The Batman Review: The Batman vs. Dracula

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Release Date: October 18, 2005
Writer: Duane Capizzi
Directors: Michael Goguen, Seung Eun Kim, Sam Liu, and Brandon Vietti

(Thank you for being so patient, everyone. Your wait has not been in vain.)

Welp. I’ve done it. Seventeen reviews, and I’m finally ready to rip off Mouse even more than I usually do for my first movie critique. Whoopee!

So… Batman versus Dracula. As a kid I bought it instantly, but as a full-grown geek I have to admit it’s a tougher sell. The purist in me can rarely stand Batman mixing it up with magic & monsters (okay, sure, he was doing just that literally five issues into his debut, but I like to think there’s a reason the Monk has gotten about three stories in seventy-five-odd years) and this particular monster is such a genre icon that he’s nigh-impossible to fudge into “our” history for the purposes of Like Reality Unless Noted. That’s not an instant dealbreaker, but it does leave a weird taste in my mouth, akin to the time Batman ran into a 120-year-old Sherlock Holmes.

Bee jelly was involved. Seriously.

In any case, DC only trots out the Count on very rare occasions, and pretty much never with fanfare. Which isn’t to say this movie has no lead to follow, because one of those occasions just happened to be…

Some number Red Rain among the best of Elseworlds – one that doesn’t just go “What if our hero grew up in X time and Y place?” but actively, permanently disrupts a status quo we all know and love, in this case making Batman fight and eventually replace the King of Vampires. Others call it a misguided, misshapen mess, crammed with cheap stakes, cheaper gore, and prose purple enough to make Anne Rice wince – all trying and utterly failing to hide all the goofiness in-between-

(Let’s not get started on the art. We’ll literally be here all day.)

-and I can’t really disagree with either. It’s always struck me as a very unbalanced comic, with just as many lows as highs and not much in the way of reread value. Still, there’s no arguing its legacy: sequels, toys, the all-important Lego game cameo

And maybe, just maybe, a flick that can boil it down for twelve-year-olds and still have something to be proud of.

If you don’t recognize the writer’s name, don’t worry – it seems that after writing the pilot, Duane Capizzi was exiled to the Alaskan wilderness by embarrassed higher-ups relegated himself to supervision and story editing. That, and getting fast-tracked to the DVD aisle, probably explains this movie’s generally fuzzy continuity with the show – our usual status-quo markers Bennett and Yin are nowhere to be seen, and even Chief Rojas is MIA when he’d fit perfectly into the plot. Best I can tell, it takes place after the Joker, Penguin, and Ventriloquist intros, and probably some time before the Season 2 finale.*

But never mind the whens and whatnots – we’ve censors to skirt! For once, Capizzi and co. had zero obligations to Kids WB, and they did not waste their newfound but oh-so-temporary freedom. Their choice of opening setpiece? None other than Arkham Asylum, blacker and bleaker than ever.

Now, That Other Show’s Arkham could get pretty damn creepy, but that creepiness was usually constrained to the cells; when all the inmates got together in the rec room or whatever, it often turned into a sketch comedy set. Here? Even a bingo game manages to look like something out of Kafka.

 batman arkham asylum the batman GIF

 batman arkham asylum the batman GIF

 batman arkham asylum the batman GIF

The sheer atmosphere’s almost enough to make me forgive “Topsy Turvy” and every other time The Batman utterly wasted Arkham. Almost.

Anyways, the plot kicks off with a random con who talked his way into the cuckoo shack to avoid a longer sentence – because that works so well in Gotham – and has fortunately realized his mistake before any inmates could feed him his own ears. He’s got a big mob treasure stashed out in Gotham Cemetery, see, but since he’s so minor-league he doesn’t even have a name, he needs supervillain help to escape. The reward: 50% of the loot.

Guess who’s interested?

Dependable as the Dodo

I guess someone in production thought Batman versus freaking Dracula wasn’t enough to fill an hour and change, so Penguin’s coming along for the ride. But wait, there’s more! Seems that Plotstarter McGuffin there had him as a second choice.

… you can probably guess the first.

Joker Escaped
“Joker! He’s escaped!”

I really appreciate how this movie gives Joker an actual reputation as Arkham’s top dog, and not just “that guy who fights Batman most”. Penguin and his pal up there dance around his name, the whole room goes nuts when they hear he’s made it out, and even the animators keep him in shadow for his first couple minutes on-screen.

Penguin’s escape, on the other hand…

Ooh it's Joker
“Ooh! It’s Joker!”

Several kung-fu moves later, Penguin’s got his ticket out. Even as a kid, I thought this part was stupid.

All the same, I’d be a filthy liar if I said I wasn’t looking forward to what comes next: first contact between Gotham’s top baddies. And they’ve agreed to be partners! Aww, how-

Nights of Knavery

… welp.

