A decade after a war between Van Helsing and Dracula that left the latter supposedly dead and Transylvania free of the undead scourge, the former is now a royal general while still haunted by the belief that his nemesis is still alive, so to speak. When the king’s son is abducted, apparently by the vampiric Count, he sets out to destroy the menace once and for all, while certain other individuals are inexorably drawn into the fray.
It’s certainly nothing new to reinterpret the creatures and characters from classic literature and horror movies – whether alone or in combination with each other – and you could very briefly be forgiven for thinking that Transylvanian Knights might just be bringing more of the same. However, the comic is far more focused on story than spectacle, and sets about properly establishing the setting rather than smugly nudging you to recognise the well-known characters who populate it. The identities of some of them are explicitly stated and some are self-evident, while others are merely suggested and implied, but their presence always serves a purpose that goes beyond the simple acknowledgment of who they are.
The comic surpasses others of its ilk by not only borrowing the cast of classic horror movies, but also evoking the ominous atmosphere of said films that has allowed them to remain essential genre viewing for going on an entire century. Tilted panel angles generate disorientation that adds to the confusion of trying to figure out exactly what’s going on; the dense forest menaces with any number of monsters that could be hiding in its blackened shadows; and the royal castle radiates the gothic gloom of Gormenghast, its ancient and mighty stone walls no defence against the evil that threatens it. Most memorably, the sight of Van Helsing conducting a sacrificial ritual while calling on strength and protection from God is a surreal combination that, what with Christianity and magic usually being at odds with one another, highlights just how much the story is determined to function by its own rules.
With the characters noted above already introduced and with others soon to join them, the stage is set for a sinister horror tale that is a loving homage to the classics that have inspired it, while also forging ahead to shape its own distinct identity. This is what Universal’s Dark Universe should have been.
TRANSYLVANIAN KNIGHTS #1 / AUTHOR: JAMES MCCULLOCH / ARTIST: JONNY CANNON/ PUBLISHER: COMICHAUS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW