Batman and the Mark of the Vampire


(AUGUST 1982)


In 1981, industry legend Gene Colan - following in the footsteps of many of his former colleagues - left his longtime employer Marvel Comics to work for DC. His dense and atmospheric style which, characterized by a cinematographic quality in his use of fluid figure drawing and the use of shadows, was particularly well suited for the Darknight Detective. After his first ever Batman work appeared in Batman #340 (October 1981) he became one of the regular Batman artists both in his namesake title and Detective Comics.

Starting with Batman #349 (cover date July 1982), writer Gerry Conway had Gene Colan draw once again what had become a cornerstone of his success and fame from back in the days when he was pencilling Marvel's Tomb of Dracula: vampires. In a multi-part story which crossed over between the two Batman titles, Conway and Colan created a surreal and supernatural fantasy which saw both Batman and Robin touched by the mark of the vampire...



August 1982

"Nightmare in Crimson!"


Story - Gerry Conway & Paul Levitz
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Tony DeZuniga
Colours - Adrienne Roy
Lettering - Ben Oda
Editor - Dick Giordano
Cover - Gene Colan & Frank McLaughlin








Dick Grayson awakes from a chilling nightmare in which he is confronted once again by Dala - who has changed from being the mysteriously interesting girl from campus into a bloodthirsty and menacing ghoul... and now he finds himself at St Jude's Hospital with Father Green at his bedside, who fills the bedstricken Dick in on how he ran straight in front of the clergyman's car in the middle of the night and on a lonesome stretch of highway in Upstate New York. Dick - still wearing his Robin facemask - staggers up and tells Father Green that he does not remember what he was running from but still feels groggy - whilst the priest can clearly see that Robin only casts a mist of a reflection in a mirror...

Meanwhile, having accomplished his mission out on the West Coast to bring down the so-called Academy of Crime (Detective Comics #516), Batman touches down the Batjet at Wayne Manor's landing strip and steers it into the hangar disguised as a disused old barn. As he climbs out of the jet's cockpit, he is greeted by an anxious Alfred who expresses his wish to discuss a matter - after Bruce Wayne has rested - which is bothering him, when the silence of the Batcave is shattered by the noise of Robin approaching on his bike...

Back in the living quarters, Bruce Wayne wonders if Dick is okay as he seems a bit pale to him, but his sidekick seems to be in the best of spirits and informs Bruce that Dala has invited them both to a special party at her house - and that he had promised her he'd make sure Bruce would be along. Alfred suggests a rest for everyone beforehand, and Bruce can't help but feel that Robin is acting slightly strange...

Meanwhile, at the editorial offices of Picture News, publisher Morton Monroe is secretly rummaging through the desk of Vicki Vale, looking for the Batman photo file which "Boss" Thorne has pressurized him to obtain. Finding what he is looking for, he leaves just as Vicki is heading for her office. When her phone rings, she finds it is Bruce calling her - the very man she firmly believes to secretly be the Batman, and who is now asking her to join him at Dala's party.

At dusk, the old mansion which was dark and filled with horrors the night before (in Batman #349) is now covered in colourful lights and bathed in the sounds of a party. Not long, however, and Bruce is once again taken aback by how strangely Dick seems to be acting. Worried, he steals away from the crowd and has a closer look inside, where he finds traces of blood on one of the stone floors. For Bruce Wayne, something feels definitely wrong, and he changes into the Batman as he finds that the place literally reeks of an evil he can't yet put a precise label on - and as he swings out of the house and onto the roof, the Batman is seen and recognised by someone else prowling the grounds... Father Green.

  In the meantime, Bruce's absence has been noted by Vicki Vale, who has gone in search for him. Naturally, she won't find him as the Batman is outside - now hearing the bright laughter of Dick and Dala.

To the Darknight Detective it now seems that he has overacted in a big way... until he is suddenly and fiercly attacked from out of the shadows by an eerie figure clad in what resembles the crimson robe of a monk...

The assailant seems to have fangs and fiery eyes, too, and the surprise and force of the attack catch the Batman off guard - enough so for the Monk to be able to go for the Darknight Detective's throat with a vengeance. The Batman throws off his attacker and yells at him that what he pretends to be is impossible... but then he finds blood running from his throat. Once more off guard, he is knocked out by none other than Dick, who is applauded for that move by Dala, standing right next to him... to be continued in Detective Comics #517.


Following the virtually Robin only start to the events surrounding the mysterious Dala and her even more mysterious companion the Monk in Batman #349, the Darknight Detective is finally back in Gotham again and catching up on things.

The absence of Batman as he goes after a West Coast based crime syndicate (in Detective Comics #515-516) may have felt slightly forced as it happened, but now Gerry Conway reveals that - apart from being a story in its own right - having the Batman lured away to LA by the Academy of Crime serves a clearly structured plot purpose.

Having Batman miss the first steps Dala takes in order to gain both physical and mental control over Robin prevents any interferences by the Darknight Detective when things could still be stopped, but even more importantly it allows Conway to build and fuel the suspense in true Hitchcock fashion. The grand master of suspense always made it clear that in order to create and maintain an atmosphere of suspense the audience (or in this case the readers) need to be ahead of the story's hero and know (or at least think they do) where danger lurks. In Batman #350 Gerry Conway works this concept into his plot like a true master - and to maximum effect as Bruce Wayne needs to catch up on things which the reader already knows about...

The pace builds as Bruce's inner alarm bells start to go off and he takes to the matter as Batman, but the reader's question - will he find out in time? - receives a negative answer as part two of the Monk storyline ends with another established plot device: the cliffhanger plus revelation. In this case, Conway's excellent rendering of this has the Batman down and out - and by the hands of his sidekick, no less.

The storytelling is slick and extremely well paced (this time around Conway keeps the subplots down to just one in order to not slow down the main story (Vicki Vale's Batman file which she believes contains her photogrpahic evidence that Bruce Wayne is Batman), and it unfolds and is brought to life in a truly cinematic way thanks to the simply stunning pencilwork of Gene Colan. Whilst of course this is truly his own territory, with a Gothic mansion and shadows aplenty, Colan's artwork in Batman #350 and, indeed, the entire Monk storyline, is a fine example of the very best in comic book art. Whilst working wonders for the general flow and atmosphere, Conan also brings out the story details, such as hinting at Robin slowly being affected by Dala's vampirism when we see the Teen Wonder casting only a shadowy and blurred reflection in a mirror. Others also contribute to making the picture complete, e.g. when Adrienne Roy colours Dick's eyes so that readers can see that they turn red for a moment.

And now, the Batman - Detective Comics crossover kicks into full swing: to be continued... in Detective Comics #517.



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Text is (c) 2014 A. T. Wymann

page first posted on the web 22 June 2014