As a former owner of a comic shop, I feel fortunate to own numerous comics (numbering in the thousands), cards (numbering in the tens of thousands), memorabilia, toys, clothing, books, graphic novels, magazines, and trade paperbacks (numbering in the hundreds). One of the features I would like to start on Evil Geek Cult is an exploration of some trade paperbacks (TPBs) that have interesting and unique story lines that the average fanboy/girl might have missed, but are currently available online for purchase and are worthy of a gander.
The first TPB I would like to recommend is an offering from DC’s Elseworlds collection. Elseworlds has the lofty goal of taking characters out of their natural setting and placing them in alternative realities/time periods/settings in the hope of making characters that are “…as familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow.” Batman and Dracula: Red Rain TPB (1991) was written by Doug Moench, penciled by Kelley Jones, and inked by Malcolm Jones III.
The story begins with Batman investigating the serial murders of vagrants, while Bruce Wayne is getting periodic visitations at dusk that penetrate his dreams and interferes with his nocturnal activities. While Batman is thus occupied Dracula is leading a clutch of vampires to facilitate the takeover of Gotham. The streets run red with a peculiar alchemical reaction which causes rain-tinged with an acidic red residue that smells of decay, and stings the eyes.
When Batman is approached by a woman named Tanya who leads a group of rogue vampire hunters, he swiftly learns that he is contending with superhuman beings. After an attempt to fight them on his own, he is confronted with the pragmatic reality that if he continues to refuse the assistance of “experts,” he may be essentially powerless to abate the swelling ranks of the undead. He is, after all, one hero against myriad vampires.
Over the course of the story, Batman poses the question: Are vampires necessarily evil?He is especially interested in the answer as it becomes more and more apparent that he may have to join the ranks of the undead himself.
The story works well when viewed metaphorically within Batman’s current milieu. Batman battles his antagonists at night. Usually, he has the advantage as a clandestine Dark Knight who uses shadows and darkness strategically to evoke fear in villains. These encounters represent the ongoing struggle of good versus evil, and what manner of creature will possess the night, but in this story, Dracula’s ultimate evil resembles Batman (in form) through a mirror darkly.
Red Rain works so well that there are 2 sequels. I only mention those here to emphasize the point that the story is so rich that it is revisited twice despite the fact that it was originally designed as a standalone. The art is perfectly evocative of Gene Colan’s Tomb of Dracula. The shadows are rendered in solid blacks, as if they are living things that cling to the objects they shadow, pulling them toward darkness. The chiaroscuro is treated like a tangible character that makes its presence felt in every panel. The splashes are filled with hugely gothic structures reminiscent of a gaslight mystery.
This tale is dark. This tale is scary; often, horrific. The artwork is terrifying, and when the day breaks, the light of dawn claims the sky, one is grateful to have survived the night and for having found shelter from the Red Rain.