Story File: Fiends of the Eastern Front
Fiends of the Eastern Front was a deliciously dark, ten-part serial that showcased the inimitable talent of artist Carlos Ezquerra and the audacious scriptwriting of Gerry Finley-Day. It has echoes of Thunder’s Black Max, Lion’s Secrets of the Demon Dwarf and Scream!’s The Dracula File (also written by Finley-Day). That the story combined horror and war, and was set further into the comic’s past than the year 2000AD was in its future, may have made it seem an unlikely commission for 2000AD – on the face of it, a future-based sci-fi publication – but demonstrates that this has always been a comic that can be home to a broad range of genres. What characterises 2000AD more than the categories of its stories is, I think, a particularly British darkness and subversion; it’s hard to define precisely, but Fiends of the Eastern Front has it in coffinfuls.
The story opens and concludes in the autumn of 1980, as British troops occupying West Berlin uncover a wartime bunker containing the skeleton of a soldier, Hans Schmitt, sitting in a chair in front of ten silhouettes of sinister, high-collared figures sketched on the wall. A German policeman, Inspector Brandt, and a British officer, Colonel Grant, start to read the diary of Schmitt, who was a trooper in the German army invading Russia as part of Operation Barbarossa in 1941.
During an early reconnaissance into Russian territory, Schmitt gets snagged on barbed wire and is at the mercy of enemy soldiers, but is saved by the materialisation of ten cowled figures who slaughter the Russians. They reveal themselves to be a troop of Romanian soldiers, led by one Captain Constanta. The next day, Schmitt sees a truck carrying the Romanian emblem but rather than containing Constanta and his men it carries ten sealed coffins. As the push into Russian territory continues, the Romanians continue to reappear to aid the German cause, always at night. When he discovers the Russians’ fear of these killers, Schmitt realises their true nature. The Romanians are vampires: stealthy, bloodthirsty, deadly; able to transform into bats and wolves; and vulnerable to garlic, crucifixes and sunlight.
Schmitt’s diary moves on to 1942, where Constanta and his brigade of the undead support the German army in the Arctic, and then to 1944 when – to Schmitt’s horror – Romania switches its allegiance in the war. The Germans’ ghastly allies are now their terrifying enemies. As Schmitt knows their true identities, he becomes urgent prey for the vampires.
The diary jumps forward once more, this time to 1945, and finds the Germans in retreat to Berlin – and Schmitt retreating further into himself as the horror of his situation takes hold of his mind. With the exception of one fellow soldier, Karl Mueller, his platoon is slaughtered by the Romanians. Mueller and Schmitt stumble away and discover a metalworker’s shop in which they are able to forge a cache of silver bullets. They mow down all but two of the vampires – Constanta and Gorgo. At their next destination, their hunters catch up with them once more and murder Mueller. Schmitt buries himself in a grave next to his comrade, and then leaps up to kill Gorgo with a sharpened spade. Alone, he surrenders to American troops just outside Berlin, only to discover that Constanta had arrived at the camp before him and has his victim trapped at last.
Schmitt eventually dispatches Constanta, but only after being turned to the darkness. He finds his way to the cellar in Berlin, draws the figures on the wall as a warning for the future, and shoots himself with a remaining silver bullet. There he is found by Brandt and Grant, thirty-five years later … but it seems Constanta, Lord of the Vampires, has lain one final trap.