Castlevania: The Belmont Legacy Review by The Successor
eing a huge fan of Castlevania, and also a huge fan of American comic books, naturally, I was quite excited to hear that IDW Publishing was working on bringing fans a comic book mini series based on my favorite video game series.
But, of course, when you hear about one of your favorite things being represented in a medium it is unfamiliar with, be it comics, movies, or whatever, many times there is an icy sense of dread that creeps down your neck and back, brought upon by worry that it may turn out to be an appalling caricature of something you greatly admire.
Does Castlevania: The Belmont Legacy comic book mini series turn out to be a falsification of Castlevania's world and characters?
Well, the best way that I can put it is that it is an interesting take on the series.
The writer of this tale, Mark Andreyko, prefers to take a startling turn and cast Christopher Belmont in the starring role. Christopher is the playable character in a progression of two comparatively unrecognized Castlevania titles that appeared on the Gameboy in the late eighties and early nineties. Both games are nearly wholly forgotten in this day and age, except among hardcore Castlevania fans. Therefore, it is not uncommon to wonder why Andreyko elected this unsung hero.
The most overlooked Belmont of them all returns for his time to shine.
In actuality, that is exactly why he was chosen. Rather than select a Belmont like Richter, or Juste, either of which have more developed stories, and supporting characters to elaborate on, Christopher is ideal because of his hushed segment of the Castlevania story, and utterly void character.
This grants Andreyko the maneuverability he likes in telling his story. He can add new personalities at ease, and comfortably flesh Christopher out to be the character he so desires. Moreover, as an added benefit, he has less fan expectations to live up to.
This is a great decision. Too often, people are caught up in the norm. It comes from a lack of creativity and/or fear of possible repercussions when attempting to break convention. This may be why there are about one billion fan remixes of "Bloody Tears" floating around the internet.
It is dreary, predictable, and not adventurous in the least.
Honestly, as much as I like the character, I would have groaned if Alucard, the fan favorite half vampire son of Dracula, had turned out to be the main character of this comic.
An additional cause as to why I'm fond of this result is because I like Christopher, and have always felt that he, and his games are vastly under appreciated. It's nice to see this character make a reemergence about fourteen or so years after his last appearance. It's comforting to know that someone out there was thinking of him.
Original characters of Andreyko's design include Illyana Riktor, the soon to be blushing bride of Christopher's. There is also Deimos, the surprisingly involved and hands-on butler of Lord Christopher.
A new family emerges in this short series. The Totoyans, Viktor, Pashca, and old Gaspar. They are vampire hunters, who are for some reason in possession of the Vampire Killer whip. When the return of Count Dracula, the Lord of Darkness, becomes evident, the Totoyan family goes to convene with Christopher, and relinquish the whip to its rightful owner.
The Totoyans are all good characters.
Viktor is a teenage boy who is determined and loyal, but also timid. He's actually enjoyable in nearly all of his scenes. His foil character is his gutsy, tense, strong willed, and daring sister, Pashca. She seems to have been made to appease whatever girl readers there may be, thereby giving them an adventurer they can relate to, and the guy readers who like seeing girls kick butt.
Gaspar, the experienced, but burned out vampire hunter is surprisingly alike Morris Baldwin, from Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. He even looks like him. He is the grandfather of Viktor and Pashca, and takes his two grandchildren to assist Christopher in the fight against Darkness.
There is a hint of rivalry between Christopher and Pashca throughout the story. It is artfully subtle at times, but apparent.
Andreyko did some research and included the Bartley family as villains. Redheaded, large breasted Sona and her uncle are the ones primarily responsible for Dracula's rebirth into the world.
The characters are well done, and have good, believable chemistry with each other. The dialogue helps with this. None of it is wooden or forced.
Christopher is likable. As he should, he bears the beefcake image of the series' earlier heroes. In contrast to his hardened appearance, he is very anxious about the resurrection of Dracula, and is hoping that it is merely a wives' tale to scare young, misbehaving children at night. His feelings and worries for his newly wed wife are convincing, but this will not be remembered as a great love story, and you won't see girls on the internet "shipping" this pair.
