Wings of the Night
Writer: Don Freeman
Artist: Steve Dowling/John Allard
Published: 8/10/51 – 17/3/52 (K240 – L65)
Number of Episodes: 136
The story opens in the country house of fight-promoter and entrepreneur Sam Gorgon, and his blind wife Sylvia, whom we last met in the “Garth and the Boxing Game” story.
Sylvia tells her husband that she has found a famous surgeon willing to perform an operation to try and restore her sight. However the process will be long and difficult, and involves her going away for some time. Gorgon is supportive and agrees, whilst privately having severe reservations. How will his wife react when she sees the hideous face he keeps hidden behind a mask?
They throw a lavish fancy-dress farewell party for their friends. After the guests finally leave, Sylvia senses that someone else is present. Gorgon is astonished to see Garth sitting in a bay window, wearing his space-time kit. He remarks that he had not noticed Garth amongst his other fancy-dress guests. Garth casually tells him that he had been invisible, only briefly hinting at his new abilities, adding cryptically that he has travelled thousands of miles to check on how he and Sylvia were getting on.
Sylvia comments that Garth must also have second sight, as he has arrived at a crisis in their lives. She wants him to stay and support Sam whilst she is away. She goes to arrange a room for Garth, leaving Sam to explain. Gorgon tells Garth about the operation, and confides his misgivings about the restoration of her sight. When Garth tells him not to worry, Gorgon suddenly removes his mask – revealing a startling, hairy bestial visage. Garth cannot help looking away in revulsion. Gorgon remarks that if a strong man like Garth shrinks from him, what will be his wife’s reaction?
The next morning, Sylvia departs in a chauffeur-driven car to the surgeon’s clinic. Garth suggests to the depressed Gorgon that they go riding, and he can tell him about his travels since he had left England and flown to join Lumiere. Out riding, Garth concludes his narrative by telling Gorgon that on his return out of time, he had first tried to find Lumiere at his desert laboratory. But he was no longer there, and no one had been able to tell him where he had gone – or why.
Gorgon has been scarcely listening and suddenly – apparently deliberately – bolts his horse into a high wired fence. The entangled horse hurls Gorgon into the air, and he falls heavily. Garth calls in a doctor and Gorgon is confined to bed – mercifully not seriously injured, but deeply concussed.
The doctor tells Garth that Gorgon seems to have lost the will to live because he is worried about his wife’s reaction on seeing his grotesque face. He remarks that he knows of only one great scientist who might be able to help Gorgon – Professor Lumiere, who unfortunately is presently out of the country. Pressed by Garth, the doctor reveals that Lumiere is on a secret mission behind the iron curtain, at the ‘Castle Mortiska’ in the Carpathian Mountains. He is studying a very peculiar case involving the daughter of a Slavonic count.
In the next few days, while Gorgon lies sick and listless, Garth wires Lumiere at the Castle Mortiska and exchanges messages. Lumiere tells Garth that he cannot leave his patient, who is “in peril of losing her soul”, but offers to treat Gorgon’s face if Garth is able to bring him out to the castle, where he has an equipped laboratory. The girl’s mother, the dowager Countess, has approved their stay at the castle, and Lumiere’s international eminence as a scientist has got them travel permits on medical grounds.
Garth persuades Gorgon to undertake the journey to the Carpathians. Because the political situation is unstable with reputed brigands and bandits, Gorgon packs a rifle, and Garth takes his space-time kit. Their journey promises to be both dangerous and macabre, since Lumiere has used the term ‘Nosferatu’ (the un-dead) to describe the perils facing his patient at the castle.
The two travellers arrive at a remote inn in south eastern Europe, and using Gorgon’s wealth are able to hire an old jeep through the innkeeper, who also finds a guide for the first stage of their journey. The castle is perched on a precipice above thickly wooded foothills. The guide is nervous and says he can only take them as far as the village in the pass – then they will have to seek one Janos, who alone is prepared to carry mail to the castle Mortiska, which has an “evil reputation”.
