Once Upon a Time, Count Dracula Fell Upon Gotham City…

Twenty-Five years later, Batman’s legendary battle with the King of Vampires is still a must-read.

 

BATMAN VS. DRACULA. Even now, when mashups are common, those three little words have the literary power to stop a train. So imagine the excitement they created when Batman & Dracula: Red Rain was first published in 1991.

Actually, the book sold out soon after publication. I wasn’t reading comics in those days so I missed out on the fun. Red Rain was published as a one-shot, written by Doug Moench, pencilled by Kelley Jones, and inked by Malcolm Jones III, and what this team created would go on to spawn two successful sequels and take-up residence on many a fan’s best-of-Batman list.

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A hero meets a horror.

Without giving too much away (because only a fiend like Dracula would do that), the story begins with Batman investigating a sudden rash of murders of homeless people. The bloody trail leads to you-know-who, and for the first time in his career our hero is faced with an enemy who’s got him completely outmatched. Help arrives in the form of a vampire named Tanya, who’s as anxious as Batman is to destroy Dracula and his growing army of the undead. But in order to pull it off Batman will have to risk everything that means anything to him, and that includes his very humanity.

Yes, we’re talking Vampire Batman. And for the uninitiated, that can happen because the story is set in an “Elseworld”—an alternate universe within the DC Multiverse. Earth-43, I believe. An alternate reality. If you’re thrown by this, please don’t be. It has no bearing on the story. Multiverses are just a way for comic publishers to open channels for endless “what if?” story possibilities.

So “what if?” Batman did become a vampire in order to fight a vampire, as happens here? What would that mean for a hero? Well, in the case of this particular hero it means an already fractured personality becoming embroiled in a Shakespearean struggle for his own soul. In other words, dark stuff—and it only gets darker over the course of the sequels.

I can envision a pitch meeting at DC’s offices where Moench gets the green light on this project with just a few words of instruction from his editors: By God, man! Yes! Do it! Go crazy with this thing!

And Moench does. With relish. The story is such a radical departure from the Batman routine that I’d say it’s one of the best justifications I’ve ever seen for having a multiverse in the first place.

And the artwork! It’s no surprise to me that Moench got his start writing for Eerie and Vampirella during the ’70s, because the vampires he’s conceived here for the Jones boys to render are the sort of nightmarish, crypt-crawling creatures that once bled off the pages of Golden and Silver Age horror comics—putrid, malevolent shadows of what were once people; penciled and inked in various shades of disgusting that suggest the curse is unique to each one. It’s a dreadfully beautiful book.

Three years after its publication, in 1994, Moench re-teamed with Kelley Jones for Batman: Bloodstorm. John Beatty took over inking duties for this one and the results were ghoulishly grand. This time out, Joker gains control of a horde of vampires that were left behind in Dracula’s wake, using them as muscle in a very bloody war against Gotham’s crime families, and Batman, well, let’s just say he’s not faring well in his battle to remain human. And this is the plot device that sets-up what is for me the real magic of this second entry in the trilogy: the relationship between Bats and Selina Kyle/Catwoman. She’s an amazing character in this particular story, more “catty” than you’ve ever seen her since we’re in a realm of monsters, and also the only thing keeping Batman anchored to his old self.

Emotions run deep in these stories.

Which brings us to Batman: Crimson Mist, published in 1999, the last and darkest chapter in the series. And the team of Moench, Jones and Beatty take it out with a bang.

Batman is a full-fledged monster at this point in the story, transformed into a nightmare version of himself but still trying to remain on the side of good by only seeking the blood of his enemies. Present are all the familiar faces you’d expect from such a premise—Penguin, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Riddler, Harvey Dent, etc.—and not one of them is smiling. The shadow cast by Dracula way back in the first book looms large in this chapter, and ends up falling on everyone in Batman’s world, both friend and foe. By the final page I was emotionally drained. Like I said before, it’s Shakespearean.

And I can’t recommend this trilogy highly enough.

In 2007, the three graphic novels were collected in a Tales of the Multiverse volume entitled Batman: Vampire, which, as of this writing, is still available. And coming in October ’16 (just in time for Halloween!) is another collected paperback edition entitled Elseworlds: Batman Vol 2.

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DARK KNIGHT OF THE SOUL: Batman vs. Dracula

                                                        



Stephen Vincent D’Emidio is the editor and publisher of Wonder Alliance. steve@wonderalliance.com

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