Wednesday, March 29, 2023

#IReadsYou Review: BLACULA: Return of the King


STORY: Rodney Barnes
ART: Jason Shawn Alexander with Scott Hampton
COLORS: Jason Shawn Alexander
LETTERS: Marshall Dillon
EDITOR: Greg Tumbarello
COVER: Jason Shawn Alexander
ISBN: 978-1-958509-00-5; paperback (January 31, 2023)
128pp, Colors, 19.99 U.S., $26.50 CAN

Rated “T+ / Teen Plus” or “16 years and up”

Blacula: Return of the King is a full-color, original graphic novel (comic book) that is based on Blacula, a 1972 vampire horror and Black exploitation film.  Published by Zombie Love Studios, Blacula: Return of the King is written by Rodney Barnes; drawn and colored by Jason Shawn Alexander (with some contributions from artist Scott Hampton); and lettered by Marshall Dillon.  Barnes and Alexander are the creators of the dark fantasy and vampire horror comic book, Killadelphia (Image Comics).

Blacula the film starred renowned African-American actor, William Marshall.  He played the film's title role, an 18th-century African prince named Mamuwalde.  In the year 1780, after a dispute, Count Dracula punishes Mamuwalde by turning him into a vampire and cursing him with the name “Blacula.”  Dracula seals Mamuwalde in a coffin that he hides deep in a crypt in his castle in Transylvania.  Blacula reemerges in the United States in 1972 where he pursues a human woman in what turns out to be a doomed romance.

Blacula: Return of the King opens in modern Los AngelesTina Thomas, a young African-American reporter, writes for “Dark Knights,” a blog that “chronicles all things unnatural, uneasy, and undead in the greater Los Angeles area.”  For the past six months, people have been disappearing, and the word on the street and rumors from the shadows insist that the legendary vampire that haunted Los Angeles in the early 1970s has returned to kill.  That's right; Blacula's back.

During her reporting, Tina meets Kross, a young Black man whose family has been plagued by the curse of Blacula since his first appearance.  Kross leads a group of children, a band of “Lost Boys,” if you will, and all have also been hurt by the plague of undead that follows Blacula's blood lust.  Kross and his boys are determined to hunt and to kill Blacula, and before long, Tina finds herself joining them.

Blacula is also on a mission – his own kind of hunt.  He is searching for the one who forever changed his life centuries ago and cursed him with the mocking name, “Blacula.”  His enemy's name is Count Dracula, and that's right.  Dracula's back, too.

THE LOWDOWN:  I want and need to convince you, dear readers, to read Blacula: Return of the King.  It may be the most inventive and artistically ambitious graphic novel about a vampire since Jon J. Muth's Dracula: A Symphony in Moonlight and Nightmares, which was originally published by Marvel Comics in 1986.

The art and coloring by Jason Shawn Alexander is at times regal and elegant, as if hinting at what Prince Mamuwalde once was.  At other times, it is a blustery and frantic, desperate and stormy, and impressionistic and insane.  It is in these moments that the storytelling reminds reader of the backdrop to the horrific melodrama.  The victims of both Blacula and Dracula, as well as their undead acolytes, are the lower classes, the poor, and those living on the edge of an already frayed society.

That is why what writer Rodney Barnes offers is a true sequel to the 1972 film.  Blacula the movie was a very “Black” film, and Blacula: Return of the King is a very Black comic book.  Blacula, Tina Thomas, and Kross and his lost boys are all living the legacy of slavery and bondage, which is suffering and degradation.  In a way, the characters are living the best that they can, but they are cursed by history, both national and personal.  Blacula may be a monster, but he kills for food, a fate forced on him.  It is like fate of the young African-Americans characters here, who live in a gloomy world of abandoned and ignored neighborhoods.

Barnes and Alexander have made in Blacula: Return of the King a vampire story that is an amazing layered work – literal, metaphorical, and allegorical horror.  It is a sequel that honors the original and advances the story forward in way that is faithful in spirit and in potential.  And as a horror comic book, it is a damn fun read.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:  Fans of Blacula, of Dracula, and of great vampire fiction will want to read Blacula: Return of the King.

[This issue contains an introduction, “Blacula and Me” by Rodney Barnes.  It also includes “Prince Mamuwalde Lives!: Resurrecting Blacula,” written by Stephen R. Bissette and edited by John Jennings.]

10 out of 10

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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