as a team of terrorists, blaming them for the proliferation of monsters of all kinds in the world, even though it is Van Helsing himself driving that outbreak.
The comical pokes of America’s partisan media outlets continue, but like last time they’re not done to a degree that detracts from the story. On a more serious note the cursed and tragic romantic triangle comes to a head in this volume.
During the climactic battle in New York City between Graveyard Shift and Van Helsing and his Crimson Guard we readers learn that the villain gained intensified attributes of werewolves from the forces unleashed during the destruction of Atlantis Corporation.
Though Van Helsing is slain in that battle, Lord Dracula emerges from hiding and with his enhanced powers and army of the undead has Graveyard Shift on the ropes.
This volume introduced Sea Urchin (James MacDonald) – a hero hinted at but left unnamed in Volume One – who had been living under the sea. Another dead and transmuted scientist from Atlantis Corporation, he is like a monster hybrid of Sub-Mariner and the Creature From the Black Lagoon.
Sea Urchin has pushed his control of the mutated sea creatures around the ruins of the undersea research center to the point where he has been able to summon and control Cthulhu itself, of the Old Ones from H.P. Lovecraft stories. Under Sea Urchin’s control this being helps our heroes turn the tide and win the day, destroying Lord Dracula and his forces.
The marine-formed James MacDonald then joins the Graveyard Shift team, pledging to help them fight this world of monsters run amok.
GRAVEYARD SHIFT Volume Three (2021)
Newly released, this third volume gives the Graveyard Shift series a multiverse of its own as our undead heroes battle a worldwide infestation of enhanced werewolves.
Eventually, they join forces with an interdimensional team of superpowered monster hunters consisting of Bram, the Wrecker and Tarpit. They travel from parallel Earth to parallel Earth battling evil monsters via their teleportation device I.G.O.R. (Inter-dimensional Gateway Opening & Recon), invented by their mentioned but not seen member Jekyll.
Bram turns out to be his alternate Earth’s version of Abraham Van Helsing, but he’s a good guy, unlike our world’s version. Using I.G.O.R. technology he saw his dying counterpart on our Earth and, unknown to our heroes OR us readers, he saved his life through a lycanthrope lord back on his own Earth.
He only did it because he didn’t realize that OUR Van Helsing was a bad guy. Anyway, OUR Van Helsing used a lycanthrope controlling device from the monster hunters’ world combined with Regen Chamber technology to create the global army of super-powerful werewolves.
While Graveyard Shift and their temporary allies battle the worldwide threat, another wrinkle is added in the form of Dr Elizabeth Montgomery (as a shoutout to Bewitched!). Her supervillain name is Lady Shoggoth, so we also get another Lovecraft reference.
Lady Shoggoth offers an alliance with the evil Van Helsing. She can use her technology to make the Moon rotate on its axis and synchronize that rotation with the Earth’s. This will result in year-round full moons, rather than just three nights per month. Van Helsing’s legions of lycanthropes can then strike every single night, so he accepts Lady Shoggoth’s offer.
That sultry villainess’ lackey introduces a Slasher Monster into the Graveyard Shift universe. He’s called Killer 99 (John Karlen, for a Dark Shadows reference) a machete-wielding combination of Mike Myers, Jason Voorhees and just about any other unstoppable hack and slash horror figure you could imagine.
I won’t offer any spoilers for this third volume since it’s just been published recently, but again the artwork is of the highest quality. The media satire continues as well.
The story seems a bit rushed this time, though, and maybe should have gone on about 5 or 6 pages more. At any rate, Graveyard Shift makes for fun Halloween Season reading. And maybe future cosplay inspiration.
FOR MY LOOK AT FAUST (1987), THE PRE-SPAWN VERSION OF SPAWN CLICK HERE.
FOR EARLY BLADE THE VAMPIRE SLAYER COVERS CLICK HERE
FOR THE MOST HALLOWEENISH GHOST RIDER COVERS CLICK HERE
FOR THE MOST HALLOWEENISH WEREWOLF BY NIGHT COVERS CLICK HERE
FOR 1970s SON OF SATAN COVERS CLICK HERE