It’s Halloween, so what better time is there to read some spoooOOOoooky Batman stories? And really, when else should you read about a guy who dresses up like a vampire bat and then literally becomes one?
Such is the concept behind the second Elseworlds: Batman volume. Collecting the Batman/Dracula trilogy of Red Rain, Bloodstorm, and Crimson Mist, this volume sees Batman take on Dracula himself only to slowly turn into as much of a threat as the legendary vampire. The bloody trilogy comes from legendary team Doug Moench and Kelley Jones and, since the first installment’s original publication in 1991, has become one of the most popular tales in the Elseworlds stable.
For some Halloween fun, we’re taking a look at each installment separately, beginning this week with Red Rain. So sit back, eat lots of garlic, and prepare yourselves, because this thing is nuts. Have fun.
If you want a Batman comic with higher stakes…this definitely has more stakes. I won’t say they are higher. But there are lots of stakes.
Or Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, this is easily the most straightforward of the three stories. It may also be the least satisfying, but we’ll get to that.
After a rash of murders in the homeless community, Batman and Commissioner Gordon begin to crack down on the problem on their own terms. Batman, naturally, follows the trail left by the dead, and Gordon puts deserved pressure on a lax and uncaring mayor. Had Doug Moench taken a bit more time in the early pages this could have been a really engrossing read, exploring how society views the homeless and the reaction to so many deaths among the “unwanted.” There’s some good fertile ground for a social satire in here, but Moench glosses over it pretty quickly in favor of the supernatural elements.
Even there, this story feels a bit rushed. It’s almost written like this is the second and third act of a story whose first act is missing, given how quickly the action moves. Batman is turned so early in the story that it kind of comes out of nowhere. He dreams that he’s visited by a female vampire a few times and then he starts to exhibit enhanced strength and other abilities. There isn’t any dramatic buildup at all, it just… happens. He doesn’t even struggle with it, either: Bruce doesn’t fear the monster he might become or get angry that he was turned into an undead creature of the night. He just kind of rolls with it.
Even Alfred and Gordon’s reactions are pretty low-key. Alfred expresses some concern, though he at least begrudgingly accepts it pretty quickly, and Gordon is more bewildered at the fact that vampires exist than he is that Batman has become one.
Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan of Kelley Jones’ style in Batman comics. His exaggerated anatomy and macabre stylings work well with horror books or titles like Swamp Thing, but for straight superhero adventures it’s a weird fit. That said, there are individual instances where he draws a pretty striking image, the panel right above included, and the style works with this story. It has Batman, sure, but in the end it is supposed to be a moody horror book. To that end, Jones is a good fit. It translates really well to three dimensions, too, as seen with Mondo’s recent Batman statue.
The story gets crazier as it goes, culminating in a final confrontation between Batman and Dracula. Besides knowing his name and the weight it should carry, Dracula never feels like anything more than a generic threat. Their final fight is entertaining in how silly Jones illustrates it, but there is very little tension to it. The most moving part of the finale is when some of Bruce’s vampire allies sacrifice themselves to subdue a large portion of Dracula’s minions, but even that rings a little hollow. The ending feels like an inevitablity, not a victory, and that’s no thanks to the strange pacing of the story. Bruce’s attachment to Tanya, the vampire who turned him, doesn’t really work either, given that he just rolls with the fact that he’s undead now. There should have been some anger and resentment to being turned against his will, but no, he just follows the pretty vampire lady because he gets some cool wings. Ehhh.
Red Rain is… fine. Nothing more. I didn’t hate it, but beyond the interesting concept I don’t really understand why it’s had so much popularity over the years. There are better Elseworlds stories, and needless to say, better Batman stories too.
Bonus features: A fairly interesting intro from Eric Van Lustbader, wherein he quotes Prince quite heavily. Besides that, nada.
Value: The collection can be found on Amazon for less than twenty bucks, but I’d still say get it at a discount.
Overall: This is the most subdued of the three, at times more of a melodrama than a true horror book. It’s entertaining enough, but nothing spectacular. Besides such a high concept, I’m not entirely sure why this has gotten such acclaim over the years, but it’s still worth reading at least once. If nothing else, it fits the spooky season and is a good read for Halloween.