The next day the three men set off through the forest in the jeep. The guide warns them to look out for armed bandits – the Tzigany (gypsies), dispossessed Boyars who are against the workers’ government.
Sure enough, a felled tree blocks their path – they are about to be ambushed. Garth dons his space-time kit, adjusting his helmet for invisibility. Using his great strength he lifts the tree upright, allowing the jeep to pass. But as Garth releases the tree it falls back onto a young gypsy who has risen from cover to investigate. Still invisible, Garth lifts the tree aside, and rejoins the jeep, materialising in the back.
At length they halt for refreshments, and the guide tells Garth that the ill-famed House of Mortiska has been left to die out by the government. The deceased old count lies in the family vault, and his young son and heir had been believed killed in the revolution, leaving only the old countess and her sick daughter. When they arrive at the village at night, the guide askes to be allowed to take the jeep and drive on to the frontier post. He is reluctant to spend the night in the village, because the superstitious villagers are half savages – believed “to draw lots to put out their babies for the night-flier.” He adds darkly “that the wolves or the vultures carry on the good work now.”
Garth and Gorgon call at the dwelling of Janos to seek lodging for the night, and to engage him to guide them to the castle tomorrow. But the superstitious old man takes fright on seeing Gorgon (“the man without a face!”) and refuses to admit them. So Garth and Gorgon set out themselves on the steep climb through the moonlit woods, the armed Gorgon looking out for wolves. But they are also being watched by bandits, who attack them.
Garth is giving a good account of himself, but has to desist when he is threatened by a gypsy holding a rifle. Protesting that they are not enemies of his tribe, merely Englishmen visiting the Mortescu, they are conducted at gunpoint to Marko, the chief of the bandits at a Tzigany camp in a clearing. Garth recognises their chief as the man he helped by freeing him from the heavy tree, and declares himself as his rescuer. Marko accepts them as friends, and offers his hospitality for the night. He offers to lead them to the castle, but they must delay until the following night as he dare not risk being seen by day, especially near Mortiska.
Nightfall finds the three men approaching the castle, and Marko hastens away, not wanting to be seen by the dowager countess, explaining cryptically that she would be angry to see ‘a mere gypsy as her daughter’s suitor.’
Nearing the castle, Garth sees above them the dark shape of an enormous bat leaving a tower window, and hears what sounds like a wail of fear or anguish. They are admitted to the castle by an agitated Lumiere, who is thankful at Garth’s arrival. He instructs a servant, Igor, to look after Gorgon, and invites Garth to follow him up a flight of steps to the chamber of his patient, the lady Sonia.
They find Sonia sprawled unconscious on the floor. Lumiere declares that she has suffered “a relapse” and instructs Garth to carry her to his laboratory. He gives her a blood transfusion, using blood from Garth. As the girl lies in a deep sleep, her colour restored, Garth notices a small scar on her neck, which prompts him to ask Lumiere about his referencing ‘Nosferatu’ in his letters, and the ‘night flier’ being spoken of by the villagers.
Lumiere says they can discuss these matters later, because he is anxious to assess his new patient. He tells Gorgon that he can commence treating him tomorrow, and reveals that Sonia is suffering from a “wasting disease, common in these parts.” Which was why the government had given him permission to study her case.
The next morning Garth meets the old countess, who is wheelchair bound, and does not speak English. Garth remarks that he can hardly believe Sonia comes from the same family.
Sonia comes down, restored by Garth’s blood transfusion, and she and Garth talk on the battlements, whilst Lumiere examines Gorgon’s condition. Sonia thanks Garth, speaking perfect English. She tells him she has been educated in England, but had been recalled by her mother to look after her when her husband died. Her brother was also believed to have died whilst fighting against the liberation.