As several of my older e-friends will tell you, I put a lot of stock in a proper Joker-Penguin dynamic. They’re two of the eldest elder statesmen in Batman’s rogues gallery, and – in my ideal takes, at least – polar opposites in priorities but peas in a pod when it comes to panache. Hell, if That Other Show is anything to go by, the Penguin may well be the closest thing Joker will ever have to a genuine friend.**

Nights of Knavery 2

This, well… it’s a step up from stories where Joker can effortlessly cow Penguin like some run-of-the-mill mobster, but it still paints poor Ozzie as dumb enough to shake hands with the fucking Joker. I know The Batman has never made him the sharpest knife in the block, but really?

Ironically, Penguin gets a leg up in the big treasure hunt because of this. Wasn’t it nice of Joker to toss him in a ditch where Batman can’t see him? Wotta guy.

Wrestling in the Rain
*POW* *WHAM* “You’re welcome, lard-butt!” *BIFF*

Batman seems to be in an extra-pissy mood today, but Joker gives as good as he gets and lands that deadliest of all blows…

The ripped shirt.

Out for Blood

I thought this was all kinds of badass when I was a kid, but that’s probably because I was too dense to realize all Joker cut was Batman’s suit. I mean, yeah, it might be a pain for Alfred to sew up, but did we really need Joker hamming it up with “This time I’m out for BLOOD“?

Penguin’s graveyard adventure is much better at walking the walk, though the clichés fly a little too thick and fast for me to give it full points. We’ve already got the dark and stormy night, so let’s throw in a weeping Virgin Mary!

Weeping Mary

And a black tabby!

Kitty

And enough crosses to give 4Kids Entertainment a heart attack!

Crosses

And to top it all off, a crypt that might as well come with its own save point and boss music.

Crypt

Naturally, Penguin opens the thing, and cuts his hand doing it. The whole sequence is a lot sleeker and less contrived than I’ve made it sound, but really, the only parts that ever came close to freaking me out were all the closeups on Penguin’s flipper-hand.

Until we get to this.

                                                    

                                      

                                            

By virtue of this scene alone, The Batman vs. Dracula is more faithful to the original Stoker novel than half of all Dracula movies [citation needed]. Few depictions of the Count bother with the fact that he initially looks like a creepy, withered old weirdo who only grows younger by feeding on fresh blood, and while this take isn’t exactly accurate to Stoker (this would be closer to the mark), it’s still highly appreciated.

Penguin immediately shits himself upon seeing the horror he’s wrought, and the scream that Tom Kenny gives may well be his greatest piece of voice-work on this show so far. Seriously.

(Actually, given the chronology I’ve chosen for this movie, it would’ve been hilarious if the story began with Penguin still cuffed to Catwoman. Then again, if Drac’s previous track record with whips is anything to go by, we might not even have a movie.)

Meanwhile, the Joker quickly learns why it might be a good idea to read the “WARNING: DO NOT USE WHEN WET” label on your thousand-volt joybuzzers.

Joker Shocked

I’ll be honest: this scene doesn’t quite hold up from my childhood memories, partly because it’s got a tough act to follow and partly because the Joker’s even more genre-blind than Penguin was. I mean, you’d never catch That Other Show’s Joker being that dumb with his… uh…

Okay, but this scene is still a lot more migraine-inducing and Kevin Michael Richardson doesn’t scream quite as well as Kenny, so there.

That notwithstanding, this is the first (and only?) time The Batman has addressed the whole “Perhaps you’ll kill me, perhaps I’ll kill you” themes of the Batman-Joker dynamic, and that alone bumps my respect for Capizzi up at least three sizes. Now, The Batman still skews a little too young to really sink its teeth into the topic, but in a way, that’s also its biggest edge; unlike his hard-bitten predecessor, Romano’s Batman is more than soft enough to lose sleep over Joker dying, especially if you assume (as I do) that this is the first time anyone’s died on his watch.

Back to the cemetery, where Penguin gets a sliver of breathing room, on account of his undead chum finding someone else to snack on.

CemeteryFeed
“I want overtime for thiiiii-“
“OMNOMNOMNOMNOM.”

The cemetery guard’s blood lets Dracula pass for something vaguely human, and as a bonus gives him his first vampire minion. Even still, he needs a human minion who can serve his will while the sun’s out. I have to say, I love that it’s the idea of being someone else’s servant that gets Penguin to actually show some backbone.

For all the good it does him.

Dracula Glare
“I’m sorry. Perhaps I haven’t made myself clear. I’m Peter motherfucking Stormare.”

                                                                 

Penguin Confused
“… who?”

                                                              

Dracula Glare
“Grimsrud from Fargo?”

                                                                           

Penguin Confused
“…”

                                                         

Dracula Glare
“The nihilist from The Big Lebowski?

                                                                           

Penguin Confused
“…”

                                                              

Dracula Glare
“The mob boss from Prison Break!”

                                                              

Penguin Server
“My name is Penguin. I’ll be your server…”

(Batman’s doing some of that ol’ brooding and abyss-gazing right now, but we needn’t concern ourselves with that, though I do like how Alfred actually sounds concerned for Penguin when Bruce mentions Joker’s fate.)

