Retroactive Continuity 6: The Batman vs. Dracula

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This is a commissioned entry for Shane DeNota-Hoffman. Thanks as always for your generous contributions, Shane!

It’s October 15, 2005, and vampires are nearing the peak of their popularity, the novel Twilight having been released just ten days ago. In other news, China launched their second manned spaceflight three days ago; today in Iraq there is a referendum on their proposed new constitution; in four days’ time the trial of Saddam Hussein begins. The top song this week is “Gold Digger,” by Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx; Mariah Carey, Nickelback, the Black-Eyed Peas, and Green Day also chart. At the box office, the top movie is The Fog, knocking last week’s number one, Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit, to number two. Elizabethtown and Corpse Bride are also in the top 10.

And Batman Begins, which came out in theaters earlier this year, hits DVD in three days’ time. Not coincidentally, so does this TV movie, spun off from the non-DCAU Batman cartoon The Batman.

The Batman vs. Dracula is, perhaps, an inevitability, at least conceptually speaking. One is the hero most closely associated with bats; the other, the villain. However, that claim of inevitability must deal with how infrequently Batman has actually had to deal with vampires, let alone Dracula: the Monk, the villain of a multi-issue story from 1939, did not appear again until 1982, and then not again until 2006; another vampire villain showed up once, in 1976. Two unauthorized Batman movies in the 1960s featured him dealing with Dracula, and the 1991 Elseworlds story Batman & Dracula: Red Rain and its sequels features a Batman turned into a vampire by Dracula.

Ultimately, this concept is only inevitable in the sense that, as Batman continues to be published in comics and adapted into other media over decades, any story which seems like it might work as a Batman story will eventually be attempted. And it isn’t, to be clear, at all a bad idea, except insofar as anything involving vampires is a bad idea in the vampire-inundated media of the Long Noughts. Still, the vampire is the human become bestial, the entirely feral bat-person. It is a Batman where the human is a performance, the creature of darkness and terror the true self. It is, in short, a contagious Man-Bat.

This story hits all the necessary points of a Dracula tale as cemented by numerous films (moreso than the novel): Dracula appears as an older man with a slight accent, a foreign, invasive presence of the Old World in a more modern city. He creates minions to serve him, one of them left human (though the infamous scene, recurring across multiple adaptations, in which that human eats a cockroach is here given instead to the vampiric Joker), and seeks to re-create a lost bride, using, inevitably, the hero’s love interest.

Into this we insert the Batman, and with him a relatively new-ish take on the clash of old and new. In the original novel, Dracula was easily readable in terms of fears of cultural contamination; here he is instead a force of cultural breakdown, of a world in which the superstition that Batman exploits spreads beyond the dregs of society, becomes mainstream and reified, and ultimately brings civilization (in the form of Gotham City) toppling down. Vampirism spreads like a disease, one which turns ordinary people into savage, vicious monsters that worship and obey the dictates of a supernatural invader, but science and light, here equated, are able to defeat the monster and return them to humanity.

In short, the movie more or less assumes Scientism, the belief that the sciences are the only legitimate means toward knowledge and all other forms are primitive superstitions to be discarded by the enlightened. The conflict on the personal level between the Batman and Dracula–between the performative human and the bestial monster–is mirrored by a conflict between science and magic, one which science rather overwhelmingly wins.

Let us consider, then, that personal conflict. Batman is, as we have discussed before, the performance of a frightened child, weaponizing his own fear to wield it against others. He uses the legend of a bat-creature that stalks the night, but rises above it, maintaining his humanity and, more or less, his rationality. Dracula, by contrast, is the legend of the bat-creature, a supernatural being with dark powers of control and corruption. Once introduced into the same story, they must fight each other, because they cannot coexist; once the reification of the Bat is present, external to Batman, it must be defeated and contained lest it consume him.

And science is of course the tool Batman turns to in order to contain the Bat. Faced with terror and superstition, he relies on logic and machinery, in a rather delightful sequence in which he obsessively tries cure after cure on the Joker’s vampiric blood until he finds one that works. In the process, however, he misses a date with Vicki Vale and sets her up to be captured by Dracula; there is an incompleteness to his reliance on science, as excessive denial of the Bat leaves behind not a man, but a machine, cut off from human contact.

It is possible–indeed, likely–that everything in the universe can be explained in scientific terms. Consciousness, emotion, dreams; these are all just complex chemical reactions in a couple of pounds of meat. Except, and this is where the advocates of Scientism so frequently get it wrong, the word just doesn’t belong in that sentence. If consciousness is something done by meat, that doesn’t debase consciousness; it elevates meat. Science is almost certainly the only way of knowing things in the way in which science knows them, but there are other ways of knowing, useless in the contexts in which science is useful, but useful in their own contexts. An understanding of magic can be very useful indeed when approaching things from a different direction or on a different level; it’s just when knowledge gets misapplied that things go awry. When superstition and magical thinking are applied to vaccinations, the construction of rockets, or anything else that deals with actual material existence, it’s very dangerous indeed. But when one is fighting vampires, fighting the fear of the night and the corrupting darkness that creeps into our homes and communities, a little magic can be very useful.

Because, within the context of this movie, Dracula exists, and is unaffected by the cure for vampirism Batman created. Where all of the other vampires under his control return to their human selves, Dracula experiences only brief discomfort, after which he shrugs off the escape. It is a blast of stored sunlight which finally defeats him, which is to say a fusion of magic and science, of superstition and reason, of beast and machine. Victory is found in neither the Bat nor the Man; it belongs to the Batman.


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2 thoughts on “Retroactive Continuity 6: The Batman vs. Dracula

  1. … a truly worthy attempt at tackling that most maligned (sometimes rightfully so, sometimes not) of Batman cartoons, if I do say so myself. Now how much do I need to pay you to give the same treatment to Filmation’s Bat-cartoons?

    Like

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