Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

28 October 2008

Batman: Vampire

Collects: Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, Batman: Bloodstorm, and Batman: Crimson Mist (1991, 1994, 1998)

Released: December 2007 (DC)

Format: 288 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9781401215651

I had heard of the trio of Elseworld — or “Tales of the Multiverse,” as the cover says — stories that make up Batman: Vampire a long time ago: three stories of Batman and vampires. Although the idea didn’t immediately grab me, I admit I was interested to see how the concept translated onto the comic page.

Writer Doug Moench has constructed an interesting trilogy, although I don’t think it was planned as such; “Batman & Dracula: Red Rain” seems like someone decided Batman vs. Dracula would be a fun story to write or draw and went to it. It’s hard to blame them: how often do does a writer or artist get a chance to write about a world where Batman takes on vampires and becomes one himself? Thankfully, “Batman: Bloodstorm” and “Batman: Crimson Mist” show someone noticed the idea had more possibilities than were covered in “Red Rain.”

Batman: Vampire coverI was disappointed in “Red Rain.” I found Batman to be little more than the generic hero for the story. Other than the “bat” link between hero and villain, there’s not much to the conflict that couldn’t have been filled by some other street-level hero. Perhaps I am unappreciative of some natural link between vampires and Batman; perhaps I’m not properly reveling in the additive property awesomeness that results in super awesomeness when you add Batman to vampires. But the plot feels like a cheat, with Tanya, a vampire who fights against Dracula, imparting vampiric strength and attributes to Batman and starting him down the road to his eventual transformation. There’s also a mysterious red rain that literally falls from the sky here and throughout the book; I think it’s supposed to add to the spooky atmosphere, but mainly it looks like a coloring error.

The highlight of the trilogy is the middle tale, “Bloodstorm.” This is a real Batman story, no doubt about it. Batman is a full vampire now, battling more vampires and his urge to drink blood. This time, the vampires are led by a (still-human) Joker. So “Bloodstorm” is still a supernatural tale, but with the added spice of the demented genius of the Joker vs. Batman … well, now you have something special. There’s also Batman dealing with his internal demons — what separates him from evil now, and how long can he keep it between him and the dark side — and with the love of a good woman.

“Crimson Mist” wraps up the trilogy, and as sometimes happens in What If? stories, most of the thematically appropriate characters get thrown into the fire and consumed. In this case, all possible Gotham, vampire, and Batman loose ends are burned to ash, and then the Earth is salted so that no one can return to this Elseworld again. I’m not a particular fan of that sort of story — it seems a waste, and it lacks imagination — but I would be hard pressed to deny that it’s appropriate.

Penciller Kelly Jones’s art is interesting. Elongated, distorted and twisted figures of evil and darkness dominate the page, as if they are transforming or our perceptions of them are altered by fear. (The ears on Batman’s cowl grow at an alarming rate as well.) Jones saves this style for when it would have the most impact, so it doesn’t look like a proto-manga attempt at Batman and vampires. His Alfred seems to vacillate between tall and thin and dumpy with a fat face, though, making it hard to identify him some times. I’m not sure why that is.

This is a good collection for Halloween or if you’re a vampire or Batman freak. Or an Elseworlds / What If? fan. I don’t really fall into any of these categories, so Batman: Vampire falls just short of being outstanding to me. But the idea is compelling, and after a slow start, it feels right.

Rating: Batman symbol Batman symbol Batman symbol (3 of 5)

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