And now, Dracula provides a little backstory for all those lit nerds wondering how the fuck this fits into… well, any part of Dracula’s history. Ready?

All-Star Dracula

Yeaaaah. At this point even I have to admit this movie’s aimed at an audience that has a vague idea of who Dracula is but have never read the book or seen… well, any of his other forays onto the big screen. Also, given that the stake should’ve rendered him 100% helpless in his coffin, those villagers could probably have tossed him out into the sun whenever the hell they felt like it instead of pawning his remains off to America, but hey – that’s the Old World for ya.

Fast-forward a couple days, where Bruce is giving an interview to investigative reporter Vicky Vale‘s rack.

Vicki Vale
“Eyes up here, bud.”

I gave a brief write-up of the character in my “Bird of Prey” review, but really, she’s not terribly remarkable. Just think back to Kim Basinger from Burton’s first Batman movie and you’re golden.

Anyways, a ton of people have been vanishing from Gotham lately, and Bruce is determined to not lose anyone else after what happened to Joker. A noble sentiment, to be sure, but the accompanying Manly Scowl needs some work.

Bruce Scowl

Most of Gotham is smart enough to not straggle after dark, but in true horror movie tradition, there’s always that one sap who just has to work late. Then a mugger and the cemetery guard get involved, and before you know it Batman has to deal with three Darkseekers Undead Americans “Lost Ones”.

And big surprise – the fight scene is aces. The Lost Ones could give Killer Croc a run for his money in speed and strength, and I like how the movie hammers in just how badly Batman is outclassed against the supernatural when he tears his gloves apart punching the cemetery guard and doesn’t even slow the guy down.

This leaves one problem, though: how to get Batman out of this jam without it feeling like a cheat. And to be honest, I don’t think the movie quite pulls it off.

 batman vampires the batman GIF

I mean, it would be one thing if the oncoming train had actually hit the Lost Ones while Batman got away, but I guess either Capizzi got cold feet or he decided that having the Lost Ones pull a disappearing act would look cooler. As is, there’s not really much reason for them to give up the chase, especially since all the vampires in this movie seem to be able to instinctively track anything with a pulse.

When Bruce gets back to the manor, Alfred gets to play Scully to his Mulder, and the scene goes pretty smoothly if you can get over the “ice-generating zombie = totally possible/vampires = bullshit” double-standard. Anyone who saw that fight would automatically take Bruce’s side, but I suppose it would be pretty hard to describe to someone who didn’t.

Ah, but vampires or not, there’s an even more pressing matter for Bruce to address: the energy crisis. Yes, mysterious disappearances be damned (and the next scene shows that Dracula and his friends have made dozens of Lost Ones in one night), Wayne Industries is hosting an energy expo with all the usual mucky-mucks in attendance.

Guess who’s inviting himself?

Dracula Healthy
“Hmf. At least all I leech is blood.”

(Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but this seems like a subtle shout-out to the class themes in Red Rain; Dracula’s initial victims there were all bums and streetwalkers, so Gotham’s elites didn’t start paying attention until it was too late.)

You may or may not like how Penguin is still making horrible wisecracks every chance he gets, since he’s only hypnotized and not a Lost One, but the script does get points for consistency. Even when he’s the slave of an evil vampire overlord, he still can’t resist the idea of using the Count to fuck up Bruce Wayne’s party. The pedant in me is kind of peeved that Dracula just flies in with no invitation, but maybe he hypnotized another guest off-screen and made them invite him in.

(By the way – I’m really suspicious that Dracula’s “human” design was originally a Ra’s al-Ghul model sheet before Chris Nolan neener-neener’d The Batman out of any rights to use him, but I guess we’ll never know.)

Aaaand here, we come to the most infuriatingly “kiddie” moment in the entire movie: Dracula’s choice of pseudonym.

Alucard
“Alucard. Doctor Alucard.”

Good God, it was dumb when his son took the name. And that was in 1943. Couldn’t they have gotten just a little more creative, like name-dropping some actor or director heavily associated with the Count, or maybe even Stoker himself? You’d literally have hundreds of names to mix and match.

Atrocious alias aside, I got a vague chuckle out of Dracula painting himself as an anthropology major, and the bit where he no-sells Bruce and Vicky’s snub is a neat trick (if more gimmicky than properly creepy). But subtlety isn’t a very high priority for this sequence, and in a matter of minutes the Count’s done everything short of hissing at the silverware to give himself away. Naturally, no one notices because they’re too busy oohing and ahhing over Alternative Energy’s latest darling.

Come to think of it, that’s another part I remember liking when I was little – the party’s centerpiece is a new solar energy machine that totally won’t be instrumental to the plot no siree, and Dracula actually seems confused about this newfangled 21st century doohickey. I know this isn’t the kind of movie that should have Connecticut Yankee hijinks, but Drac is just so adorable when he seems to think Bruce’s machine will somehow drain the sun.

