Batman: Castle of the Bat (1994)
By: J.R. McNamara on July 1, 2009  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Cover Art
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Jack C. Harris
Art: Bo Hampton
You have no doubt entered this review with a bit of trepidation. Why would Australia's most popular horror and cult site want to have anything to do with something as mainstream as Batman?

Well, even though he may be mainstream, Batman, at times, falls well within the scope of what Digital Retribution is all about: Batman is a comic about fear, revenge and retribution, and not only is the hero dressed in a manner to cause fear, his villains are designed to play on those same insecurities: The Joker instills coulrophobia; The Scarecrow uses fear as a weapon; Killer Croc is a monster that roams Gotham's sewers; Man-Bat is a werewolf, but changes to a bat-form instead of a wolf; Two-Face is a horribly scarred psychopath whose actions are based completely random... these aren't the stuff of kiddies comics, nay, these are the stuff of nightmares.

DC Comics, the publishers of Batman, have a wonderful vehicle to tell tales of their most famous character but with an enormous twist of some type. Similar to Marvel's comics 'What IF' tales, where questions like 'What if Spiderman had joined the Fantastic Four?' are asked, these comics, called 'Elseworlds' tells tales where at times the heroes are barely recognizable. Gotham by Gaslight told of a masked hero in 1888 whose antagonist was a mildly famous serial killer known as Jack the Ripper; Red Son, a comic that asked us what the world would be like if Superman had fallen to Earth in the Soviet Union rather than the American Midwest; and here we have Batman: Castle of the Bat, a story of the Batman told via Mary Shelley and the Universal and Hammer horror films.

The Castle of the Bat is set in Germany in 1819 and we see a traveler in horse and coach stopped by a masked villain, preparing to take the booty, or worse, but before the fatal transaction can take place, the Highwayman is descended upon by a demon that has the appearance of both man and bat. The coachman whips his horses and the coach takes off, leaving the brigand to whatever fate the bat-demon has in store for him.

Once in the safety of the village, the occupant of the coach, Doctor Gruber, rushes into an alehouse to tell the other drinkers of what he has seen. One of these drinkers is a University professor known as Bruce Wayne, who, upon hearing of the attacks, makes haste to his horse and rushes home to his faithful manservant Alfredo, a misshapen Igor-type who has been searching the woods surrounding the town for this 'Bat-Man'.

During a discussion between the two, we discover that 15 years ago, a rogue like the one who attacked the good Dr. Gruber tonight was responsible for the death of Bruce's parents, Dr and Mrs. Wayne, and upon their deaths, Bruce swore that he would become.... a doctor, like he promised his father he would.

As a doctor Bruce starts to experiment on the secrets of life itself, trying to find that 'spark' that makes a living thing alive. He eventually discovers it, and by combining the spark of one animal with another, he finds he can enhance the abilities of that animal. His most successful experiment is that of a Bat-Hound' which has the hunting skills of a dog, and the heightened senses of a bat, though as a drawback, the animal mutates into an amalgamation of the two.

After the university uncover his 'loathsome' experiments, and his dismissal becomes imminent, he discovers a passageway beneath his castle that leads directly to a storage room beneath the university, where he finds the brain of his father perfectly preserved, and upon some deliberation, decides that using his abilities to generate the spark of life, he should be able to restore his father. Using stolen body parts he eventually makes a body for the brain of his father, but as soon as the body is revived, it behaves erratically, like a monster, which Bruce decides is due to the damage his father's brain must have received during the violence of the robbery all those years earlier.

To overcome this setback he injects his father's brain with the spark taken from a Bat, which causes his father to change into some kind of Bat demon, and run off into the night...

Bruce's problems don't just lie with the escaped creature though, his imminent dismissal, and the arrival of his beloved from Naples all cause a gigantic upheaval of Bruce's existence, which becomes even worse when he starts to suspect a conspiracy involving all the elements that have made him who he is today...

Batman: Castle of the Bat is written by DC writer/editor Jack C. Harris and is painted by Bo Hampton. The writing is perfect for this type of story, it actually felt it could have slipped in neatly with the Hammer films around the time of The Reptile and Plague of the Zombies, but I had somewhat of a problem with the art. Normally I like Bo Hampton's art but I felt it was extraordinarily 'muddy' for want of a better term. Sure the tale is set in Germany in the 1800s and is supposed to have a cold, foggy feel to it, but I just don't feel it told the story as well as what the writing did. Still, it is a good read if you like the Frankenstein-type of tale.
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