EXTRA! EXTRA! Bastard Batman Kills Dracula, Steals Crown!

I read comments online about how this comic was an “imaginary” story, so it doesn’t count in the real continuity.  Guess what?  They are ALL imaginary fucking stories!  It doesn’t matter, they’re ALL made up, stop arguing about it you idiots! – Sam Hillier (friend of BATFAN Blogger)

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Batman and Dracula.  Who doesn’t want to see those two legendary creatures of the night mix it up?  Who would win?  Who is smarter?  Better dressed in a cape? Cooks the best extra-bloody steak breakfast?

Dracula by Gene Colan

One dude dresses up like a Bat and scares people at night and doesn’t kill people.  The other dresses up like a Bat and scares people at night, kills people, and has a nasty habit of turning some of those formerly living beings into undead vampires, and make a bloody nuisance of himself by being basically unkillable.

Batman has met Dracula in three films, three Elseworlds comics, and become a vampire himself three times (that I know of).

Since the beginning of Batman in Detective Comics #27, Dracula has been a subtle influence on Batman, the most obvious being the visuals of Batman’s costume.  The Bat-like wings that Bob-Kane initially went with in his designs, later became a black cape at the suggestion of Bill Finger.  Bill conceded that when Batman ran (or jumped or whatever), it would appear as if he did have wings.

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Dracula also has a nifty Bat-motif in common with the caped crusader that suggests darkness, shadowy creatures of the night, and of course Dracula being really really SCARY, a definite influence on the tone of Batman.  Bob Kane of course had seen the most famous screen version of Dracula, with Bela Lugosi portraying old thirsty fangs himself in Universal Studios Dracula released in 1931.

Another actor associated with Dracula on screen was Christopher Lee, who portrayed Dracula in a series of cult-classic Hammer Horror films.

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Neal Adams, who drew some well known issues of various Batman comics in the 1970s had seen how Christopher Lee walked as Dracula in the Hammer Horror flicks (as told to Kevin Smith on his Batman themed podcast from which this blog steals its name).

The thing that Adams took note of was that Lee could actually WALK with a cape, and make it work.  That subtle influence led to the Neal Adams version of Batman having a prominent cape that flowed and moved as if it were part of Batman.

In the 1990s, Kelley Jones took the cape idea even further, drawing it as a wild living shadow that followed Batman, and was unrealistically massive in particular panels.

Todd McFarlane would take this idea and expand it even further with his character Spawn, whose cape is a like a living part of him, thanks to his suit/costume which is less like a traditional super-hero costume made of cloth, and more similar to a living thing that can morph and change its appearance like the alien symbiote that bonded with Eddie Brock to become the Spider-Man villain (and later anti-hero) Venom.

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Kelley Jones Vampire Batman
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Todd McFarlane’s Spawn with Dracula-like crimson red cape

 

Two times, Batman has appeared with Dracula in live action films (at least in the title). One was the Andy Warhol film Batman/Dracula.  

Batman/Dracula was not a real film as such, but a non-commercial homage by Andy Warhol to old Batman and Dracula serials, made without permission from DC Comics.  The film is a bunch of nonsense really, you can find it on Youtube if you want to, but don’t waste your time as it is not worth watching and basically incomprehensible and really boring.

The second film featuring the Gothic twins of darkness was a Filipino film called Batman Fights Dracula.  It was another crummy knock off film made without permission from DC Comics in 1967.  You could call it an exploitation film in that it exploits two popular characters without paying any money for them, plus it had a cool poster.

Batman has a weird stick-figure on his chest instead of the usual Bat-symbol, Robin (‘Rubin’) seems to be another Batman (or extra) with a vest hastily shoved over his costume and a cut-out letter “R” sticky-taped onto his costume.  There’s a lift out from an action scene with the dynamic duds leaping into a truck and some mad looking bikers appearing to be also dressed as Batman, or possibly Batman himself with a now inexplicably dinner-plate sized emblem on his chest.

The less said about Dracula’s unreasonable bushy eyebrows the better, other than that, the Vlad man looks pretty suave, too bad for the actress portraying the damsel in distress as her head is pointed in the opposite direction of the camera, or perhaps Dracula removed her head, the uncaring fiend!

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SHOCK! HORROR! THRILLS! TWO-DOLLAR COSTUMES!

The film is lost (nobody cared enough to bother keeping it around) It may turn up one day, but for now it is a sidebar in Bat-history to be labelled homage, curio, kitsch, exploitation classic or more likely an unwatchable piece of crap made to cash in on the notoriety of the two iconic characters.  If if did ever turn up, I’ll be first in line to watch it though.

We move on to 1982, when Batman becomes a vampire, for no good reason in Batman #517, but it’s okay, he gets better.  Turns out that Monk fella is back from Detective #31, or at least a version of him, as Batman has a lousy memory  (see quote below).  The Monk’s lady friend (also a vampire) has already turned Master Dick into a vampire, there’s some stuff in there with a priest and other nonsense, but the story is very average.

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The only thing that makes sense is that Gene Colan (then Batman artist) had illustrated 70 issues of Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula  in the 70s and was a primary Batman artist in the 80s.  Basically Batman turning into a vampire was a cool idea, story be damned, this is comics and anything goes in comics.

 Batman fights the Monk in Detective Comics #31, who is later revealed to be a vampire, or possibly a werewolf.  It’s poorly written and rather confusing to read.