Eventually, Dracula decides he wants a taste of blue blood and uses his hypnosis to… make Bruce go out on the balcony, where Alfred easily shakes him awake. I… honestly don’t know what the point of this was – out-of-universe, there were plenty of other ways to cement Bruce’s suspicion of “Alucard”, and in-universe the mansion probably has hundreds of empty rooms plus a pretty roomy wine cellar.

And that’s exactly where Dracula goes when he decides “fuck it” and snacks on one of the serving boys instead. Admittedly, it leads to a decent payoff:

Oh Dear

Which sadly doesn’t quite know…

Exit Dracula

… how to quit while it’s ahead.

World’s Greatest Detective, everybody.

Now fully aware of just what they’re up against, Bruce and Alfred immediately agree they’re in deep shit and start getting some backup.

Blade
“Sorry, man. Can’t help the Distinguished Competition. Union rules.”

                                                                      

Anita Blake
“Is your girlfriend still voiced by a blonde? Yes? Fuck off.”

                                                                        

Alexander Anderson
“Convert ‘n’ I’ll think about it, yeh filthy Protestant.”

                                                                     

The Croc 02
“Gee, Ah’d like ta help, but someone still owes me an apology fer the last time I tried cleanin’ up this town!”

… or not.

So our heroes turn to good old-fashioned elbow grease to beat Dracula and save the Lost Ones (even better, they acknowledge that the one bite = conversion thing means Dracula’s army will grow at an exponential rate, so every second is precious). And I like how Bruce won’t even consider the possibility of killing the Lost Ones – I know, I know, kid’s movie and all, but the script neatly ties it into honoring his dad’s memory and medical legacy.

Unfortunately, the movie picks this exact moment to remind us that Vicky’s still in it. If you’re looking for a half-assed regurgitation of the dullest bits in Batman ’89, today’s your lucky day. As for the rest of us… well, she does kick off the next plot-thread.

Vicki Interview
“It was a bat! I saw a huge shadow of a bat!”

Yeah, I think we all saw this coming – Gotham’s never gonna be big enough for two Creatures of the Night, so Dracula folds his rap-sheet into Batman’s without half-trying. I’m… of two minds about this. On the one hand, it’s a clever little nod to how Batman probably wouldn’t exist – not in any shape we’d recognize, anyhow – had his creators lacked the Count for inspiration. On the other, “Bad Stuff is happening after dark! Let’s blame Batman!” already carried a pretty big chunk of this movie-

-meaning Capizzi and co. have set themselves a bar somewhere between the ozone layer and the goddamn moon. Now, putting Bennett and/or Yin in the picture could have introduced some genuinely fresh perspectives – but alas, the DTV status giveth, and the DTV status taketh away.

In other news, Penguin’s somehow hooked Dracula’s crypt up with a plasma screen (har har), so the good Count can now stalk Vicky from afar as well as up close. His basis for this attraction? I shit you not – it’s apparently because of all the v’s in her name.

Image result for Tim Burton
This man feels a strange, immeasurable burden rising from his shoulders. He is no longer responsible for the worst love triangle ever witnessed in a Batman movie.

After dark, Batman heads out with the finest anti-vampire tech the Wayne billions can squeeze past a PG rating.

Vampire Hunter Kit
“You’re sure you won’t take that Meyer woman’s book al-“
Drop it, Alfred.”

Unfortunately, it seems he packed for the wrong kind of fight.

Batman targeted
“C’mon, guys, haven’t you learned by now? Kids WB’s never gonna let you fire those things.”

                                                            

SWAT Cops
“Yeah, ’bout that? Kids WB ain’t airin’ this one.”

                                                                  

Batman targeted
Ohhhhhhhh sh-“

It’s a common joke that the GCPD is far and away the most competent when it’s fighting Batman instead of the villains, and while that hasn’t really been true on the series thus far, it’s definitely true here. Sure, the guns sound a tad more like Star Wars blasters than they did in That Other Show, but it’s still a worthy action sequence, and a lovely Year One homage to boot.

Batman hunted
“Steady burst if you find him — no matter how dead he looks–“

Only this time, Bruce gets a little helper.

“Three! Three appetizers left! Ah ah ah ah ah!”

I think this sequence is the first (and maybe only) time where The Batman uses light and shadow to paint a scene like That Other Show did so marvelously, and honest to God, it’s almost perfect. There’s only one thing I might’ve done differently – keep Dracula entirely off-screen, entirely silent, and just show the SWAT team dwindling with every floor it climbs. Pretty creepy trick to play on the viewers, especially those who aren’t quite paying attention to how many cops there are.

Even so, the payoff – Batman waiting nervously by the rooftop door, only to see a single unmanned gun being tossed out – is awesome. Even awesomer? Dracula’s idea of a handshake.

