Last week, we learned Castlevania is getting an animated Netflix series, and that I'm not hopeful long-time fans of the series will enjoy it very much.
I shared several reasons why I'm not hyped for Netflix Castlevania, the biggest reason being I feel like the project will be less "Castlevania" and more of a generic vampire-hunting saga that uses ultra-violent imagery to push back against the "cuddly, sparkling vampire" phenomenon that hasn't been relevant since 2012.
Some of you pointed out Warren Ellis is on the project, and he's a hell of a talented writer. That's true, but I counter with this: The other writer on the series (and, thus far, the "face" of the project's creative team) is Adi Shankar, and he's working on an R-rated Power Rangers series that Saban Entertainment won't greenlight in a million years. Also, Bleeding Cool recently tried to talk to Shankar about his work on Castlevania, and he talked about the weather and pro wrestling instead.
If the Castlevania Netflix series turns out to be a disappointment, my heart will go on. It certainly won't be the first time I've been let down by supplementary game media. It won't even be the first time I've been let down by supplemental Castlevania media.
See, it's not like I expect the Netflix series to be a disaster. It's far likelier it'll be a digestible, forgettable, paint-by-numbers affair where every color is a slight variation on blood red. It will, in other words, be like IDW's five-issue Castlevania comic.
Published in 2005, Castlevania: The Belmont Legacy by Marc Andreyko is a good example of what happens when you give a talented but busy writer a property they're clearly not enthusiastic about. Its story is okay, and its art is okay. It's the comic book incarnation of Futurama's Neutral race. It's clear Andreyko got the commission, wrote it, said "This is fine," and cashed his paycheque. He probably never thinks about the series to this day. It's not as if he doesn't have other, more popular comic properties to tend to.
A comic book writer doesn't have to be a devoted follower of a series to write a good comic adaptation, though: Ian Flynn wasn't a big Mega Man fan when he took on Archie's adaptation of Mega Man, but ultimately he penned a thoughtful series that gave the Robot Masters distinct lives and personalities (and in case you need reminding, there are a lot of Robot Masters).
But thinking about licensed characters' subliminal motivations, quirks, likes, and fears takes a lot of effort and imagination – especially when that character is based on a silent 8-bit sprite. Or, in The Belmont Legacy's case, a monochrome Game Boy sprite.
I'm not sure why The Belmont Legacy is based around Christopher Belmont, the otherwise-obscure protagonist of 1989's Castlevania: The Adventure for the Game Boy. Granted, he's not the worst choice; maybe Andreyko wanted some room to maneuver, since Christopher's legend, so to speak, isn't as indelible as Simon's or Trevor's or Alucard's. Also, the follow-up to Castlevania: The Adventure, Belmont's Revenge, involves Dracula kidnapping Christopher's son and attempting to turn the boy into his new host body. That's an interesting story mechanic, and The Belmont Legacy tries to explore it. Though by "try," I mean it says "Ehh," breaks out a few clichés, and calls it a day.
It's fair to say The Belmont Legacy does make some attempt to honor its source material. Christopher Belmont takes up the Vampire Killer whip when Dracula's inexorable resurrection intrudes on his wedding day. There are references to the series sub-weapons as well (not that Christopher uses many of them, but the gesture is nice), and the dilemma forming the bedrock of the first couple of issues is compelling as well. Christopher is proud to bear the Belmont name, but he's primarily interested in settling down with the love of his life, Illya. He looks away from the undeniable signs of Dracula's return because he understandably wants it to just disappear. But when his ancestors' morgue is desecrated and vandalized with the emblem of the Order of the Dragon, he knows he can't turn away from the path laid down long ago by his forebears, Trevor and Simon.
Unfortunately, the story quickly plunges into Snoozetown – which is curious, because The Belmont Legacy has a lot of action in it. It's all standard stuff for semi-erotic 16th century vampire, fiction, however. That is, to quote the Castlevania Dungeon's now-ancient review of the comic, "lots of whipping and stabbing and women calling each other whores."
In fact, The Belmont Legacy embodies everything I fear about Shankar's promise to make the Castlevania Netflix series "dark and edgy." The comic makes relentless references to sex, and it causes Andreyko to come across as a fifteen-year-old who just learned he can upload anything he wants to Archive of Our Own.
Obviously, I'm not against sexual content in Castlevania. This is a series where succubi dangle their goodies in the heroes' faces on a regular basis. But there are only so many times that a youth-turned-vampire can infer he wants to nail his sister before I say "OK, this is silly talk. Knock it off."
Most disappointing is how the comics present Illya, Christopher's newly-minted wife. When Dracula returns and Christopher holds a war council with the men of the manor, Illlya crashes the conference wearing her battle gear (which, of course, emphasizes her bosom in a manner that's very unlike anything women wore in 16th century Romania, but you know what, "Ralph" and "Trevor" weren't exactly commonplace names in the medieval Carpathian mountain range, so what the hell, I'll allow it). Christopher asks her to leave, but Illya rightfully points out Christopher knew she wasn't a fragile daisy when he courted her, and moreover she bears the Belmont name now. It's standard "Girl Power!" comic stuff, but it's not unwelcome.
Illya is told to stay home anyway. When she predictably follows Christopher's hunting party against orders, she's captured by Dracula and held as a hostage for the rest of the series.
No need to fear. The heroes ponderously make their way to Casa de Dracula, but only after one of their party, an original character named Gaspar, lets himself be turned into a vampire so he can "see through Dracula's eyes" / infer several times that he wants to bone his hot granddaughter. Seeing through Dracula's eyes is supposed to let the party "find" the vampire king, but in hindsight, this is stupid. Dracula lives in a big castle located on top of a huge eff-off mountain. It's hard to miss, even at night. Anyone braindead enough to worry about getting it mixed up with a neighboring fairy-princess castle need only look at the clouds of bats swarming the spires.
Illya is saved, Dracula is vanquished (For Now!!™), and the comic ends with their fetal son, presumably Soleiyu of Belmont's Revenge, peering out at the reader from the womb with red eyes and a demonic smile.
This comic is nearly 12 years old and I still don't know if its closing panels are supposed to be a joke. The real, actual "THE END…?" at the bottom of the last page has successfully kept me guessing for over a decade.
The Castlevania games frequently remind us there are fates worse than death, like suffering the stony heart that comes with vampirism, or feeling the endless hunger that's coupled with being one of the undead. Fittingly, The Belmont Legacy reminds us the only thing worse than a non-existent comic is a boring comic that piddles away its potential.
Whatever Netflix has planned for Castlevania, let's pray it's more interesting than The Belmont Legacy.