Batman and the Mark of the Vampire





"The Millionaire Contract"
Story - Gerry Conway & Paul Levitz
Art - Don Newton
Inks - Bruce Patterson
Colours - Adrienne Roy
Lettering - Ben Oda
Editor - Dick Giordano
Cover - Jim Aparo



To all intents and purposes, the story arc featuring Batman and Robin turned into vampires by the Monk effectively came to an end in Batman #351 with the defeat of both the Monk and his sister Dala and Father Green administering the serum which would restore the Dynamic Duo back to their normal selves.

However, Gerry Conway carried the final touches over into Detective Comics #518 and started that issue with something akin to an epilogue to the vampires story arc.

In the Batcave, an already recovered Robin (who Batman insisted be treated first because being Dala's first victim he was most affected by the vampiric virus in his blood), a content Father Green, and a still perplexed Alfred gaze upon Batman who is in the final stages of the blood transfusion which, thanks to the serum the clergyman was able to produce from the Monk's blood sample procured by the Darknight Detective, will also return the Batman to his true self.

Back in 1939, when the Batman first encounters the Monk and follows him to his lair in the Carpathian Mountains of Hungary in Detective Comics #32, the Darknight Detective actually kills both the Monk and Dala by shooting them with silver bullets as he finds them helplessly lying in their coffins.
Typical as this was for Batman's very early days, such an ending was of course completely unthinkable in 1982.

Instead, Gerry Conway - in what is in actual fact an update of the original tale to establish an "Earth-One counterpart" of the Monk in the days of the DC Comics Multiverse - showed the readers both the Monk and Dala as restrained captives who were about to be taken away by Father Green to St Jude's Hospital, where he planned to "help" them - something that he has, as he tells Alfred and Robin, been wanting to do "for so very long".

With these words, the vampires are loaded into his hearse-like limousine. The priest bids Robin and Alfred goodbye and drives off. It is only then that Dick Grayson remarks to Alfred that there is something very strange about Father Green and the way he knew all he did about vampires.
  Rather more concerned with getting to grips with the various threats to blowing his master's secret crime-fighting identity, Alfred agrees but quotes the old adage about not looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Readers who were by now familiar with Gerry Conway's plotting probably raised an eyebrow here and were fully expecting to see more of Father Green - and possibly the Monk and Dala, too. And Conway was just as obviously enjoying himself as he was dropping some plot breadcrumbs - after all, just how and where indeed did Father Green get all his knowledge about vampirism from ? What exactly did he mean by wanting to "help" the Monk and Dala - and just how long a time was "so very long" ? Maybe it was all as benevolent as it seemed ... or maybe not ?

Gerry Conway (who was just about to turn 30 when he penned the Batman vampire story) would continue to write both Batman titles up until the May 1983 cover date issues (Batman #359 and Detective Comics #526), but neither he nor anyone else to this day has ever brought back Father Green - including Matt Wagner who revisited the characters once again in 2006 in his mini-series Batman and the Mad Monk - adding amongst other things the adjective to the villain's originally plain name.
Following the three page Monk story arc epilogue, the remainder of Detective Comics #518 continues the subplot of counteracting the potential threat of disclosure of Batman's secret identity.

This is dispelled for good when sniper-for-hire Deadshot (who was introduced in a teaser featured in the last panels of Batman #351) attempts to shoot Bruce Wayne in public (impersonated by Christopher Chance aka The Human Target) but is stopped by the Batman crashing in on him.



Clearly, this epilogue functions primarily as a link between the two Batman titles now running in sync. In essence, it provides the last few scenes of an adventure which for the most part took place in Batman (Batman #349, Batman #350 and Batman #351) and was only a full feature of one single issue of Detective Comics (#517) - and which has every quality a classic Batman story needs, with Conway providing some highly intense storytelling. It is all done with style: an interesting story with sublime characterization and a love for details - you can almost feel the rain, smell the city streets, hear the rustling of the undead, and see the action unfold, not the least because of the dynamic and atmospheric by Gene Colan, who provided four issues of pencils in a row within a publication timeframe of eight weeks.

From a conventional point of view this epilogue would have been far better placed, of course, in the next upcoming issue of Batman - however, the crossover logic between Batman and Detective Comics was a decidedly different one - as illustrated by the final panels of Batman #351, where Deadshot is introduced merely to point to the continuation of events in Detective Comics #518 - readers of Batman would see nothing more of Deadshot after that teaser, as the entire storyline involving the sniper-for-hire was told in Detective Comics #518.

This, quintessentially, was how Dick Giordano as editor and Gerry Conway as writer were handling the overall crossover approach: by introducing short incursions of the storyline from Batman in Detective Comics (and vice versa), the two titles were tied together even if the main content remained a separate Batman adventure. And the best places to place such incursions were, of course, the first and final pages. This, together with a few editorial references to previous overall plot developments, tied up the entire concept nicely and made sure that Batman and Detective Comics meshed like a set of toothed wheels - and served the purpose of getting readers of one title to buy the other as well.


From the letters page of Detective Comics #523

  By now, the two titles did start to feel like one single title in simply two incarnations - and even as far as visuals went the differences were virtually negligable as the key-word BATMAN featured in the logos of both titles and, if anything, was even more prominent on the covers of Detective Comics.

The cross-over between the two titles actually worked very well by now and was on its way to becoming a natural - thanks, above all, to Gerry Conway and his writing style, which balanced out top level stories and subplots so well. And in a reply to a letter refering to issue #518, editorial sketched out its intention to take this to an even higher level by including all four Batman titles.


(from the letters page of Detective Comics #523)


"Your practice of treating the two Batman solo mags as essentially two parts of one whole seems to be well-established now (...) I should compliment you on achieving perhaps the ultimate in "merging" the two Bat-Mags. A letter I had written to BATMAN was published essentially unchanged in this issue of TEC [#518] - and didn't look at all out of place." (T. M. Maple, Toronto, Canada)


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Text is (c) 2014 A. T. Wymann

page first posted on the web 22 June 2014