Batman and the Mark of the Vampire

(PART FOUR)

BATMAN #351
(SEPTEMBER 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...

 
 

BATMAN #351

September 1982

"What Stalks the Gotham Night ?"

 

Story - Gerry Conway
Art - Gene Colan
Inks - Tony DeZuniga
Colours - Adrienne Roy
Lettering - Ben Oda
Editor - Dick Giordano
Cover - Ernie Colon & Dick Giordano

 

 
 

"HIS FANGS DRIP BLOOD,
HIS EYES GLAZED IN THE GRIP OF A LIVING NIGHTMARE.
SOMEHWERE, DEEP WITHIN,
THE SHARDS OF HIS ALMOST BROKEN SOUL CRY OUT IN PAIN...
AND DESPAIR OF ALL HOPE."

PLOT SUMMARY

As Dick Grayson sets Vicki Vale off at her apartment, they are both being watched by a vampiric Batman who can barely subdue his now inherent raw instincts. Nevertheless, his subsonic growl keeps Dick at bay who desists satisfying his blood lust on Vicki. As soon as she is inside the building and thus safe, the Darknight Detective swoops down on Dick and knocks him out, enraged that he would have even considered turning Vicki into the same kind of monster which Robin and Batman now find themselves to be.

 
Back at Wayne Manor, an impressive - and startling - demonstration of Christopher Chance's ability to impersonate Bruce Wayne even manages to fool Alfred. However, as Chance (otherwise known as The Human Target) reveals himself, Alfred is summoned to the Batcave by a secret code. Leaving his guest for a moment, Alfred finds that the Batman has brought Dick with him. Barely able to fight his own strong impulses for blood, the Darknight Detectives straps a furiously resisting Dick to a recliner bench. The entire scene is so otherworldly and menacing that Alfred takes up Father Green's offer by calling him at St Jude's Hospital, asking for help in an emergency...
 
A few moments later, Chance is somewhat puzzled to see Alfred usher in a priest and now feels almost certain that his original suspicions are real and that hiring him to prevent Bruce Wayne from falling victim to a murderous attack is nothing but a phony pretext...

Surely, there must be more to Bruce Wayne than meets the eye, and Chance is determined to find out what is really going on - but then finds that, curiously enough, Alfred and the priest are nowhere to be found inside the house...

 
 
This, of course, is because Alfred has led Father Green down to the Batcave - trying to preserve as much of Bruce Wayne's secret identity as possible - where the priest informs the Darknight Detective that an antidote exists in the form of a serum, which must, however, be made from the monster's own blood.
 
  Without hesitation, Father Green joins Batman in the Batmobile, and they speed off towards the mansion occupied by Dala and the Monk.

Upon arrival, however, they only find Dala who voluntarily discloses the wherabouts of her brother - an old church on the outskirts of Gotham - as she is more than certain that she is sending this small expeditionaty force to its certain doom and damnation...

Searching the ancient and slightly decrepit building, the Batman is shocked to find further victims of the Monk.

As he takes in the terrible scene, he is once again attacked by the vampire from out the shadows.

 
Hearing the sound of the ensuing struggle, Father Green - who was told to remain outside by the Batman - decides to enter the building nonetheless.
 
A few steps later and he is attacked by Dala, but as Batman knocks out the Monk he also takes care of Dala very quickly. As the dust settles on this terrible struggle, Father Green is already busy preparing the serum, telling a Batman on the brink of giving in to his ever growing vampiric impulses that his recovery is now assured...

to be continued - in Detective Comics #518....

REVIEW & ANALYSIS

Having previously built up the story arc involving the Monk and Dala turning both Robin and Batman into vampires over a period of thwo months in Batman #349, Batman #350 and Detective Comics #517, Gerry Conway and Gene Colan now present the climax of these events in Batman #351.

 
 
Batman, although terribly afflicted by his condition, succeeds in keeping the upper hand: keeping his own raw vampiric instincts at bay, he prevents further massive spreading of the disease, confronts and defeats both the Monk and his sister Dala, and - with a little help from friendly Father Green - manages to lift the curse both off Dick and himself.
 
  Conway and Colan - employing their highly intense storytelling and cinematographically atmospheric artwork - thus provide an illustration of some of the Darknight Detective's fundamental characteristics in a way which is rarely done with so much precison, clarity and logic. Here, the Batman - himself a creature of the night by definition in many ways - comes face to face with a force which, on the surface of things, would actually seem to have plenty in common, right down to the bat as a symbol. But appearances can be misleading, and the entire Batman mythology rests on this duality: the Batman only strikes fear into the hearts of those who deserve it, and his appearance and behaviour are merely a disguise for what is, to most citizens of Gotham City, a solitary vigilante who by virtue of his actions is a shining hero.

However, there are interferences, and the Batman history is full of examples illustrating just how thin a line Bruce Wayne and Batman are walking. In their vampire story arc, Conway and Colan take Batman to extremes in order to illustrate and show just how and where the Batman differs from other creatures of the night. Most importantly, it would seem that it is the Darknight Detective's altruism which sets the Batman apart from vampire bats, because in order to put others before your own interests, you need to overcome your raw instincts.

 
As such, Conway and Colan even provide us with a lesson or two in moral philosophy... and what the Batman actually is all about. Thankfully, most of this story arc (which had not been collected and re-issued previously) was made available in a version with high printing standards in Gene Colan - Tales of the Batman Vol 1, published in late 2011.
 
As with the previous episodes of this story arc, the storytelling is slick and fast paced, and once again it unfolds and is brought to life in a truly cinematic way through the stunning pencilwork of Gene Colan. The end, however - which does not unfold completely in this issue and will only be revealed in what feels almost like an epilogue in Detective Comics #517 - comes all too suddenly and feels very rushed in comparison to the previously so well-balanced plotting which really is a trademark of this story arc.  
 
After all the build-up over several issues, the clash between Batman and the Monk covers a mere two pages, and the assurance that all vampirism will be lifted from Batman and Robin comes in nothing more than the first half of the final page of this issue. This story would have merited a somewhat more elaborate ending, and even if this doesn't affect the appreciation of the entire arc, it seems a shame.
 
  Although virtually three quarters of this story arc took place in Batman (with only Detective Comics #517 featuring a full segment of the vampire story), editorial was very much trying to point readers towards the other title, with footnotes such as "*SEE DETECTIVE #517, STILL ON SALE IF YOU RUSH!".

The same holds true, of course, for the end panels where the villain Deadshot is introduced only in order to point to the continuation of these events in the upcoming issue of Detective Comics.

 
The vampire story arc had been a very engaging and lengthy crossover between several issues of the two Batman titles, but although a majority of the (published) reader reactions were positive, DC seems to have been rather hesitant about adopting a complete and comprehensive strategy which would have seen more of the likes of this story arc. Instead of going "all in", the approach would move more towards having both titles run in parallel - with an overall plot continuing across both Detective Comics and Batman - whilst keeping individual storylines separate. Accordingly, readers of Batman would see nothing more of Deadshot in that title, as the entire storyline involving the sniper-for-hire would unfold - and end - in Detective Comics #518.
 

BATMAN and all related elements are the property of DC Comics, Inc. TM and DC Comics, Inc., a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc.
The illustrations presented here are copyright material. Their reproduction for the review and research purposes of this website is considered fair use as set out by the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. par. 107.

 

Text is (c) 2014 A. T. Wymann

page first posted on the web 22 June 2014
page updated 14 December 2014