Detective Comics #455
"Heart of a Vampire"
Writer: Elliot S! Maggin
Penciller: Mike Grell
Inker: Mike Grell
Editor: Julius Schwartz
DC Comics, 1976
by Terrance Griep, Jr.
This summer, Sally Ride—the first American woman to penetrate the stratosphere and champion of All Things Left Brainedly Feminine—engaged in one final space journey, known to the laity as "bucket-kicking." In conjunction with that final Ride, Doctor Sally revealed her gender identity by naming her (ahem, female) life partner in her obituary...and in so doing, Sally Ride breathed new life into an old controversy—that of coming out.
Coming out, of course, is that self-coronation wherein a person of the LGBT persuasion freely reveals said persuasion to the world, followed by something about toaster ovens, wash, rinse, repeat, forever and ever, hey-men. Any individual out-coming is considered by The Queer Elders, blessed be their show-tune-inspired names, a tributary in the popular flow of positive gaydom...but beneath that collective, gooey positivity a potentially dreadful undercurrent churns: that collective, gooey positivity costs each individual out-comer a measure of privacy, and not everyone is willing to take the trade. Various activists defend Sally Ride's right to that privacy, while others have attacked her, supposing that she "owed it" to the LGBT community to come out while alive...but terms like "alive" can be surprisingly relative, as can the terms "in" and "out," "good" and "sucky." These abstractions square dance through one of Batman's scariest-for-all-the-wrong-reasons adventures which unfolds like a Merkel-membraned wing within the pages of Detective Comics #455.
Therein, Bruce Wayne, abetted by Alfred the Boy Butler, breaks into a boarded-up, outskirtsy mansion in order to scare up some Jacuzzi juice intended for quenching the inhuman thirst of his limo's radiator. Once inside, Bruce accidentally disconnects an antique sun lamp that has shone for the last 100 years on a hollow, four-sided furnishing—84" x 28" x 23", with handles on the side—that Bruce, the world's greatest detective, identifies as a coff...ee table. Most readers will recognize it as a coff...in, and only the weirdest ones will have used such an implement for Sanka sipping and small talk.
An inhumanly thirsty radiator proves to be the least of Bruce's problems when he stands face to feast with an inhumanly thirsty vampire who emerges from the coff..ee table like the spookiest cup coaster ever, plus Bela Lagosi and times Anne Rice, freed by the antique sun lamp's eclipsing. A century-long snooze hasn't dulled the mantled monster's mind for expositional imperative, though, so the bloodsucker explains that, while alive, he was known as Gustav Decobra, whose name is a sly anagram for Dracuva betoGs. Perhaps succumbing to guano-oriented peer pressure, Bruce Wayne switches identities, and the battle of the bat-men begins!
Decobra engages in Flung Yoo, an Olde Gotham martial art wherein the artist picks up the artee and flings him into the nearest wall. First blood to the vampire, sure, but this maneuver turns out to be a bit of a bat-boner when the Caped Crusader, like some kind of supernatural MacGyver, thrusts the broken wall's sharpest crossbeam into the upper left chest of Decobra.
"I suppose, my dear, juicy mortal," the vampire sniggers, pulling the penisy pole from his pourus torso, "that a wooden stake piercing my heart would kill me—if you could FIND my heart!" Here the Dark Knight chooses the battier part of valor, correctly concluding that this is an ideal time to engage a chiroptocentric withdrawal. Batman and Alfred flap past a strangely-ticking grandfather clock as the Dark Knight retreats into the attic.
Batman proves more adept at remembering occult medical history than he is at distinguishing coffee tables from coffins, recalling that Gustav Decobra, in addition to possessing a name that's a sly anagram for Dracuva betoGs, was, a century hence, a pariah PhD who specialized in heart transplants. The Masked Manhunter speculates: whilst digging up graves for Highly Scientific Experimentation, Doctor Decobra must have proposed the decorpsefication of a tomb which served as the daytime address of a semi-human parasite...kind of like Kris Humphries proposed desinglefication at the daytime address of Kim Kardashian but with slightly-more-dreadful repercussions.
A flock of flying mice attack the attic in an atrocity what could only be described as revoltin', foreshadowing the arrival of Buford Summers Lincoln, the love child of those two famous vampire slayers, Buffy and Honest Abe. Ha ha, we wish, but not really—it's Doctor Decobra making a mouse call and thereby engaging Batman in a frenetic, kinetic fight that somehow causes the strangely-ticking grandfather clock to tick-tock-tick loud-louder-loudest.
Summoning his inner Queen—Oliver Queen, that is—Batman wields a bow-and-arrow-type-bow, using its nougatty center to thrust a wooden-tipped arrow into the clock's sproingy face, after deducing that Decobra has hidden his undead heart inside the wholly-dead clock, defying the laws of biology in the same way that hiding a childhood trauma in a bat-shaped cowl defies the laws of psychology. Decobra perpetrates the requisite flesh melt required of all executed vampires, even Frank Langella, and Batman and Alfred decide to take their chances with an arid radiator, rather than risk a potential attack from an undead cup coaster sleeping in a burnished appointment that Bruce would probably identify as a coff...in.
Identifying identity—gender and other identity—is, naturally, the core of coming out. It seems Sally Ride identified as a champion of All Things Left-Brainedly Feminine, first and last, and taking on other causes—like LGBT advocacy, beggin' yer pardon—might have run interference with that identification...but think, think, think of the society-wide education she could have tendered by coming out while alive. Doctor Ride might well have taught queer youth the value of inspiration and perspiration; she might have taught our straight brethren that big thoughts aren't just for breeders anymore, all while presiding over a classroom as big as everybody. A vast tutelage like that would have been extraordinarily rewarding to a self-identified teacher.
Coming out contributes to the popular flow of positive gaydom, true, but it also contributes to the emancipation and empowerment for the out-comer—a personal education, of sorts. So did Sally Ride owe it to the LGBT community to come out while alive? No, of course not...but she did owe it to herself.
Terrance Griep, Jr. is a writer on "Scooby-Doo," published by DC Comics. Based in Minneapolis, he is also very involved with the queer press, having written for "The Advocate," "Lavender," "QMinnesota," "Queue Press," "Seattle Gay News," and "Out." Speaking of "Out," he was featured in the February 2004 issue as his alter ego, wrestling bad boy Tommy "The SpiderBaby" Saturday.
Article copyright Terrance Griep. All characters © 1976, 2012 DC Comics.
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