Greenberg the Vampire – a Marvel Graphic Novel


By J.M. DeMatteis & Mark Badger (Marvel)
ISBN: 0871350904                 ISBN-13: 978-0-8713-5090-9

During the 1980s and following the organic development of a Direct Sales Market, the American comics industry was transformed by a magical proliferation of new titles and companies.

With publishers now able to firm-sale straight to specialist retail outlets rather than overprint and accept returned copies from non-specialised shops, the comics biz was able to support less generic titles whilst creators were able to experiment without losing their shirts and even to own the concepts and characters they invented.

In response Marvel developed a line of creator-owned properties and concentrated a lot of resources into the development of high quality original graphic novels: mixing said creator-owned properties, licensed assets such as Conan the Barbarian and new proprietary Marvel Universe tales launched in extravagant over-sized packages (286 x 210mm rather than the now standard 258 x 168mm, in imitation of the European format albums of the times) which always felt and looked like far more than an average comicbook no matter how good, bad or offbeat the contents might have been.

Even the regular comicbook line upped its game, searching for material which would appeal to a broader customer-base than the provably false traditional marketing concept of an “average” teenaged boy…

From 1986 comes a quirky Marvel Graphic Novel line (#20 if you’re counting) which mixes horror fantasy with the unique comedy of New York’s Jewish community, cannily crafted by Thinking-Man’s funnybook scribe J.M. DeMatteis and lavishly painted by the inimitable Mark Badger.

Oscar Greenberg is a famous writer of horror novels and something of a recluse. He is also, since a night of diligent research went slightly awry, a vampire.

Attending a Satanist’s meeting in search of useful material, he picked up a beautiful, eager and very willing lady who later, in a fit of overly-amatory passion, gave him the wrong sort of bite and ended his life. They’ve been together ever since…

Don’t get Oscar started on Bram Stoker. For every fact the “expert” got right about vampires he got three wrong. For a start, although they all need a certain amount of blood to survive, the undead much prefer animal to human and only the deranged go around deliberately biting people – and then only until the aberrant’s night-living kin can catch and stop them.

Vamps are highly shy, deeply spiritual, intellectual folk who don’t want to be bothered or be a nuisance: it’s the only way they can face themselves in the mirror in the evening. Yes, they do reflect and you can photograph them: something Oscar has been ducking paparazzi to avoid for over a decade…

The modern-day literary hermit is in a stable, loving relationship with Denise Keaton, the bitey lady who accidentally “turned” him and most of his loving family know about his condition – all except poor frail, often confused Mama, whom he’s sure couldn’t stand the shock of learning her beloved boy had predeceased her, even if he still comes calling every chance he gets…

Oscar even hired his obnoxious wannabe-journalist nephew Morrie as his assistant, but the lad hasn’t got that much to do since Uncle Oscar is not having a good time lately. As the city reels and writhes under the escalating terror of a bloody serial killer dubbed the “New York Ripper” the master of gory fictive horror is suffering the cruellest, most long-lived bout of writer’s block ever recorded…

The frustration is killing him, so after another explosive, typewriter-trashing bout of petulance, he takes a welcome break by attending a full-family feast at Mama’s (vampires eat and drink – even garlic – the blood-drinking is strictly for medicinal purposes).

However, en route in a heavily screened limousine, Oscar spots a streetwalker who sends his mind racing back to the day of his Bar Mitzvah…

On that day in 1954 as he rehearsed for the life-changing ceremony to come, a beautiful woman appeared and made him a man in a much more pleasant and supremely physical manner, before vanishing with a promise that they would meet again…

Back in the now the dinner is going well, and doting, oblivious Mama is in her element until she has some sort of fit, screaming at a darkened window and swearing that “she” can’t have “him”. Before passing out Henrietta Greenberg’s final whispered word is “Lilith”…

Later, as young Morrie waits in a bar for his latest flame Arlene, she becomes the latest gory incident in the Ripper’s campaign. The crushed and despondent youth is utterly unaware how the killing is connected to his own close-knit family…

Oscar meanwhile has been pushed to the edge of insanity by his inability to create and in desperation accepts a longstanding offer to write the screenplay for one of his old stories. The entire family visits the set of “The Blood of Mrs. Morris” where unctuous producer Thad Turkel introduces his captivating ingénue discovery Evie Adams and assures them all of astounding future success…

Oscar is instantly beguiled by the waif and his fall from grace is confirmed. His temperament changes: he’s angry all the time, avoids Denise and all he can think about is the starlet. He doesn’t even notice when Morrie goes crazy and Mama recognises that her grandson’s been possessed by a Dybbuk

She may be senile sometimes, but Mama Greenberg knows things and has never been a fool. Instantly shelving a decade of maternal disapproval she aligns with “Shiksa” Denise and takes Oscar’s true love into her confidence, revealing how when her baby-boy was just a baby she managed, through love and prayer and ancient rites, to drive off an ancient evil known as Lilith as she tried to steal the child.

The profane First Woman and Mother of All Monsters laughed as she left, promising to possess him one day. Clearly that moment has arrived…

Elsewhere Oscar is fully under the spell of the sorceress who has earmarked him to provide the creative spark she needs to make the world her own, beguiling him body and soul. However as Lilith discards such old worn out toys as the Ripper and concentrates on dominating her glamoured writer, humanity’s last hope is marshalling her own forces…

With her son’s soul on the line, Henrietta Greenberg has dropped all pretence and gathered Denise, her faith and her family about her. Not even the eternal forces of rage, greed and lust will keep a son from his mother…

Poignant, moving, funny and exceptionally entertaining, Greenberg the Vampire is at once a superb light-horror parable and sardonic but sincere paean of praise to the unshakable power of Family expressed through the happily inexhaustible well of literature known as “Jewish Voices”.

As such it compellingly taps into the Jewish-American experience most famously represented by authors as varied as Philip Roth, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow, Joseph Heller or Michael Chabon and comedians/entertainers like Woody Allen, Billy Crystal, Mel Brooks and even Lenny Bruce.

Most enticing, though, is that it easily rests within the small but constantly growing sub-genre of graphic novels like The Golem’s Mighty Swing, The Big Kahn, Hereville, Maus and most clearly the epic and astounding canon of semi-autobiographical tales such as A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories, The Dreamer and Will Eisner’s New York the Big City.

An enchanting tale of timeless relevance to all people who love happy endings.
© 1986 Marvel Comics Group. All Rights Reserved.