Bat Signal

Issue 455 – “Heart of a Vampire”

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Hello everybody, and welcome to Bat Signal, my ongoing project to randomly experience issues of Detective Comics to better appreciate the weird and wild world of Batman. And folks, do we have a doozy today. I almost considered holding off on this one and waiting until closer until Halloween, but I’ve never done that before and I figured I would honor the ridiculous confines of this project that I made, so I’ll just drop it here, a little less timely, but no less insane. I’ve discussed some weird stuff here on Bat Signal. I’ve talked about Batman going back in time through the power of hypnosis, I’ve talked about Batman going to space to train an alien policeman, and I’ve even had Batman grapple with what may or may not have been a legitimate ghost from beyond the grave. But this week? We straight up have Batman dealing with a Nosferatu. The story is a little shorter than the average ones I’ve written up here on the site, but it’s just so bonkers that I’ll try to parse it out as well as I can.

The issue opens up in a pretty baffling manner that may or may not have been explained in the previous issue. Because we open with Bruce Wayne and Alfred driving in some creepy woods many miles outside Gotham in the middle of the night, and their car has overheated. The two get out of the car to try and deal with it, but realize that they need some water for the radiator. And since they’re in the middle of nowhere, there’s not really going to be a lot of good options for them to remedy this issue. Well, except for the huge castle over the next hill, which is clearly haunted. This issue straight up opens like a Scooby Doo episode guys. But apparently Bruce and Alfred have been too busy fighting crime to watch the antics of a cartoon dog, because they don’t see anything suspicious about going up to the creepy house, and then just breaking the hell in when no one responds to their knocking. And when they break into the house, they immediately come across a rather suspicious setting.

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That’s right! The living room of this house has a coffin set up in it, with a giant sun-lamp plugged in, constantly pounding down solar energy on it. You know, like every house? Neither Bruce nor Alfred seem particularly weirded out by this, and Bruce honestly is way more interested in the fact that the old sun-lamp is vintage. So like a freaking hipster he goes up to paw it, and ends up shorting it out, plunging the room into darkness. Alfred then suggests that he can go grab some flashlights from the car and heads out to get them while Bruce continues looking for water for the radiator.

And as soon as Bruce leaves, the damn coffin-lid opens up. Apparently there’s a for-real vampire in there, and all that was holding him back was that sun-lamp, so with it gone he climbs on out and goes off in search of blood. And he doesn’t have to go far, since Bruce is putzing around in the kitchen trying to get the old plumbing to work. So the vampire just strolls into the kitchen, announces that he’s a) a vampire, b) named Gustav Decobra, and c) about to suck Bruce’s blood. But after a moment of hesitation, Bruce puts on his Batman outfit and just starts punching the hell out of the vampire. The two spar for a while, and in the course of their fight they smash up some beams, which Bruce grabs. One of the beams resembles a crucifix, and Bruce is able to use it to scare the vampire off, and hold him at bay. Well, until Alfred comes bumbling in and causes Bruce to drop the cross. But as the vampire charges, ready to eat Alfred, Bruce picks up another beam and just rams it through the bastard’s chest.

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Yes, you just saw that right. Batman just speared a vampire in the chest, to minimal effect, because the vampire doesn’t have a heart in his chest. This obviously worries Bruce and Alfred, who peace the hell out to regroup and come up with a plan of action. And once they lock themselves in the attic, Bruce’s memory finally jogs and he remembers why he knows the name Gustav Decobra. Apparently Decobra was a gifted physician in the 1800’s who claimed to know the secret of heart transplants. He was laughed out of academia, and mysteriously vanished after swearing that he knew more about the heart than anyone ever would. So, logically, Batman surmises that he continued his research by grave-robbing until he was caught by vampires and turned undead. Duh.

So, with the knowledge that Decobra’s heart isn’t in his chest, and after rattling off everything they know about vampires, Bruce is ready to take down a vampire. Which is good timing, because just as they’re getting ready to go back downstairs and attack Decobra, he comes through a hole in the attic as a bat. He transforms back into a human, and starts brawling with Batman. The fight lasts a long time, and they end up crashing all through the house, all while Batman tries to find a pulse on Decrobra. However he just can’t find one. But, he does notice that as they fight, a big old grandfather clock in the room starts to tick faster and faster. So, going all in, Batman grabs a bow and arrow that they found in the attic and fires the arrow at the grandfather clock. And he guessed correctly. Apparently Decobra somehow put his heart in the clock, making him invincible. Until Batman broke the clock. So Decobra starts screaming, and is quickly turned to a skeleton. Bruce and Alfred then get water…from somewhere, and head out into the dawn, never to speak of this again.

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Holy crap everybody. Did we all just see that? Batman just broke into an obviously haunted house, met a vampire that I’m almost 100% positive is modeled on Christopher Lee, barely was stunned, and battled the son of a bitch to the death before killing it with an arrow to a clock. And I don’t know about you, but sometimes that’s all I need in my comics. Yeah, I can ramble on here on and on about how I prefer my issues of Detective Comics to have actual detection in them, and that I prefer the World’s Greatest Detective aspect of Batman to all his other forms, but c’mon.  Batman just dueled a Nosferatu! What more can you ask for?! And the best part is, they did basically nothing to explain it! Apparently vampires exist! You just kind of have to deal with that. And we really didn’t get any corroboration on Batman’s complete guess that Decobra was jumped by vampires while robbing a grave to do crazy heart experiments, so I guess we just have to assume that that was accurate. But why was he in that coffin with a solar-lamp confining him? I assume someone else put him in there, and then just left. I guess! And once they vanquish him, they just leave! They don’t even seem bothered! Hell, Alfred just seems annoyed that they’ve been there so long! Folks, this is why I love comics. I read this issue with a big old smile plastered on my face the whole time, and I’ve been laughing to myself practically the whole time that I’ve been writing this article. In these dark days, sometimes you just need to sit back and appreciate the little things in life. Like Batman fighting vampires.

Heart of a Vampire” was written by Elliot S Maggin and penciled by Mike Grell, 1976.

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