Illyana is nothing special. When the trouble truly begins, as a new Belmont, she feels it is also her duty to get her hands dirty, and jumps into the fray with Christopher. This isn't really necessary, especially with Pashca already on the scene.
It seems odd that this woman suddenly is a warrior, with no previous hint or build-up to that aspect of her. But, with the fierce warrior spirit becoming more and more popular among females in fantasy literature, Andreyko throws her into the fight.
I would have preferred a dainty, demure, and pretty girl like Harmony of Dissonance's Lydie Erlanger to this lioness. Before you call me a chauvinist, I would like to point out some reasons for thinking this way.
Firstly, It would have been more in keeping with the series, and the classic vampire movie feel, which Andreyko is reaching for in this book series. In addition, it would have made for a wider range of characters, since Pashca is already filling the aggressive female position, and doing a much better job of it. Besides, all Illyana does is get kidnapped anyway. She is pretty much all talk, and when it comes to action, she's instantly defeated.
Character growth is noticeable within this mini-series. While some turn from good to evil, Deimos becomes more intense as the story unfolds.
Deimos is the most original character, and my personal favorite from this series. He sports a very fitting character design that makes his personality especially solid. The scenes and lines he's given reinforce this. Including even the butler in the fight against Dracula makes Christopher's band seem all the more desperate and rag tag.
That is the magic of this particular character. For who he is, he's in an incredibly unsuspecting situation, but he holds his own with confidence that grows as the adventure progresses.
The story itself is a more thorough telling of Castlevania: The Adventure. That is, Christopher's first encounter with Dracula. Sorry to say, aside from having the character Christopher Belmont, you'd never guess it, because there is nothing reminiscent in this comic to the old Gameboy game other than the fundamental Castlevania theme, including a Belmont, Dracula, and the whip. You won't find Gobanz here, or Christopher climbing for his life as deadly spikes rush up from beneath to skewer him.
This makes me believe that Andreyko did not play the game, at least not in detail, but rather looked over the timeline and some official art from the older games to get a vague understanding of the series.
Even if many readers would not take note of nods to the source material, the fans would love them, and some instances in Adventure would serve as great inspiration for events and enemies in the book, such as the aforementioned spike scene, or perhaps having a scene where Christopher is on an unstable bridge, having to deal with gigantic, explosive eye-balls rolling in from both directions.
I would have liked to see that...
If Andreyko is very familiar with Castlevania: The Adventure, then he did a terrible, unforgivable job of conveying that particular game in comic book form.
I know some readers won't like this example, but one of the best things (probably the best) that the Pokémon anime show did in its heyday was stay remarkably close to the video games, while expanding on everything fans were familiar with, and surprising them with new and interesting twists. You could actually play along with the adventure, going to the same cities that Ash would visit on the television show, meeting the same people, catching the same Pokémon, doing the same things, and so forth. The concept was simple and brilliant, and had a lot to do with the Pokémania that ensued soon after.
That would have been the preferable route for Andreyko to take. But, alas, he didn't.
So, the comic book is hardly anything like the dated, colorless game it's derived from. That's bad, but does it mean this whole mini-series is worthless?
No. Andreyko throws in some new concepts that are quite interesting.
The first issue is used to set the stage of things. It introduces us to the main characters and tells us what's going on in their lives. The event of the day is the marriage ceremony of Christopher Belmont and Illyana Riktor. It is beyond doubt a joyous occasion, and Andreyko does a great job of portraying this. When Christopher is truly happy or panicky about the wedding, you can feel it, it is plausible, but so are his fears. Christopher is haunted by the impending resurrection of Vlad Tepes Dracula, hoping it is purely myth. This gives the Count that threatening, all consuming dynamic he has even in death, which fans will greatly appreciate.
Seductive Sona represents the Bartley family in this comic series. She doesn't seem to be related to the Count, or an undead vampress, however.
Issue two is preparation for the battle; a call to arms. It does a good job in pumping the reader up and getting everyone ready for true vampire slaying. However, it is a bit worrying, because there is still no action, hence, not much progress. When you only have five issues to tell a whole story, you must use your limited space accordingly.
