Review of Batman & Dracula: Red Rain (Batman: Vampire Trilogy)
A New Evil in Gotham City
Batman & Dracula: Red Rain is an irresistible start to the Batman: Vampire trilogy. Doug Moench writes a straightforward Batman story and incorporates supernatural elements without it ever feeling like an alternative universe. That's partly owing to the naturalness of a vampire Batman story (see the section below, Vampire Batman Origins), but it's also because in true Gothic style, Moench deftly fuses the supernatural with the psychological.
The Gotham City in Red Rain is much like the one you know from Batman stories: it's overrun with crime, poverty, and corruption. Yet in this universe, the very air over the city is poisonous, resulting in a fall of toxic, red-hued rain. A serial killer is also targeting Gotham's marginalised; prostitutes, drug addicts, and homeless people have been found with their throats slashed and their bodies drained of blood. Disgusted by the apparent lack of attention given to the murders, Batman investigates and recognises--though disbelieving at first--evidence of vampire attacks.
While mounting an attack on an underground vampire nest, Batman encounters a group of renegade vampires. These renegades are 'pure of heart'; that is, they hunt other vampires and drink synthetic plasma. They are after Gotham's 'serial killer', who is Dracula himself. Renegade leader (and Batman's eventual lover) Tanya reveals that Dracula was her maker, and that she had imparted some of her vampire strengths to Batman in his sleep. After a climactic battle, Batman is reborn as a full vampire. "Bruce Wayne may be gone," he tells Alfred. "But the Batman will go on...forever."
Visually, Batman is an exaggerated version of the Golden Age style. Kelley Jones draws very tall ears on Batman's cowl, and the billowy cape is rendered with fiercely scalloped edges. The cape becomes more prominent as the story progresses and Batman inches closer to becoming a vampire; in the last several panels where Batman appears, the traditional grey suit and bat insignia are completely obscured by the cape, which has now become a swirling shroud of darkness.
Vampire Batman Origins
The Batman: Vampire trilogy is not vampires' first appearance in the Batman mythos. Detective Comics #31 contains the first part of "Batman Vs. the Vampire", a story that takes Batman to Hungary to rescue Julie Madison from the vampire Monk. In the 1980s, the vampire theme was revisited by Gerry Conway, who wrote a story in which the Monk made Batman a vampire, albeit not permanently.
Depicting Batman himself as a vampire-like figure, if not an actual vampire, is not a new idea either. "Nothing demonstrates the ominous nature of the early Batman more than [the cover of Detective Comics #31] by Bob Kane," writes Les Daniels in DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes. "[A] casual glance would suggest that Batman is the menacing vampire of the castle." Conventional vampire features have always been an obvious influence in Batman's design, and sometimes even Bruce Wayne is drawn with a widow's peak and slightly pointy ears--both of which are vampirish traits.
Yet aesthetics aside, why should we be interested in a vampire Batman? He is motivated by emotions darker than those of many other heroes in mainstream comics. Intimidation is his greatest weapon, not high-tech tools or superpowers. He is mortal, yet he possesses the mystique of an urban legend, or, depending on who you ask, a wraith. In theory, making him a vampire is not much of a stretch.
The truth is, the idea of a Batman with all of the strengths of a vampire is compelling because it nullifies his most conspicuous lack (i.e., super- or meta- human powers); yet it is his imperfect humanity that defines him and shapes him into the hero that he is. If Batman has a vampire's strengths, does he also have its weaknesses? How can a vampire Batman retain his humanity? The Batman: Vampire trilogy answers these questions, and tells a good story at the same time.
Daniels, Les. DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes. Boston: Bullfinch Press, 1995.
Moench, Doug (w), Jones, Kelley (p), and Beatty, John, Malcolm Jones III. (i). Batman: Vampire. Ed. Scott Nybakken. New York: DC Comics, 2007.
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