In honour of its 75th anniversary this year, DC Comics is doing a series called DC Universe Legacies, which retells the history of the DC Universe; it's drawn by a host of famous artists and penned by the great Len Wein (preview of #2 here; reviews here and here). Of course, like any history there is an opportunity to throw in a few retcons. While reading DC Universe Legacies #2 (August 2010), what did my eagle eyes spy but a plot to steal the Markovian Crown Jewels.
If you've been following my comics entries, you'll know I'm writing a history of the infamous character Tara Markov here. The Markovs were only invented in the 1980s, but with this issue, their family is being inserted into Golden Age DC arcs. Golden Age stories were originally published by DC in the 1940s; the stories summarized by Wein's DC Universe Legacies have so far covered events inside the DC Universe of the 1920s and 1930s. And in this issue, a gang of 1930s thieves break into a museum (in Gotham?) to steal the Crown Jewels and a portrait of an eighteenth or nineteenth century Markovian royal - who looks suspiciously like Tara Markov, the Titan who died in a DCU story set in the 1980s. Many will say this is just a family resemblance to an ancestor. But these are comic books, where such obvious explanations will never do. Seeing that portrait, I immediately thought of the old Hammer horror film, Countess Dracula. That movie picked up on an idea in other Hammer films and in other contemporary horror films, like The Haunted Palace, starring Vincent Price and based on the story by H. P. Lovecraft. A noble family has a female member of dubious parentage who is introduced as a daughter, niece or cousin. Yet curious visitors are puzzled to see her exact likeness reappearing in a much older portrait or a statue at a gravesite. It turns out that the obscure, eternally young girl is the immortal founder of the whole family legacy. This is the kind of mystery that might suit Tara Markov, if her immortality depended on her status as an earth elemental, rather than as a vampire.
Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed, oil painting (Source: Horrorfanzine.com).
Coincidentally, the inspiration for Countess Dracula is enjoying a resurgence. The Hammer film was based loosely on the story of Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (1560-1614), who has been labelled the most prolific female serial killer in history. Recast in legends as a vampire, or so-called 'Blood Countess,' her scourge on local girls arose out of a search for eternal youth. Witnesses claimed that she killed local girls and bathed in their blood to stay young:
"After her husband's death, she and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls and young women, with one witness attributing to them over 600 victims, though the number for which they were convicted was 80. Elizabeth herself was neither tried nor convicted. In 1610, however, she was imprisoned in the Čachtice Castle, where she remained bricked in a set of rooms until her death four years later."Further popular accounts of the Countess are here, here and here.
McFarlane Toys: Elizabeth Bathory (June 2004).
Picking up on the current vampire craze, Todd McFarlane's toy company, McFarlane Toys, has made a doll version of the Countess cavorting in her bath of blood. And there are three new Blood Countess movies out or coming out. There's a report here on a 2008 film directed by Slovak filmmaker Juraj Jakubisko, entitled Báthory. The director declares that the stories about the Countess were a myth. There's a German review with stills here.
A 2009 French-German film, The Countess, was directed by and starred Julie Delpy. Delpy remarked: "it sounds like a gothic [story] but it's more a drama. It's more focusing on the psychology of human beings when they're given power."
Delpy in a still from her film, The Countess (2009).
A report on Delpy's film is here; it was shown in May at Cannes. Finally, the Germans and Austrians have recruited British actress Tilda Swinton to star in a 2011 German-language film, Die Blutgräfin, with a report here. All of these films qualify the popular horror around the Countess, and the filmmakers see the blood baths, the vampirism and the evil quest for immortality as symbols and cyphers of forbidden power for an embattled and slandered noblewoman. It's equally conceivable that a noblewoman who committed crimes would have been subject to house arrest (as she was) and a discreet cover up. If her crimes were real, clearly bathing in blood is no answer for immortality, since the Countess died at age 54. Whatever the truth, perhaps DC will take a cue from the popularity of these themes and perhaps reconsider their inflexible attitude toward writing new stories about Tara Markov.
Go to Symbols of Immortality 1: The Phoenix.