Instead of pushing things forward, Andreyko takes his time fleshing everything out.
Even though the first two issues are good, it's troubling to know that this much space has been used and they still have not even left the village.
The next two issues are when things heat up, and they're the best this mini-series has to offer. I don't want to spoil them, so I'll just say they include good action scenes, memorable dialogue, and unexpected occurrences. Also, after issue four's conclusion, you'll realize that this series is lacking some key things that should have been included, and it becomes very apparent that they will not be incorporated.
The final issue is all right, but it is sort of a letdown after the durable and exciting build-up of the first two. The concluding confrontation with Count Dracula could have been more exhilarating.
Taking into consideration the drawbacks, these five issues together make for a less than impressive read for Castlevania fans.
Yes, there are many drawbacks.
If you're a big fan of the Castlevania video games, there's a very good chance that you'll be disappointed in this comic book adaptation. Andreyko just did not do enough research on what Castlevania is really about. Certain things that fans would really have loved to see are absent.
Most of the monsters are not there.
The only things you're going to see here are zombies and vampires. That's it. There is no Death, Frankenstein's Monster, Medusa, Werewolf, Fleaman, or anything like that. There's not even an animated skeleton, for Pete's sake.
Castlevania itself is barely in it, and plays a miniscule role.
If the castle were completely missing, the story would not have been altered that much. That's just how unimportant it is. I understand that Castlevania is largely about the Belmonts' continuous battle against Count Dracula, but that seems to be the only focus here. Other factors that are tremendously essential to the series are the castle and the monsters, and Andreyko has pretty much shafted both.
Dracula is depicted poorly.
The majesty that fans would associate with the series' central villain is not there in this comic book series. For the entirety of the story, save for a dream that Christopher has in the beginning, Dracula is a naked, blue man when he's not in were-bat form. He has no Throne Room, striking magical spells, or legions of monsters at his whim. He may as well not have had a castle, too, since he chooses to live nude in a cavern in the side of some mountain.
Ok! The story is good for a nonspecific vampire tale, but terrible for a Castlevania adaptation. What about the art?
The art is true to the traditional American style for comic books. It lacks the frills and unbelievable detail of Kojima's Castlevania mangas, but holds up well in its own right.
Belmont Legacy art is pretty cool, and apt for a comic book.
E.J. Su covers both the pencils and inks, with Tom B. Long on colors. Su's style has a very time-honored, vintage feel, in part due to his shading.
He depicts the human form well, and is able to proficiently present curvy women and muscled men, without over exaggerating too much.
The majority of the character designs, while not astonishing like Kojima's, are appropriate. The only two that feel out of place are the naked Dracula and Illyana in her hunter outfit. But all things considered, Su is good, reliable, and steady at his craft. Nothing here is incredibly pioneering, in the vein of Todd Mcfarlane or J. Scott Campbell, but it is agreeable and substantial much more often than not.
In the end, this is an entertaining, classic type vampire story, with sound art and decent, as well as good characters. In that respect, Andreyko does a solid, though not exceedingly landmark job. But. . . for fans, it isn't evocative enough to the video games. I can tell that Andreyko knows how to tell a good vampire chronicle, but he fails to deliver an exceptional Castlevania story.
However, is it something that should be burned, or locked up and never mentioned ever again?
No. It's not terrible, but it will most likely turn out to be a disappointment for fans of Castlevania. I truthfully had fun while reading most of the series, but there are many things to complain about, which really bring it down.
There are some aspects that I do like about this book, though.
It has elements that Castlevania, the video game series, should integrate more of. Vampires themselves take on a greater role. There are more of them than the usual Castlevania game, and vampirism is a crucial factor in the story. You actually see people getting bit, and transforming into vampires.
There are also habitual religious connotations found in the dialogue. This isn't to say that the games don't have these features, but they can use them to a greater degree, just to support the vampiric and religious themes more.
If you're curious, I recommend that you give Castlevania: The Belmont Legacy a read. It is not as remarkable as it should have been, but there is good entertainment to be had. Just don't put your natural fan expectations too high, and realize that there are things wrong with it. You can rest assured that if you do decide to pass this one up, you're not missing out on too much.