The first meeting between Dracula and Batman has quite a few shades of Ra’s al-Ghul (we’re the same, only I’m superior, blah blah blah…), but personally, I think Drac comes out on top. He’s got all the arrogant old-world mystique, but none of the hypocrisy; in fact, he openly admits he only “spares” his victims out of greed for more slaves. And for all his feints at culture and sophistication, neither the script nor Batman have any delusions about what he is: one of the worst monsters in the world, inside and out.***

So our respective Bat-men face off. You may remember that just a couple nights back, Bruce had trouble with just his henchmen, but surely a night of prep-time will even the odds, right?

Ha. Ha ha.

Really, .gifs can barely come close to capturing how amazing this fight looks. The animation is lusher and smoother than anything we’ve gotten on the show, there’s no technicolor sky to muck up the mood, and I’m particularly fond of how they designed Dracula’s cape – the multi-tailed design really gives him a distinct, almost Doc Ock-like silhouette against Batman’s.

(Chris Sims once described Drac’s fighting style as “vampiric M. Bison”, but as I haven’t played one second of Street Fighter in my life, I’ll have to take his word for it.)

By the way – I didn’t get a chance to talk about this earlier, but Dracula’s leitmotif – which you can hear as early as the opening credits – kicks ass. I mean, all the guitar riffs that Thomas Chase Jones has provided for the series haven’t exactly made him a contender for the same hall of fame as Danny Elfman or Shirley Walker, but the surreal, haunting violin melody that follows the Count around honestly disturbed me when I was little.

There’s an inevitable “join me, Batman” speech too, but Batman rejects it without a second thought and Drac decides he’s just gonna kill the upstart. There’s an honest villain if I’ve ever seen one.

So how does Bruce get out of this one with his organs in the right places?

Morning Sun

Yeah, it’s a pretty annoying deus ex machina, if not quite as cheaty as Batman’s escape from the Lost Ones. Really, I would’ve given anything to see Batman escape the same way he did in Red Rain, but this movie’s already established that vampires don’t give a shit about crosses, so no go.

So we get another “Half-dead Bruce/concerned Alfred/flashback to That Night” sequence, which is nicely animated, but frankly unnecessary (and come on, the least they could’ve done is actually give Bruce a couple bloodstains). The only thing it really adds is a shot of the theater playing not-Zorro.****

Not Zorro
Starring Tyrone Flower and Bayleaf Rathbone!

After that it’s time for some half-assed but mercifully short attempts to make the movie ~deep~ by having Batman angst over how much Gotham fears him or he’s just the same as Dracula or… something. Look, I’m all for depth in Batman stories, but when your freaking premise is “Batman vs. Dracula”, you’ve more or less admitted that you’re making a gimmick movie. And that’s okay! As a wise rodent once said: the world’s big enough for smart movies and dumb movies, but there’s nothing less forgivable than the latter pretending to be the former.

Fah. Let’s check back in on Drac and his cozy little graveya-

Joker Return
“Everyone’s so shocked to see me these days. You, the fisherman who found me tangled in his net…”

Oh, come now. You didn’t think Joker was actually dead, did you? I seriously doubt Capizzi was looking to push the envelope that far, and that aside, coming back from the dead is kind of his thing.

Joker’s missed the last thirty minutes or so of plot, so he’s still looking for that big mob treasure. And sad to say, he’s not a whole lot more genre-savvy than Penguin was.

Joker Breakfast

KMR’s screams are a bit more spine-tingling this go-round, but I’m more interested in Penguin’s reactions. More than once, he sounds genuinely concerned when trying to play keep-away with Laughing Boy, and, well… just look at his face up there. Granted, it could very well be his “Oh God the Count’s going to kill me for letting this asshole break in so easily” face, but a guy can dream.

This unholy tryst, by the way, produces what’s probably the most iconic part of the movie: vampire Joker.

Vampire Joker
“Sssssweet dreams, kiddiesss.”

This is one of those concepts that’s just an instant winner, and indeed only gets more horrifying as you get older and learn what a mortal Joker is capable of. That said, I would’ve loved if Dracula had gone nuts (or at least complained about the taste) after drinking from Joker, like he grew more feral and violent after years of feeding on a hellhole like Gotham in the original Red Rain.

Now, while The Batman‘s Joker is turned, at no point is he seen taking orders from the Count, and unlike all the other Lost Ones, he can still talk. There are boring plot reasons for this, but I just love the implication that even this “kiddy-show” Joker is too crazy to be properly enslaved. Man does what he wants, when he wants.

And right now, what he wants is dinner.

Vampire Joker Drinking

You can’t really have a good vampire movie without blood, but when a character starts pouring it down his throat like fucking Kool-Aid, that’s going above and beyond, and I thank Capizzi for it. Oh, sure, the lighting goes out of its way to make the stuff look like Coca-Cola, but that just makes the whole blood bank sequence eerier.