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Relax old chum, let me massage your shoulders
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Hey you criminal scum, that’s my girlfriend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The word vampire is used in one section, and werewolf (along with a picture of a wolf-like creature) in the same story.  At the end of the story Batman finds some bodies in coffins, so we would assume at least that lot were vampires.  Comics were not known for great stories, or even accurate spelling or grammar in the 1930s.  Or having a consistent plot, or making any kind of sense at all.  Your average Tom and Jerry cartoon has more plot and internal logic than Detective #31.

Taking a step back for a moment to 1978, when an episode of the animated kids TV show Superfriends Attack of the Vampire has Batman and Robin tracking down Dracula in Transylvania.  Superman gets turned into a vampire along with the Wonder Twins.

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Vampire Superman Loves the Sun

Another episode has Batman and Robin turn into ‘energy-vampires’ who shoot red laser beams out of their fangs, and when you watch it, it is laugh out loud funny as well as damn cool.  Usually Saturday morning kids cartoons are toned down and become incredibly lame due to lack of violence etc.  Here, the creators found an interesting and fun way to get around the whole drinking blood issue with vampires by having “energy-vampires” instead.

At times the Superfriends show is quite surreal, with no lack of bizarre episodes, it reminds me of the 50s and 60s sci-fi themed Batman and Superman comics, with stories becoming increasingly bizarre just for the sake of it.  I’d like to see a Warren Ellis Vampire Superman story with the Superfriends grey costume Superman in the vein of Superman Red Son.  The whole sun-god who can’t go out at night issue would be really interesting to see in an intelligent but bizarre story.

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Halitosis after two many late nights fighting crime

Moving on to 1991, the comic/Elseworlds graphic novel Batman and Dracula Red Rain is released with stunning artwork by Kelley Jones and a decent but forgettable story by the talented Doug Moench.  The book really sells itself on the idea of Batman becoming a vampire.  If it had no dialogue, you would still want it just for the pin-ups and lovely art.  Kelley Jones was already known for drawing Batman tall and thin, with extra long ears and a ridiculously oversized long flowing cape.

Here, Jones could go wild with the idea, allowing Batman to actually become a vampire and have the exaggerated features actually make sense in this Gothic tale of Dracula’s war on Gotham City, and Batman eventually kicking Dracula’s ass.  The book holds up well today, but is not as pretty to look at, as digital colouring was not yet the norm.  Red Rain was followed by two equally fun sequels Batman Bloodstorm (1994) and Batman Crimson Mist (1998).  All three were later re-released in a trade called Batman Vampire.

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The next meeting of the minds between our deliriously dark ‘old chums’ was The Batman vs. Dracula (2005).  An animated movie special based on the animated TV-show The Batman.  I never really cared for The Batman.  The overall quality was decent, but the plots just were never as engaging as Paul Dini’s Batman the Animated Series in the 1990s.  Although the story of the movie is totally forgettable, there are some cool fights and it is still the best movie where you can actually see Batman fight Dracula.

I’m not holding my breath for a release of that lost forgotten Batman Fights Dracula exploitation film which was last seen plummeting into a hole in the earth, lost forever and probably eaten by those dinosaurs from Journey to the Centre of the Earth.   Though it seems an obvious gimmick, the animated film is worth watching, I particularly like the end scene where Batman kicks Dracula’s ass (again).  You would think the lord of the undead would have learned by now that Batman has taken over, been and stolen Dracula’s crown as the most popular Bat-themed fictional character.

Batman outlives Dracula (by popularity) and claims the crown as the most well known and well liked Bat-themed character.  Adios The Bat, so sorry Black Bat, we’ll miss you, sucks to be you BATMAN of 1936 (a delusional man who believes his brain has been transplanted into the body of an actual Bat who perves at hot women, …sorry I’m NOT making this up, I wish I was).

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So Dracula has been an influence on Batman in more ways than one, and eventually been folded into Batman stories, thus meeting his spiritual successor as ‘most popular and iconic Bat-themed Gothic character’.  The most obvious influence being Bela Lugosi’s famous on screen portrayal of Dracula.  The way he wears the cape, having a character who is mainly active at night, the overall aesthetic feel and horror tone of Dracula has been a subtle influence on Batman from the beginning.

At first it was mainly about the visuals, such as Batman’s costume and black cape, not to mention Bat motif.  Later, as more elements of crime stories, detective dramas, film noir, german expressionism and gothic horror became more popular in cinemas and in print, these elements would work their way ever so subtly not just into the Batman’s stories, but into his very DNA.

Dressing up like a Bat at night and scaring people?  Sounds like Dracula to me.  Living in a city of eternal night, of shadow, black and white, good and evil.  Tastes like Film Noir.  Exaggerated characters and sets, the psyche of demented criminals projected onto the environment, the very bricks and mortar of Gotham City.  Exaggerated metaphorical tales of morality, and twisted characters who test your sanity? Feels like German Expressionism to me.

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Themes of fear, alienation, suffering, loss, tragedy, the outsider and the loner, are universal themes and present in the stories of both Dracula and Batman.  Stories of the two meeting are great fun, but ultimately suffer because each is so strong a main character that they outshine each other.  A story with two dark-brooding-loner outlaw characters just doesn’t work as there is room for neither to shine.  I’d rather read or watch a great solo tale of each, using the best elements of the chosen storytelling medium.

Would you enjoy reading a Hellboy comics with TWO Hellboys?  No, he works best as a solo protagonist, as does Batman or Dracula.  Have we seen the last of Batman and Dracula together?  Will they clash again?  It seems likely, especially when there is money to be made with these eternally popular characters.  Fortunately so far, each time has produced some wonderful art, with some very average but passable stories.

That’s it for this time BAT-FANS, tune in next time for more horrifying BAT-TALES!

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