Bizarro Back Issues: Batman Vs. Club Dracula (1983)
Here's a weird thing about this career that I've found myself in: A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a few disparaging remarks about one Andrew Bennett, the weepy star of DC's I... Vampire, and the next day I got an email from one of my childhood heroes asking, jokingly, what I thought of the Andrew Bennett story that he'd done in the pages of Brave and the Bold. The writer was Batman: Year Two's own Mike W. Barr, and the issue in question was BATB #195, where he and artist Jim Aparo sent Bennett on a team-up with the Caped Crusader to deal with a sudden wave of vampire crime in Gotham City. To be honest, it's really one of those perfect superhero comics for Halloween. It's fun, it's exciting, and as you may have guessed, it's more than a little weird.
Largely because it takes the World's Greatest Detective to figure out that all this vampire crime might have something to do with Gotham's newest business, Club Dracula.
"Night of Blood" was released shortly after I was in February of 1983, and as far as supernatural team-up stories go, it's a pretty solid offering -- especially when you're considering that Barr is stepping into the shoes of regular BATB writer Bob Haney, whose idea of a supernatural story was sending Batman and Sgt. Rock to fight the ghost of Hitler, who was actually Satan. This one doesn't quite get to that extreme, but folks, I can assure you that it doesn't exactly hold back either.
To be perfectly fair, I may have actually been a little more dismissive of Ol' Andrew than I should've. I referred to him as a pale imitation of Dracula, and while I think that holds true in terms of aesthetics, he's definitely a character who has his own thing going on, having dedicated his immortality to stopping his former lover, Mary, who now goes by the title "Queen of Blood," from taking over the world with a secret army called the Blood Red Moon. All things considered, it's actually pretty metal -- or would be, if Bennett himself hadn't been the kind of gothic dandy who was best known (to me at least) for appearing on a cover where he was weeping. If there is one thing you take away from this column, friends, it should be that I have no time for crying robots and weepy vampires.
Fortunately for all concerned, I... Andrew has no time for tears in this particular outing. Instead, he's here to investigate some VAMPIRE KILLINGS! Killings which, it should be noted, the police are denying:
This is the one part of the story that I'd really take issue with. I mean, this is Gotham City. Why are the police denying vampire killings -- which are actually happening -- when stuff like murder clowns, riddle-themed deathtraps and fear toxins being dumped in the water supply are making headlines at least twice a month. Are vampires really going to be the thing that the police want to hush up? I think it's way more likely that Commissioner Gordon would just reply to a question at a press conference with "Vampire murders? Yeah, that sounds about right. Next question."
Either way, Bennett is quick to track down the source of the problem when he hits up Robinson Park and finds two #teens being followed by a scowling old man in black. There is, of course a twist: It's the two teens who turn out to be the vampires, but just as they're about to kill the old man, Bennett intervenes and takes them both out in a flurry of pretty awesome action that ends with ramming a tree branch right through the older vampire's ribcage.
He also finds a matchbook from Club Dracula, quite possibly the least necessary clue of all time, but we'll come back to that in a second.
For now, Barr and Aparo shift our narrative over to Batman, who has been summoned to the home of Hodges, a local gangster, and who decides to make a suitably badass entrance:
Scenes like this are a pretty good reminder of why Barr would go on a few years later to write one of the best Detective Comics runs in that title's 77-year history, and why he and Aparo tended to work so well as a team.
As for why a gangster gave Batman an invitation to his mansion, Hodges has a problem: His daughter has been bitten on the neck and now seems to be on the verge of death, and conventional medicine doesn't seem to be helping, which has led everyone to believe that she has been bitten by a vampire.
Hodges wants Batman's help finding a cure, and in return, he offers to hand over incriminating evidence on another gangster, Johnny "The Gun" Gunnarson, who I assume is the capo of the dreaded Scandanavian mafia. The Batman agrees, but as he heads out, one of the nurses in Hodges' employ makes a call to Gunnarson, finking on the entire plan.
Since there appears to be a vampire connection, Batman decides to head over to Club Dracula to check things out, and listen. You have got to think that the moment someone opens up a place called Club Dracula in the middle of downtown Gotham City, Batman shows up and just shuts them down on general principle. Even if the business owners are completely legit, law-abiding citizens who do not actually drink blood, they're just asking for trouble. My only thought is that this is the second night of Club Dracula's operation, and the first was the same day as the opening of a new branch of the Second National Bank on the corner of 2nd St. and 2nd Ave., meaning that Batman was otherwise occupied with that whole scene.
Whatever the reason, it remains in business.
Batman arrives in an alleyway and quickly changes in to a disguise by pulling a rubber mask on over his cowl, something that Aparo always managed to pull off in a way that almost made it make sense. At the same time, Bennett arrives equally incognito, having put a Members Only jacket and a cap on over his normal 16th century attire. Despite the disguises, however, neither one gets in unnoticed, particularly when Bennett gets bumrushed by a human dressed as the club's namesake voivode and almost takes his head off with a backhand:
At that point, the two stories join up, with Barr and Aparo setting up a great six-panel page with an extra-wide gutter between the two columns that shows what's happening to each character on opposite sides of a crowded room, and the issue's worth tracking down just to see that little bit of narrative trickery. As it turns out, Club Dracula is -- shockingly -- run by actual vampires who are part of the Blood Red Moon, who are also mysteriously aligned with Gunnarson's crew. There's a fight scene where Batman and Bennett reveal themselves to each other, and, as you might expect, they agree to team up to get to the bottom of things.
But first, the matter of Hodges' daughter, who actually hasn't been bitten by a vampire at all:
Welp. That settles that.
B&B set off to rid Gotham of its vampire problem once and for all by heading over to Gunnarson's place, and when they get there, they find none other than the Queen of Blood herself in attendance. She's turned Gunnarson in hopes of using his criminal organization to take over Gotham. This is a terrible plan for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that you probably want to base your global conquest in a city that does not feature a Batman, but she's confident that it'll be a success this time.
So yeah, about that.
Turns out that Batman's code against killing does not extend to the undead, and while he doesn't like guns, he has no problem with impalement by table leg.
Before Gunnarson turns to dust, however, he manages to squeeze off a few silver bullets from his revolver, and rather than let Batman die because he's been roped into dealing with a bunch of mothercussers always trying to ice skate uphill, Bennett lets Mary escape and leaps in front of Batman to take the bullets.
It seems that Batman is not willing to let this particular undead creature die, though, and ends up carrying Bennett's body back to Hodges' house, where he has the resident mob doctor dig out the silver while performing a transfusion.
Thus, Mary has been temporarily defeated, Gunnarson sure as heck won't be causing any more troubles, and Hodges decides to give up a life of crime and devote himself to being a better father. It's the happiest possible ending! IT'S A HALLOWEEN MIRACLE!