They are joined by Lumiere and Gorgon, and Lumiere advises that having completed his diagnosis, he needs to sleep on the problem. He charges Garth to look after Sonia, and explains the background to her case. For centuries, there has been a tradition of vampirism in the Mortescu family. Many a count in the past was said to become Nosferatu – neither dead or alive, his body possessed by a demon who preyed on the living, flying forth from the family tomb at midnight, and sucking the blood of any man, woman or child who unwittingly invites him in. The villagers believe that the late Count Mortis is such a vampire. Lumiere is reluctant to accept the tales, and believes that Sonia’s symptoms – including the now vanished scar on her neck – are psychosomatic, caused by her brooding on the family tradition. He takes Garth to the family chapel nearby and shows him the massive tomb, topped by a stone slab.
Whilst Lumiere sleeps, Sonia shows Garth over the castle. She leads him to a room she has been forbidden to enter by her mother and Lumiere, but shows Garth where they have hidden the key above the door. Garth decides he should investigate inside. It turns out to be a library, and whilst Garth is examining the books, Sonia slips away and exits the castle by a secret stairway. Garth finds a book written in English, ‘Mysteries of the Mortiska…the secret history of a sinister Balkan family’.
The countess passes by the open door of the library. As she angrily propels herself inside, Garth just has time to secrete the book in his shirt before her wheelchair crashes into his high steps and sends him tumbling. Igor excuses her action by saying she is almost blind, and had thought Sonia was in the library.
Garth exits the castle, searching for the missing girl. He spots her talking to a man in the distance, on the outskirts of the woods. It is Marko, who has risked the daylight in answer to a signal from Sonia to meet her. She confides that her dreams are getting worse, and that she is frightened, but reluctant to go away with him and leave her mother. As Garth hails Sonia and runs up, Marko slips away into the woods. Sonia pretends to Garth that she had been alone, and just taking the air.
Lumiere continues to sleep during the day, and that night Garth shows Gorgon the book, from which he has learned that the vampire can only enter a house by invitation, sometimes taking the form of an animal – usually a bat.
Late in the night, Garth patrols the battlements outside, from where he can watch Sonia’s bedroom window in the tower. Inside her room, Sonia has opened the window to admit the huge bat-like figure of her father. As he is about to bite her neck, the night flier hears Garth’s hurrying steps on the stairs, and escapes via the window. On entering Garth sees Sonia in a deep sleep. He shuts the window.
The next morning, Gorgon discusses with Garth the book he had left with him. He quotes a passage revealing that anyone bitten by a vampire gradually loses all moral sense and becomes a vampire themselves.
Garth realises the full extent of the danger Sonia is in, and questions her as to who was the young man she was with yesterday. She admits that he was a young gypsy she had met in the woods one day, who was being hunted by the government. He had been kind to her, and she regards him almost like a brother – and he shares her family name, Marko.
They go out for a walk, and spot a convoy of government troops approaching the castle through the pass. Garth guesses that they mean to round up the gypsies. Telling Sonia to return to the castle, Garth hastens to find the Tzigany camp in order to warn Marko. Thus forewarned, Marko’s men can disperse into the mountains.
Returned to the castle, Garth tells Sonia he will be on the battlements watching over her that night. When she asks to kiss him – to give her “strength and courage”, Garth is shocked to find that she has drawn blood from his neck.
At the midnight hour, armed now with Gorgon’s rifle, Garth spies the night flier approaching the castle, and immediately opens fire. He follows a blood trail to the family chapel. Inside, he realises that the tomb is so massive he will need a crowbar and pick to prise open the heavy lid. Returning to the castle he hears the sound of shots in the distance – the government troops are harrying the gypsies.
The next morning Lumiere awakens, having solved the problem of transforming Gorgon’s hideous face. He sends for Janos to take a letter to the state hospital requesting the special drugs he needs. Garth, after a further study of the book, has established that in human form a vampire ‘has the strength of ten men, and only a stake driven through its heart will liberate the imprisoned soul.’ He instructs the woodcutter Janos that when he returns with the drugs for Lumiere, he should bring him a long, sharpened wooden stake.
Gorgon retires with Lumiere to his laboratory, so that he can remain under observation, whilst Garth pursues his own stratagems to protect Sonia. He learns from the book that a vampire casts no reflection in a mirror, and on donning his full space-time kit, finds that this applies to him also. He resolves to confront the vampire on equal terms.
