The latest issue of BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL
disproves the adage that you can’t tell a book by its cover. In this case, the cover promises Batman and a vampire teaming up to fight the undead and the book delivers just that.
The plot is relatively straightforward. Bruce Wayne is in New Orleans for a ceremony for the rebuilding of a hospital, and playfully flirts with a female reporter, as cover for Batman tracking down Professor Combs who has been released from Arkham. Also interested in Combs is the vampire Dimeter who has some sort of history with Combs. And Combs is headed right for a local museum full of the preserved dead. Almost all threads converge on the museum, there’s a grave robbing ghoul at the beginning who will likely play a part later on.
Kevin VanHook’s script is a bit exposition heavy, but it does have lines and incidents that pop out. It also has its share of clunky lines. Perhaps it’s helped that Batman is the only established character he has to work with. One thing that neither the script nor a convenient editor’s box makes clear is that apparently this is a sequel to Superman and Batman vs. Vampires and Werewolves. Yeah, I didn’t read it either, and was thrown when it turns out that Batman already knows Dimeter. But, Batman reads like Batman, flirty as Bruce Wayne, cool professional as Batman. Dimeter is apparently one of those modern vampires with multiple lusts. And all of it well illustrated in a slick, shadowy style by the talented Tom Mandrake who’s able to swing from sexy bedroom scenes to straight horror with ease.
Professor Combs is an obvious stand-in for H.P. Lovecraft’s villain Herbert West. (Most famously brought to life by actor Jeffrey Combs.) And Batman has a significant history with Lovecraft. Editor Julius Schwartz knew Lovecraft and sold at least one of his stories as a literary agent. The Outsider borrowed his name from a Lovecraft story and his origin reads like a Lovecraft story. “The Secret of the Waiting Graves” is practically a Lovecraft story. And, of course, Arkham Asylum is a pure Lovecraft reference. However, as a Lovecraft homage Combs leaves something to be desired. We never get a real sense of his motives or goals, he’s generically evil here, and Lovecraft tended to favor scientific explanations over pure magic which Combs uses here. Herbert West: Reanimator is a darkly comic take on Frankenstein and this seems to throw all that aside in favor of pure magic.
If you’re not interested in Batman vs. the supernatural, there’s not much inside that will change your mind. But, for what it is, it’s a well done example of the story type. Sexy women, a gruesome murder, some clever dialogue, and clear, efficient storytelling with strong Tom Mandrake art makes for a fairly entertaining read. It’s not going to win any awards, but it’s a fun little digression as long as it keeps up the pace and doesn’t run too long.