And yeah, the blood bank looks more like a mad scientist’s lab had a baby with the Department of Mysteries than… well, any actual blood bank in existence, but makes for one hell of a setpiece, so I’ll let it slide.

 batman joker the batman GIF

 batman joker the batman GIF

 batman joker the batman GIF

With the Joker literally drenched in blood and about two seconds away from holding a one-man Donner Party, Batman KO’s him with a garlic bomb and drags him back to the cave for some long, painful experiments.

Painful for the Joker, anyways. As far as I’m concerned, Bruce’s SCIENCE™ montage is one of the movie’s most understated highlights – probably its best, as far as non-action sequences go. Fun as all the bloodletting and bone-breaking might be, we mustn’t forget Bruce the scholar, Bruce the innovator, Bruce the healer who will fucking invent a new branch of medicine to cure Dracula’s victims.

Oh, and Bruce the zillionaire with a whole R&D wing at his beck and call. That’s pretty important too, especially when the aforementioned SCIENCE™ turns out a whole mess of serums to try on Joker’s blood. I mean, sure, he could just wait ’til morning and take them all outside, but that’s for riffraff. Riffraff without a single instant sunlight machine to their names.

Also, can ya blame a guy for wanting the Joker out of his house ASAP? Thought not.

Vampire Joker starving
“Why do you torment me, Batsy? I thought you cared.”

This actually isn’t the first time Laughing Boy got stashed in the Batcave for his own good, or even the most subtext-y, but does that stop KMR from having a blast with it? Hell no. In fact, I’d call this a pinnacle, if not the pinnacle, of his Joker work – a Joker that doesn’t just hiss, cackle, and taunt as any good villain should, but whimpers, wails, begs as he realizes vampires can starve like anyone else. Adding insult to injury, he can’t even bargain for his next meal, because Dracula’s got juuuuust enough hold on his brain to stop him from spilling anything important.

If you assume (as I do) that this takes place after Joker’s Clayface’d Ethan, you might think that Batman’s deliberately starving him out of spite – and really, who could blame him? But for once, there’s no smarmy one-liner. Just an honest-to-God promise to help, as Batman always should.

Even better? Bruce uses his own blood to feed Joker. Leading to this gem:

Vampire Joker complete
“You complete me.”

Image result for christopher nolan batman begins
“Yadda yadda yadda check’s in the mail.”

Sadly, this tender moment is broken up by what the movie insists is the real love story: Vicky. Maybe I should give Capizzi credit for not making Alfred show her the Batcave unlike someone else who will remain unnamed, but it’s fairly hilarious that the script insists Bruce standing up Vicky to deal with the vampire business is some kind of big sacrifice. Older viewers will rightfully note that Bruce has known Vicky for a few weeks, tops, and the kids probably want Batman to go back to the noble, cootie-free sport of punching vampires.

Eventually, Bruce finds the right genome to isolate or whatever technobabble’s in these days, and (painfully) turns Joker normal mortal again. And Joker’s so grateful that he immediately coughs up Dracula’s hidey-hole.

Cured Joker
“Am… am I dreaming?”

Okay, not really, but the World’s Greatest Detective pieces it together anyhow. Maybe it’s just me, but there are few things funnier than a Joker who’s legitimately confused because the plot’s gone too crazy even for him (though like all things, it needs to be used sparingly). This is his last scene in the movie, by the way, and I’m kinda bummed Batman answers with a weak-ass quip instead of randomly punching his lights out.

Well, now that Batman has his super-duper antidote and knows where to find Drac, all he has to do is wait ’til sun-up, and fixing the Count’s mess will be easier than reviewing Pixels.

And we can’t have that, can we?

Horrible Night

True to Batman ’89, Vicky gets waylaid by the bad guy so Batman has to rescue her while said bad guy’s got every single advantage on his side. By the way, Drac’s real plan is to use her soul to reanimate his bride Carmilla Karnstein from ashes, and… yeah, I have to imagine Capizzi named her after the original lesbian vampire on purpose. No wonder Drac’s in such a bad mood all the time.****

I guess this makes the whole plot slightly less rapey, but really, I think it would’ve been more interesting for Drac to turn her into a full vampire a la the original’s “brides” and then have her fight Bruce. That would actually give the Vicky subplot something resembling emotional stakes!

LetMeLaughEvenHarder

Okay, not really. Let’s just get back to Batman vs. Dracula’s groupies.

All Lost Ones
“…”

                                      

Batman the Vampire Slayer
“Tell me… do you bleed?”

Come on, tell me that this wouldn’t make for an awesome Arkham DLC. The best part is how Batman turns the Lost Ones’ advantages into his own; they’re still hella fast and strong, but now all he needs to do is tag them with an antidote vial. As tough as they are, the Lost Ones can only attack up close, and they’ve got no sense of self-preservation.

The appetizers taken care of, Batman heads for the main course.

Dracula Ritual
“If anyone should object to this wedding violation of all laws of God and man, speak now or forever hold your-“

                                                                 

Batman objection
“I object.”

Dracula effortlessly hypnotizes Bruce into firing his last antidote vial into the ground, something that only works if:

  1. Batman conveniently forgot the Count had that power
  2. Batman didn’t pack a single spare

So, yeah. Pretty lame anticlimax, and I bet you’ll never guess how Batman shakes it off!

