The Batman vs Dracula: The Animated Movie (2005)

'I thank you for carrying on my legacy in its absence, but now there is room for only one bat-man in Gotham.' This is one of those ideas that had to happen sooner or later – actually, Bob Kane's Batman tangled with a vampire ('The Monk') way back in 1939 in one of the first Detective Comics stories, and there have been three great-looking, disappointingly-written graphic novels (Red Rain, etc) in which Batman meets Dracula and is subsequently turned into a vampire.

This is a spin-off of The Batman, the current animated series, as opposed to Batman: The Animated Series, the 1990s version whose Batman is still in business in the Justice League cartoon. The old show was more sophisticated, especially in characterising its villains, but there is an advantage in that the Batman (voiced by Rino Romano) is a younger, less confident-in-his-prowess character (The Batman was developed as an adjunct to Batman Begins, while Batman: The Animated Series was modelled on Batman Returns). This means the hero seems at first completely outclassed by Dracula (nicely voiced by Peter Stormare) and in real danger not only of losing the battle but of having his just-starting legend eclipsed by the well-established image of the bat-man from Transylvania. The downside is that these versions of the Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson) and the Penguin (Tom Kenny) seem too off-model: one is a dreadlocked knock-off of Mark Hamill's interpretation and the other a new-made social climbing creep who just isn't as interesting as the comic book, Burgess Meredith, Danny DeVito or Paul Williams Cobblepots.

Nevertheless, the Duane Capizzi script neatly works the traditional bat-villains into the Dracula story: the Penguin, out of Arkham and searching for mob treasure in a Gotham graveyard, discovers Dracula's staked and chained skeleton (transported from Transylvania) and bleeds on it, then is hypnotised into taking a Renfield minion role as Dracula turns various Gothamites ('the Lost Ones') into semi-vampires; the Joker is bitten and becomes a fanged wall-walking albino. Bruce / Batman toils in the laboratory and synthesises a cure which means he can bring restore humanity to recently-turned vampires, though he uses a sunlight generator to dust Drac (overcoming his superhero's reluctance to kill by reasoning that Dracula isn't alive).

Carried over from the series are strong roles for Lois Lane-like newshen / potential love interest Vicky Vale (Tara Strong) and fighting butler Alfred (Alastair Duncan); without Robin (or even Commissioner Gordon), these characters get more to do than usual. Assuming the pseudonym 'Dr Alucard', Dracula crashes Gotham high society, but he doesn't want to take Vicky as his bride since he plans to drain her life essence in a ritual in order to revivify the dust of his vampire soulmate, Carmilla Karnstein (nice bit of crossover continuity). Like the show, it has a lot of action (some of it too busy to read) and I can't quite get on with the manga-look noses of most characters, but there's also thematic compare-and-contrast meat about the title figures and a few creepier, lyrical moments. Directed by Michael Goguen.

First published in this form here.

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