As he removes his helmet and cloak, the vampire has entered his room via his open window and attacks him from behind. Garth hurls the creature over his shoulder, and thus thwarted, it escapes through the window. Before Garth can re-don his space-time kit to pursue it, it has returned to the chapel. However, once outside Garth sees that there is a light in the library.
Rendering himself invisible, Garth enters the library and discovers the old countess is about to burn some documents over a candle on a table. He snatches the papers from her hand before she can destroy them, causing her to faint in alarm. Garth finds that one of them is Sonia’s adoption papers, written in English. An English baby, she had been adopted by the late Count Mortiska, and so is not the natural child of the Countess.
On questioning Igor about this, he learns that Marko, the young Lord lost in the revolution, had been born to the Count’s first wife. So Mark and Sonia are not brother and sister. Garth remarks bitterly that ‘the selfish old hag’ had recalled Sonia from the safety of England to share her dangerous durance in the cursed castle.
The next day the old countess keeps herself to her room. Janos returns to the castle with the drugs for Lumiere, and also brings a carved a stake for Garth. As Lumiere gets to work on Gorgon, Garth dons his space-time kit and flies invisibly to the chapel with the stake – and the tools to open the tomb. But on seeing the Count’s apparently living body lying helpless, he is seized with revulsion, and cannot bring himself to slay in cold blood. He resolves that he will have to face him at night, when he is in demonic form. He leaves the stake in the chapel, for when he returns.
Meanwhile, Government soldiers have assembled, heading for the castle where they suspect Marko may have sought refuge. Garth flies invisibly back to the castle ahead of them.
He tells Sonia of his fear that the troops have rounded up the Tzigany, and are headed to the castle to arrest Marko if he seeks safety there. As they talk in Sonia’s room, two soldiers enter the castle. Captain Ordog questions the old countess, telling her that his men are pursuing the rebels, and that he suspects that their leader is the Count’s son, who may have sought refuge in the castle. Sonia overhears the conversation and tells Garth that she had thought her brother (whom she had not seen for years, whilst in England) was dead. Garth decides it is time to tell Sonia the truth about their relationship. Sonia confesses that she loves him, and believes that Marko also loves her.
Captain Ordog then informs them that they are under house arrest, whilst he searches the castle for Marko. In fact, Marko is still hiding in the woods. The officer enters Lumiere’s lab, and on catching sight of Gorgon’s face, reels from the room in horror. He orders the room to be locked as Lumiere resumes his operation.
As night falls, the two women are asked to retire to their rooms and stay there. Ordog tells Garth to stay up with him all night, passing the time playing cards. The old countess tells Igor that she will carry her own candle as he pushes her chair to her bedroom on the ground floor.
Towards midnight Garth, already wearing his cloak as he plays cards with Captain Ordog, suddenly puts on his helmet, making himself invisible. He ties up the astonished officer, telling him dryly that he can complain to his government later. He seeks out the other soldier who is guarding Sonia’s door, and knocks him out. But on entering, he finds her room is empty! The window is closed, so Garth deduces there is a hidden panel somewhere. He discovers it, and behind it a secret staircase leading to outside the castle. He realises she has gone to warn Marko not to come to the castle.
Elsewhere in the castle Lumiere has completed his treatment, but tells Gorgon to keep his mask on all night. In her bedroom, the old countess has snapped, driven mad by thoughts of remorse and thoughts of revenge against the revolutionary guards. She deliberately drops her candle, setting the room alight.
In the woods, Sonia is vainly seeking Marko at their old trysting place, but harassed by the troops he has already sought refuge in the family chapel. As he enters, his father suddenly emerges in demonic form from his tomb!
Whilst Garth is searching for Sonia in the woods, the girl is hurrying towards the chapel, having deduced that Marko might have headed there. His pursuers have had the same idea and they have arrived at the chapel ahead of her – only to be savagely attacked and scattered by the emerging vampire.
On hearing screams the girl thinks that the troops must have caught Marko. As she runs to the chapel she sees a lone figure waiting and runs to him – only to find that it is her vampire father! He tells her that he needs her blood to keep him alive, and pounces on her.