That’s right: his dead, dead parents.

Wayne Grave
Translation: Why couldn’t you save us, son?

Bruce, remembering that his mama didn’t raise him to kowtow to no Europeans vampires, garlic-bombs the shit out of Dracula’s wedding. Spoiler alert: it works.

Carmilla Defeated
“I told you we should’ve just signed a certificaaaaaaaaaaaa-“

By the way, I’m assuming the garlic bombs scattered Carmilla’s ashes, so she can’t ever come back. Buuut since she was dead to begin with, our hero’s hands are still clean of murder for now! Yay!

While Drac chases Batman through the caves behind the crypt, the movie decides to throw Vicky a bone and have her fight the Penguin. Well, for a given definition of fight.

 batman penguin the batman GIF

Granted, it’s more than her ’89 counterpart ever accomplished, but at this point it’s not much more than padding. And as redheads nut-shotting bad guys in Batman movies go, my vote still goes to Andrea Beaumont.

That said, there’s a half-decent payoff: remember that big mob treasure that started this whole mess? It’s real. And Penguin’s too hypnotized to just grab it and amscray.

Penguin moolah
Man, the new DuckTales reboot looks great.

Meanwhile, Dracula’s given up all pretenses of looking human in favor of beating the unholy shit out of Bruce. I’m a tad disappointed that Bruce still hasn’t bled a drop, even though Drac’s probably broken half the bones in his body, but eh – what can ya do?

Desperate, Bruce lures the Count into the Batcave, home of the last hope he’s got:

Alfred shoots Dracula
“One thing about living in Gotham City I never could stomach: all the damn vampires.”

Nah. As awesome as that would’ve been, it’s a standard-issue fakeout. Still, you can’t really blame Alfred for trying (maybe Dracula was human too, once upon a time), and I just love how the Count milks his “injury” for all it’s worth before ripping out the antidote vial and gloating.

How Batman actually beats the Count is, if anything, even cooler (if a bit more predictable): he uses that spiffy sunlight machine of his to burn Dracula alive.

 batman dracula the batman GIF

 batman dracula the batman GIF

 batman dracula the batman GIF

 batman dracula the batman GIF

 batman dracula the batman GIF

 batman dracula the batman GIF

Stormare’s hoarse whisper as Dracula figures out Batman’s secret identity is pitch-perfect, even if it 100% dooms the Count to his long-overdue grave. And to cap things off, Batman punches the burning Dracula so hard the guy explodes.

What’s that, you say? Batman doesn’t kill? Clearly, these guys never got the memo:

 batman bruce wayne GIF
“Ya done good, kid.”

(In all seriousness, even the squarest takes on Batman bend their rules a little for non-humans like rogue AI’s, Poison Ivy’s plant people, or yes – vampires. This has resulted in a lot of problems with Bat-hypocrisy over the years, but suffice it to say that I can accept it for a villain without the tiniest claim to physical or spiritual humanity.)

The wrap-up goes down pretty easily: Penguin’s freed from Dracula’s control, seconds before a couple of un-vampire’d cops barge in, slap on the cuffs, and make him the Count’s fall-guy. The news media clears Batman of all kidnapping charges, while Vicky, thankfully, never learns The Secret (and presumably dumps him off-screen, since we never see her again). And lo, this blog’s banner was born.

Manhattan Below Fourteenth Street
“I’ve long believed that… Gotham City is Manhattan below Fourteenth Street at eleven minutes past midnight on the coldest night in November…”

***

So, to complete my ripping off Mouse thoughts on this movie: it’s probably the slickest piece of entertainment that The Batman ever produced, and easily the most action-packed, but I don’t know if I’d call it the best or even potentially the best. The premise just feels too gimmicky for any genuine depth to shine through, and the script’s half-assed tries at such are tedious at best, embarrassing at worst. But when it just encourages the viewer to shut down the ol’ gray-matter and watch Batman whale on vampires (and vice-versa), it’s absolutely hypnotic. And the plot, while definitely not airtight, is more competently put-together and paced than it has any right to be.

Is it a match for any of That Other Show’s four movies? Probably not, save for maybe Mystery of the Batwoman. But if you want to given the young’uns a big-boy Halloween treat this year, consider it for a rental or Netflix’ing. And, ah… maybe keep that night-light handy.

Scoring

Animation: 12/20

A big-budget version of the cartoon, and it shows, especially in the sets and fight scenes. Perhaps I’m not surprising anyone when I mention that a lot of the guys who worked on this (and the show proper) would go on to do DCUAO movies like Under the Red Hood.

Lead: 12/20

Don’t expect too many surprises with the characterization, but it does show off Batman’s devotion to all (natural) life better than most of the series does.

