Spooktoberfest Special: What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse!

Some of you may have noticed that while my previous focus during Spooktoberfest has been directed towards more witchity matters, this year’s had a pretty heavy emphasis on vampires. From Hellsing to Tomb of Dracula, from Becky Burdock to the Man From Transilvane, things have been downright Nosferatish around here all month, and believe it or not, there’s a reason for that.

Along with carving the Jack O’Lantern and plotting to get my Christmas tree up as early as is socially acceptable, one of my Halloween traditions is a marathon play-through of the greatest side-scrolling, platform-jumping, vampire-whipping video game saga of all time: Castlevania.

Of course, given that the original NES title spawned something like eight thousand sequels, I don’t play through all of them, but with the classic Symphony of the Night available for PSP and XBox Live and the best generation of Castlevania happening on the current generation of handhelds (largely because they’ve been using SOTN as the blueprint to build on since the GameBoy Advance), there was more than enough to keep me busy in the run-up to this month’s release of the latest title, Order of Ecclesia.

But sadly, like so many things I love, their brief union with the world of comics was… well, not very good.



Released with a resounding thud in 2005, IDW’s Castlevania: The Belmont Legacy came courtesy of Marc Andreyko (of DC’s Manhunter) and E.J. Su (of TechJacket), and I think it’s safe to say that it’s not their best work. Which, when you think about it, is pretty odd.

Admittedly, licensed horror comics based around video games probably aren’t going to be anyone’s ticket to the Eisner Awards, but when you consider just how much there is to work with in Castlevania, owing to its firm roots in Nintendo Logic, it’s surprising that they didn’t just go all out with it. I mean, this is a series that had to have an entire game built around explaining why the main character fights Dracula with a whip (aside from the fact that it was easier to draw a straight line of pixels than anything else, and the kids love Indiana Jones anyway), so trust me, there’s plenty there to explore.

Me, I would’ve gone for Castlevania III in an attempt to explain how a vampire hunter, a pirate and a witch hooked up with Dracula’s kid in the first place, but instead, Andreyko tells the story of Christopher Belmont:



As the protagonist of the GameBoy titles, Christopher’s probably the least-known hero of the series, which makes him a pretty strange choice to build a series around, but that also means that he’s a essentially a blank slate. Plus, he’s got one of the best titles of the series, Belmont’s Revenge, from back when everything had to involve Symphonies and Arias and Harmonies and Rondos and the Cha-Cha of the Damned or whatever. And yes: You do see his sex face. So really, everything should be good to go, except for one glaring problem.

There is no Goddamn castle in this story.

Okay, well, that’s an exaggeration. There is a castle, but Christopher’s only in it for a grand total of three pages, and everything of any importance takes place either in a village or in a cave. Seriously, dude fights Dracula in a fucking cave. Which would be fine, if this were Caveavania, but it’s not.

Look, I might be a bit of a purist here, and I’ll admit that I’m probably a little more emotionally invested in the series than the average guy, but I imagine that the target audience for a tie-in comic is going to be the same way, and there are certain things I expect to see from a Castlevania book. The series is essentially a Haunted House story writ large, and it oughtta reflect that. I want an entrance hall with zombies in it. I want someone to fight their way from the ground up to confront Dracula. I want a damn Clock Tower where you fight Death itself.



In short, I want a Castle, and considering that this thing is called Castlevania, I don’t think that’s too much to ask, now is it?!

Whoa. Sorry about that, guys. I know I get a little carried away sometimes, but c’mon: We’ve all played Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. We know how bad things can get when there’s no Castle involved.

So what do they do in lieu of looking for save points and grinding for swords in the Inverted Library? Well, considering that this thing is a five-issue mini-series, not a whole hell of a lot.

In fact, aside from a graveyard full of zombies that’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds, there’s not a lot of monster-fighting at all. Instead, the first issue is devoted mostly to Senor Belmont’s wedding to future kidnapping victim Illya, which is the source of some consternation to Lord Bartley and his daughter Sona, who will be playing the role of the Buxom Harlot this evening:



Coincidentally, that is exactly what Christopher wants, but that’s beside the point here.

With her affections are sternly rebuked and Illya going off to get hitched, Sona does what so many broken-hearted young girls have done in her situation: She goes to resurrect Dracula, the Ultimate Lord of Evil, who is once again given flesh and then steadfastly refuses to wear clothes at any point for the rest of the series:



Thus, Belmont goes off to kill Dracula, Mrs. Belmont sneaks off to help and is immediately taken hostage by the forces of evil, a couple of supporting characters whose names I didn’t catch get turned into vampires, everybody fights in a cave, and it all somehow works out okay.

Seriously, that’s it. There is even less plot here than in the original game, but it goes on for five issues without even a single Medusa Head.

And yet, it does have this.



The Dracula Fetus.

Why they put a question mark after “The End” there, the world may never know.

Spooktoberfest Special: Fear For Sale!

Despite the fact that he doesn’t have the lunatic flash of the Joker or the epic scale of Ra’s al-Ghul, the Scarecrow has always been one of my favorite villains.

At the risk of turning this into another one of those pseudo-intellectual essays, I think it has a lot to do with the way he works as a contrast to Batman. We’ve all seen the scene where he establishes that criminals are superstitious and cowardly, but Jonathan Crane’s a nice reminder that those aren’t qualities limited to those who break the law, and as much as Batman’s cape and devil-horn bat-ears are designed to frighten crooks, the Scarecrow uses the same tactics on the (relatively) innocent.

Plus, he’s got an awesome design. Seriously, say what you want about the lanky stitched-mouth of Scarecrow Classic, but that redesign they did for the latter seasons of the animated series? The one with the tattered coat and the noose around his neck? That thing is tight.

