I always loathe when “There’s a new __Name A Villain_ and this one’s worse than the original!” or “_Name A Villain__ has a Father/Mother/Daughter/Son you’ve never heard of and they’re a villain now too!” and there’s a lot of both of those elements at play in issue #28 “Corporate Raider.” Fortunately, this somewhat predictable Man-Bat story happens to be illustrated by the great Ethan Van Sciver with colors by Hi-Fi and their visuals are off-the-charts! If you’re new to Man-Bat stories, this is a must-buy, but if you’re all too familiar with the Langstrom formula the art is what will have to sell you on it.
The story itself is the first in a 2-parter about another Man-Bat in town. Batman goes through the necessary DNA tests from a horrific crime scene and then pounces on Kirk Langstrom before seeing the results because, obviously, the mad scientist has to be involved in some way. But within a couple of pages we’re introduced to Abraham Langstrom, the father of Kirk and a powerful Gotham tycoon and arch-rival of Thomas Wayne we (and Bruce) are just now learning about now. It turns out he’s a really evil man who caused Kirk Langstrom to have a pretty sad childhood too, just like all the other villains who have earned a New 52 origin. For whatever reason, Abraham also admired Bruce even when the little Wayne was only a child (and before his parents were killed) although that doesn’t totally seem plausible. Every detail about Abraham’s thoughts, feelings, past, and future motivations are spelled out through lengthy inner monologue (both as a Man-Bat and as a human) and through the anecdotes told by Alfred and Lucius (some of which even overlap and we are told the same information twice). Plain and simple: Abraham Langstrom is a bastard who you’ll hate instantly and his new Man-Bat formula is the worst Batman has ever faced (yeah, right). One moment that totally didn’t sit well with me at all was when, in an effort to make Man-Bat sound like an even more imposing villain than he’s ever been, Alfred shakily admits that out of all of the rogues gallery it is Man-Bat who always terrified him the most. Are… are you sure about that, Alfred? Man-Bat has only existed in the New 52 for a few months and he didn’t do anything that evil. His wife did some nasty things but even that was sort of a non-event. On the other hand, Joker beat you unconscious with a ball-peen hammer and then kidnapped you and everyone you love– just sayin’!
I just don’t care for having everything spelled out for us and it simply feels like it’s a comic that’s trying way too hard to reinvent a villain who, frankly, has been totally overexposed for the past year. It started in Detective Comics #19 and it just hasn’t stopped! Man-Bat has shown up in nearly every back-up story in Detective Comics since then, had his own full issue, a Villains Month book, a vital role in Batman Incorporated, a large part in Arkham War, and he’s currently the main baddie in Batman Beyond 2.0. By the way, if you want to see Kirk Langstrom undergo some new developments in a way that works– read that!
No, where this book’s strength is in its action. That’s where you’re going to get the bang for your buck and that’s typically what most folks who pick up a Man-Bat story are there for in the end. It moves along at a nice brisk pace, sometimes the transitions are a bit jarring, but we have a monster fight to get to and when it arrives, it’s an enjoyable payoff. There doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot at stake, but it’s incredibly cool to look at. And that’s the big plus for the whole book– it’s gorgeous.
Ethan Van Sciver was definitely the best part of the Mad storyline and to have him on board for this Man-Bat short is a real treat. Man-Bat is gnarly, grotesque, and gargantuan. Imagine the best Man-Bat you’ve ever seen on the page and then picture what a baby between that and Spawn’s The Violator would look like. Ethan Van Sciver never shies away from adding as much detail as possible and there are some really cool layouts that showcase the transformation from man to monster and there was a simpler moment that had the panels overlaying a yellow batsignal, which I thought was a nice touch. The city looks rich and alive, all the characters are wonderfully expressive, Batman himself looks iconic (Van Sciver likes to callback to the original Bob Kane design by making the cape look more like organic wings) and Hi-Fi’s colors make it all pop.
If this is your first (or one of your first) Man-Bat stories then you’re going to be blown away by what Hurwitz and his team have cooked up. But if you’re a long-time fan who has seen Man-Bat confrontation after Man-Bat confrontation, you’ll likely just be picking this up for the artwork. It looks phenomenal.
- You love Ethan Van Sciver’s art. It’s far and away the comic’s best quality
- You never grow tired of seeing Batman struggle to prick a monster with a syringe
- You feel Kirk Langstrom’s origin needed further tinkering to tie him closer to Bruce
- …did I mention that the artwork is amazing?
Hurwitz tries to reinvent Man-Bat by tying Kirk Langstrom’s past closer to Bruce’s and introducing father Abraham Langstrom, a more sinister figure and a much bigger bat-monster. Ultimately it’s all rather familiar territory right down to the race for an antidote and the aerial-hand-to-hand fight over the city. You’ve seen most of this before, but Ethan Van Sciver’s artwork makes it all worth your while. His pencils will floor you even if the story isn’t all that original or meaningful.