Villain: 16/20

A solid take on the Count, with none of the melodrama or… euggh, romance that’s grown around him in past decades. As The Batman baddies go, he’s not the deepest or funniest, but he’s almost undeniably the toughest, and that counts for quite a bit. Your mileage may vary with Stormare’s accent, though.

Supporting Characters: 09/20

Alfred is inoffensive. Vicky has roughly the charm of wallpaper and is a tragic waste of Tara Strong (there’s a tie-in comic that sorta-expands on her character, but even then the best I can say is that at least it’s not as skeevy as the last time Strong played Batman’s redheaded love interest). Joker and Penguin I actually find pretty fun.

Music: 11/20

Maybe I’ve just become inured to all the guitar riffs, but Dracula’s leitmotif really is a beaut.

FINAL SCORE: 60%

Next Time: The Penguin returns with Man-Bat in what looks to be a crappier, small-screen remake of this movie. Joy to the world.

* I’ve heard rumors this movie was special-made for Cartoon Network – plausible, since Toonami was the only place it got any airtime, but on the other hand, I’m pretty sure Cartoon Network stopped paying attention to The Batman after Season One.

** Also, their first teamup in the comics produced this, objectively the greatest piece of smack-talk in human history.

*** Okay, so maybe Ra’s having a hot daughter to boink kind of colors Batman’s way-more-respectful-than-should-be attitude towards him, but that’s neither here nor there.

**** This isn’t really surprising; Zorro Productions, Inc. is famously sue-happy no matter how many times courts rule that Zorro is in the public domain, and while comics seem to be beneath their notice, movies are typically a lot leerier.

***** My headcanon is that she’s actually the person we know as Elizabeth Báthory, but that’s neither here nor there.

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17 thoughts on “The Batman Review: The Batman vs. Dracula

  1. “I mean, you’d never catch That Other Show’s Joker being that dumb with his… uh…”

    To be fair, Static Shock’s continuity in regard to the DCU is dubious. We know there was a DCAU Static since he shows up in Batman Beyond’s future during the Justice League Unlimited time trip, but in early Static episodes, Superman was supposed to be a comics character. Later in Static, Robin (Tim) refers to being with the Teen Titans, who never show up anywhere in the DCAU, and the animated Titans’ Robin was Dick Grayson anyway. So… it’s all a mess.

    And personally, I think of Lex Luthor as Joker’s best frenemy. Luthor has all the motive to want him dead and all the chances to have it done, with none of Batman’s moral hangups, yet he even seems odly fond and respectful of Joker at times (even implying pissing Joker off is more dangerous than pissing Lex himself off in Infinite Crisis), while Joker’s dickish prodding of Luthor has more of a playful edge than his merciless abuse of Harvey Dent, for instance.

    As for Penguin, I actually like to think of him being friends with Mad Hatter. Both being weirdly sophisticated gentlemen with English leanings and formal wear (and top hats) preferences. They even share a final scene for both in Pre-Crisis continuity, and are genuinely affectionate towards each other in Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader.

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    • I can buy Luthor somewhat as Joker’s frenemy, but my ever-worsening feelings about the DC Shared Universe aside, I think he’s a little too joyless and unromantic. The only thing he genuinely likes about the Joker, I feel, is the latter’s sheer destructive potential.

      Penguin, on the other hand, I can completely buy as the kind of romantic who’d *respect* costumed supervillainy instead of seeing it as a gaudy waste of time/resources. My headcanon is that the Joker *doesn’t* really tease him to the extent he does Two-Face or even Luthor; off-hours, they shoot the breeze in a manner far more similar to Batman and Gordon, only with decidedly less pleasant topics.

      Maybe this violates the Joker’s whole inhuman, unknowable mystique, but I’m rather attached to the idea that Penguin can be as crazy, inhuman, and just plain *weird* as Joker if he feels like it; he’s just *nicer* about it.

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  2. I’m rich! If you go on the AV club, their reviews of Gotham are the best thing about that show. The commenters got so pissed off that they started impersonating characters from the comic to complain how they were being portrayed. The friendship between Riddler, Mad Hatter and the Anti-Monitor was just hilarious.

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  3. Man, I loved this movie as a kid. I was so surprised by the creepy atmosphere, the blood, but most of all the actual firing of guns. I remember a time when guns were a complete no no in superhero cartoons unless they looked like Star Wars blasters. Now, even Batman The Brave And The Bold got away with realistic firearms.

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  4. Ahh, man, I loved this one as a widdle one. The image of Vamp!Joker hungrily guzzling down blood has been scathed into my memory.

    (Gamer!Juli is pleased with the Castlevania references)

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  5. Are you going to do any more reviews of The Batman, Rubber lotus? I’ve made it a ritual to read your pieces as I watch each episode and as I’m now currently into season 4, they are sorely missed. Your critiques are funny and insightful. I would love to read more of your work. Thanks for spreading the awareness of The Batman. It was a show I didn’t give much thought to when it originally aired but after being curious when seeing it on Netflix, I gave it a shot and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I hope to hear from you *turns on the rubber lotus signal* soon.

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