He’s got a good track record, too: SuperFriends notwithstanding, he’s been in a lot of good stories, owing to the fact that for such a deceptively simple concept, there’s a lot you can do with him.

Which brings us to tonight’s spoooooooky selection, from Detective Comics #571, which is without question one of my favorite comics of all time.

Seriously, even with competition from its contemporaries–which included Dark Knight Returns, Year One and Jim Starlin’s run over in the pages of Batman–Mike W. Barr’s Detective is one of the greatest runs of all time, and this is one of its high points.

I mean, just check out this splash page:



Man. Alan Davis. I have a feeling that kid’s gonna go far in this industry.

Also, it’s my duty as a comics blogger to point out that this is the issue that gives us this:



“Shoosh” indeed.

Anyway, here’s how it goes down: Following a hunch after two major accidents involving sports figures taking insane chances, Bruce Wayne and young Jason “Jay” Todd hit the racetrack, only to find three time Indy 500 Champion Jack Hogan attempt a reckless pass and end up as a fireball.

Fortunately, one quick change later, Batman and Robin are able to help out by–




Anyway, despite the disastrous wreck and some pretty serious injuries, Hogan doesn’t seem to have any regrets about his actions. Why? Well, as Batman discovers with his handy Science Microscope, he’s been dosed with a psychoactive chemical by the Scarecrow. But rather than the usual tactic of bringing out the subject’s deepest fears, this one works to take them away:



Before long, of course, Robin gets kidnapped and Batman gets dosed with the chemical, and that’s where this issue gets upgraded from “great” to “totally kickass.”

Because that’s when we start to get Cocky Batman:



This is what’s so great about this issue: Taking a character that–even in a run as fun and relatively lighthearted as Barr’s–was rooted in dour, methodical purpose and showing the contrast as he gets more and more reckless under the influence of the Scarecrow’s drug and watching him try to force himself to not have fun being Batman.

Plus, Alan Davis does wonders with it:



Thus, hepped up on fear-removing goofballs, Batman’s faced with a gauntlet of traps at a cement factory with what has to be the worst safety record in Gotham City. Seriously, if your job has spinning blade traps and pitfalls that pop up in the middle of a hallway and you’re not guarding the lost treasure of an ancient wizard or something, contact OSHA before you’re run over by a remote-controlled semi-truck.



This, incidentally, is exactly how my Batman vs. Optimus Prime fan-fiction went.

Of course, as with all sinister lairs, deathtraps prove no obstacle to Batman, and before long…



…and it’s revealed that in order to counteract the drug’s influence, Batman conjured up his own worst fear and held it in his mind, using it to focus on getting through the traps, beat the Scarecrow, and rescue Robin.

And that fear? Oh, I think you know where we’re going with this one:



Man. Good thing that never happened, huh?

In addition to the comic itself, “Fear For Sale” was later adapted into an episode of the Animated Series and handily reprinted–along with a lot of other great stuff–in Batman in the Eighties, and it’s well worth picking up.

I mean, come on:



Cocky Batman. He’s worth it for the eyebrow alone.

Friday Night Fights: Again With the Bloodsucking!

Time for another spooky smackdown with Bahlactus and the Friday Night Frights! Tonight: The Vampire Cults of Gotham City!






Because when your boyfriend is a guy who fights vampires, wolves, and a good old-fashioned crushing wall trap in the pages of Batman and the Mad Monk, it pays to know when to bash someone’s face in with a chair leg.

Spooktoberfest Special: A Lesser Known Power of the Vampire

Despite the fact that they’re one of the most common characters in horror literature, nobody can seem to agree on what a vampire can actually do.

Sure, Stoker’s Dracula lays out the standards that everyone else works from, and while the legend certainly allows for flexibility–Count Dracula himself is a far cry from the earlier conception of the vampire, after all–the vampire fiction that we’ve gotten since diverges to the point of outright contradiction.

The first casualty is often the weakness to running water, but there are stories like Bite Club where even daylight doesn’t present much of a problem with a strong enough sunblock, and as much as I’ve been enjoying the Dresden Files books, I’m not even sure if we’re talking about vampires anymore if you take away the whole part where they drink blood. The abilities, too, are a gray area. Most everyone agrees that they’re strong, but they tend to vacillate between painfully beautiful and hideously ugly, and while the shape-shifting and animal control abilities are right there in the Monster Manual, Buffy dismisses them as a bunch of “gypsy tricks.”

And even worse, there’s almost always a glaring omission from the Vampire skill set:




And really, why do all these vampire stories insist on trotting out the old neck-biting cliché when it’s well within the power of the Nosferatu to create minions from halfway across the world?



PLEASE NOTE: The preceding information is only applicable to vampires from Transilvane, the miniature planet so evil that the planet itself has devil horns.



Seriously. You should hear their metal.


You can learn more about the vampires and other assorted monsters of the Planet Transilvane in the pages of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #142, conveniently reprinted in the absolutely essential Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus, Vol. 2.

Spooktoberfest Special: Darkness Falls Across The Land…

…The Midnight Hour is close at hand…



Creatures crawl in search of blood, to terrorize y’all’s neighborhood…



And whosoever shall be found without the soul for getting down…



Must stand and face the hounds of hell, and rot inside a corpse’s shell!



The foulest stench is in the air, the funk of forty thousand years!



And grisly ghouls from every tomb are closing in to seal your doom…



And though you fight to stay alive, your body starts to shiver…



For no mere mortal can resist… the evil of the THRILLER!





And the scariest part? Suicide Squad has STILL never been collected.