Justice League: Gods and Monsters – Batman #1: “Hunger”
Story by J. M. DeMatteis and Bruce Timm
Written by J. M. DeMatteis
Illustrated by Matthew Dow Smith
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Saida Temofonte
As far as DC Animated features go, the build up to Justice League: Gods and Monsters has been pretty in depth. In addition to a web series, there are also four separate comics being released to dig into the characters’ back stories and accomplish some world-building.
What’s nice about each of the comics is that they read completely differently from one to another. While the Superman issues were most successful at fleshing out the title character’s backstory, the Wonder Woman story did the most to lead in to the main conflict of the main series, and the standalone Gods and Monsters book actually brought the heroes together to give us the Justice League that was promised, the Batman issue most effectively evokes a mood and contextualizes and grounds the character as introduced in the shorts. They all read best together, and while I felt this book had the least ties to the others, that actually makes it stand on its own much better than the others.
In this world, Batman is Kirk Langstrom, who in general continuity is the Man-Bat. Here, he is a scientist as before, but undergoes an experimental procedure to combat lymphoma. This, in turn, causes him to become a vampiric creature.
I do like the idea of Langstrom being Batman, and welcomed that readily, but the vampiric aspects initially put me off. That’s more from my own personal feelings that vampires, zombies, and other horrific creatures have been a bit played out in pop culture. That, plus the fact that we’ve had Batman as a vampire before, made me a little leery of this imagining, but I was surprised at how well characterized he is. He doesn’t want to have a bloodlust, so he’s a bit reminiscent of Marvel’s Blade in that respect, he has some parental issues, and his rage causes him to act rashly at inopportune moments. Plus, his character design is pretty slick, so that’s just a bonus.
Rather than following a straight story, the narrative focuses more on themes than a sequential plot. That’s not to say there isn’t an overarching story, but instead Langstrom focuses on different events and how he reacts to them as a creature of the night.
Early on, he stops an abusive husband, but is taken aback by the look of love in the wife’s eyes. Even though he wasn’t the least bit lovable, she still found a way to, and Kirk is almost troubled by this. This is echoed later as he befriends the son of Lew Moxon, a mob head in Gotham. (Coincidentally, Moxon featured heavily in another Batman story I just read, Len Wein’s The Untold Legend of the Batman. Historically, he’s been the mobster who hired Joe Chill to murder the Waynes, and while the story is interesting, I can’t really recommend you read it)
After taking care of the perceived threat of Moxon, Langstrom notes the same look in the eyes of his widow that he saw in the abused woman from earlier. He also notes that Jeremy, Lew’s son, is a man of compassion and decency despite his father. These observations allow for a really interesting study of justice and human nature, with Batman wondering how doing what he sees as the right thing can still leave people angry.
Joe Chill himself makes an appearance that’s actually pretty silly, but it allows for a pretty decent action piece, which this book is surprisingly light on. The main focus of the last half is on the friendship between Kirk and Jeremy, and its a shame that the story almost peters out to a predictable conclusion, but the mood and tone of the book is more important than the plot. This is enhanced by the gothic, moody artwork by Matthew Dow Smith.
The heavy inks can get a little muddy, but the images perfectly complement the macabre nature of the story.
In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It’s not a masterpiece, but as a character study it works well enough that I actually want to see more of this version of Batman in the future. And really, that’s what comics should do.
- You like different, Elseworlds-esque takes on familiar characters.
- You’ve seen, or want to see, the movie it accompanies.
- You like vampires. And zombies. And family turmoil.
- Hey, welcome back Bruce Timm!
Overall: Flawed, but respectably so. It’s an interesting take on Batman, and the different dynamics at play make it a nice character study rather than a straight-up superhero tale. Read it in context with the other books and it paints a broader, more complete picture. That said, I’m intrigued and wouldn’t mind a longer mini focusing on this Batman.