Her piercing scream is heard by Garth, and he flies to the chapel, swooping down on the vampire as he struggles with Sonia. A terrible aerial battle then ensues above the swooning girl.
The grappling figures move high into the sky, whilst below lurid tongues of flame are leaping up from the castle of Mortiska. Below, Marko has recovered after being attacked inside the chapel, and emerges carrying Garth’s stake. He tells the recovering Sonia how he had been attacked by her father, and had found the stake near the tomb. Sonia realises that Garth must have left it there, and looks to the sky, where a fight to the death is underway.
The vampire has the strength of ten men, and its raking talons eventually tear Garth’s flying cloak to shreds, causing him to plummet to earth like a stricken eagle. Now shorn of both his cloak and helmet, Garth lies stunned and helpless as above him the vampire wheels triumphantly.
As the vampire swoops down, Garth recovers and grabs the stake Marko had dropped, bracing himself – and the demon impales itself on the point, the stake driving clean through its body. Marko and Sonia watch as the demon’s face changes in death to the gentle and calm face of their father as they remembered him. Garth tells them that the evil spirit has left his body, and they lay the count’s body back in the tomb. As Sonia and Marko pray over the body, Garth turns to look at the castle and sees that it is engulfed in flames. Realising that Lumiere and Gorgon had been locked in the lab, and that he had left the two soldiers immobilised, Garth races towards the castle.
On reaching the castle Garth is relieved and elated to see five blackened figures staggering out. Lumiere tells Garth that Igor had found and freed Captain Ordog, who had the keys to the lab. After rousing the soldier, he had freed Lumiere and Gorgon, but the mad old countess – who had started the fire – had perished in the flames.
They all watch throughout the night as the castle burns down to a smouldering ruin. Garth and Captain Ordog – who have bonded – watch with satisfaction. Garth remarks that there had been a curse on the family, and the captain tells him that he can report to his masters that his mission was a complete success: he had been tasked to disperse the Tzigany and liquidate the Mortescu family. He gives Garth a pass that will allow them to cross unchallenged across the border – and if a young gypsy and his sister are among the party, no questions will be asked.
After recovering some of their possessions from the castle, Garth and his friends head across the border, and Gorgon invites Marko and Sonia to be guests at his home, and start a new life in England. Lumiere tells Garth that before the fire started he had actually completed his treatment. His injections will take time to work, and Gorgon must continue to wear the mask until they reach England.
Several days later Sylvia, her sight restored, waits anxiously on the steps of Gorgon’s country mansion as a car draws up. Gorgon flies into her arms, delighted that she can now see him – but he is still wearing his mask. Once they are inside the house, Lumiere instructs Gorgon to remove his mask. But the nervous Gorgon wishes to do so alone in his room. The confident Lumiere tells Sylvia to follow him.
In his room Gorgon removes his mask before a dressing table mirror – and sees reflected in it his new – and normal – face, and his wife’s behind it as she looks over his shoulder.
All is resolved happily: Marko learns that he is to be offered a job as an interpreter, and becomes engaged to Sonia.
Garth tells Lumiere how he killed the vampire of Mortiska. Then, after showing him the remains of his Jasonite cloak and battered helmet, he tells him the full story of his journey to Jason. Lumiere informs Garth of his intention to return to the desert observatory at the International Research Station and make a full analysis of the fragments of the space-time kit.
Garth agrees to join him, and speculates that he will no doubt share his “next nightmare” after he has slept on his findings, giving a broad hint about the next story!
Synopsis by Philip Harbottle
In a feature encompassing the entire history of the much-loved strip, Garth writer Philip Harbottle pays tribute to artist and editor John Allard, who worked at the Mirror for over 50 years, outlining his huge contribution to Garth‘s enduring success
Strip dates given are those of their original appearance in the British newspaper the Daily Mirror, first compiled by Geoffrey Wren and Ann Holmes and updated by Ant Jones and Philip Harbottle
Garth © REACH/ Daily Mirror