By Will Barber Taylor
Following on from the previous edition, in which Batman combated terrorists in London, we travel back to the earliest days of The Dark Knight, before he even met Robin the Boy Wonder. In this edition, The Caped Crusader must fight a shape shifting Vampire Monk from Hungary and save his fiancé from his clutches. (Detective Comics 31 – 32)
Back in the very early days of comics, the areas in which characters naturally inhabited was somewhat blurry. Whilst it is now an accepted fact that Superman lives in Metropolis and fights space aliens like Brainiac and that Batman lives in Gotham and fights strange creatures of the night like Man Bat. However, these were not established facts in the early days of comic books – everything was in flux. That is why stories about Batman fighting vampire werewolf Monks from Hungary were not seen as out of the ordinary – the character was still in his early stages of being formed and so could fight such supernatural (no rational explanation is ever given in the story, so it is presumed they are supernatural) beings without anyone batting an eyelid.
The adventure begins with Batman (or “the Bat -Man” as he was still then known) saving a man from being killed by his fiancé Julie. Batman takes Julie home and the next day, as Bruce Wayne, takes her to her Doctor. The Doctor advises her to take a cruise to Paris and then Hungary – the “land of werewolves”. We are given the impression that Julie’s doctor, Doctor Trent, is the villain of the whole piece but this is never actually explained or shown to us. It is on the boat to Paris that Batman encounters “The Monk” a figure dressed in red who wants to nab Julie to make her a werewolf/vampire. Bob Kane seems to like the idea of combinations as in the end the villains are revealed to both by werewolves and vampires, though as with most of this story, it is never explained. Batman and Julie arrive in Hungary only for her to again be attacked – this time by the Monk and his giant gorilla – because, of course, the man who is a vampire/werewolf Monk who owns a castle in Hungary has a giant gorilla. Batman goes after them again, battling the Monk’s werewolf servants. After saving Julie once again, Batman stabs the Monk through the heart whilst he is in his coffin and flies off with Julie.
There are of course numerous problems with the plot – why did Julie want to kill the man in the beginning? Was Doctor Trent the Monk, given how the story implies he is but never shows him as the Monk? Why was the Monk interested in Julie in the first place? Where the hell did he get a massive gorilla and manage to sneak it into Julie’s room without her waking up?
In the end though, these questions don’t really matter because the story is a highly enjoyable piece of pure nonsense. The story is, surprisingly enough, very atmospheric and Batman fits perfectly into the world of gothic horror. Whilst Kane’s artwork isn’t incredibly good by today’s standards, for the time it is surprisingly exciting and well-drawn and certainly elicits the reaction it wanted from the reader. It is a story that, if you can get your hands on it, I would recommend as an fascinating distraction, a reminder of the joy of old comic books.
The next Dark Tales of The Dark Knight will be published next year, to mark the 80th anniversary of the first appearance of that crusader against crime, that bringer of light against the dark; the Bat – Man in The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.