Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Blacula: Return of the King

Monsters are supposed to come back from the dead, especially when their movies are hits. Frankly, only two Blacula films never seemed like enough for fans. As the 50th anniversary of the sequel, Scream, Blacula, Scream approaches, there is reboot talk, but it could never be as good as the original. To satisfy that thirst, an original Blacula plays was released regionally a few years ago. Now, there is finally a direct sequel, but in graphic novel form. Blacula rises again, understandably for vengeance, in Rodney Barnes’ Blacula: Return of the King, illustrated by Jason Shawn Alexander, which releases today.

Prince Mamuwalde had tragically bad luck. He sought the assistance of Count Dracula in liberating his people, but discovered the vampire was an undead racist. The Count killed his beloved Princess and imprisoned him in a coffin for centuries, after turning him undead as well. He did as vampires do in the first two films, but with a sense of guilt and a social conscience.

For the crimes he involuntarily committed, Mamuwalde has been condemned to Hell, where he enjoyed the ultimate Prince of Darkness’s grudging respect. Of course, you cannot keep a vampire as angry as Mamuwalde buried for long. So, he rises from the grave once again, in search of Dracula. However, a contemporary group of urban vampire hunters (most of whom have lost loved ones to the undead) will team up with an aspiring paranormal YouTuber to find and kill the legendary Blacula for good.

Stylistically, Alexander’s art is quite striking. Although macabre, it represents a radical departure from “blaxploitation” aesthetics, almost harkening back to the trippy expressionism of
Arkham Asylum. However, the graphic novel was ill-served by its editorial team, who allowed a lot of glaring repetition, which kills the narrative momentum. Instead of going big with the long-anticipated show-down between Blacula and Dracula, Barnes keeps it frustratingly minor in scope. Bizarrely, we learn the once regal Count is now keeping a low profile in a white-trash trailer park, which seems highly out of character for the arrogant old blood-sucker.

Fans will try to convince themselves
Return of the King is better than it is, because they want to see the great William Marshall rise again as Blacula. Unfortunately, the story it tells and the way it tells it are frankly disappointing. Hopefully, it will not dissuade further attempts to breathe new life into the beloved character. It makes the heart heavy to say so, but Blacula: The Return of the King just can’t be recommended when it goes on-sale today (1/31).