Tom King takes it upon himself to introduce a new generation of Batman Fans to one of the oldest Batman stories ever told. And for that, I doff my cap to him. While I’m not 100% behind the idea of recycling and reusing past material, this book just presents way too many positives for me to get all hung up over my own personal biases when it comes to wanting complete originality. So, without further ado, let’s break this bad boy down.
I’m not kidding.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Hugo Strange and the Monster Men!!!!!!!!!!!!
So…do I really need to write anything else at this point in order to get you to pick this book up? I’m guessing not, but I’ll continue anyway.
I love Hugo Strange. Personally, I think he is one of the most underused and unrecognized of the Bat-villains. Allow me to explain. He made his first appearance all the way back in Detective Comics #36 (1940) and then 4 months later in Batman #1. Batman #1 is when the Monster Men were introduced, and that issue also contained three other stories. The first two Joker stories and the first Catwoman (The Cat) story. Considering that Strange shared the spotlight with two of the most known Batman foes of all time, and even predated them by 4 months, it always seemed unfair to me that he doesn’t share the same level of household recognition as the other Bat-villains. I guess one could attribute that to the fact that he doesn’t have a fancy code name or iconic attire like the Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, Penguin, Mister Freeze, Poison Ivy, or any of the others. But he is still just as cool as any of them (in my opinion). Aside from Doctor Death, Hugo Strange is also Batman’s oldest Super-Villain. Given that Strange and Death are both mad scientists, I should probably be thankful that Strange is at least used more often than Doctor Death.
While I am stoked to be getting some Hugo Strange, I need to play devil’s advocate for just one second. First, you can tell a whole lot more stories using Hugo than just Monster Men stories. Yes, Monster Men are synonymous with Hugo (and the parallel King is forming between volume one and volume three of Batman is a real joy), but Monster Men aren’t Strange’s only card. Strange has had plenty of other great stories over the years. So while I dig the idea of King reintroducing the Monster Men, there is still a small part of me that thinks it would have been nice to see something new. Second, while I am glad to see Tom King bringing this to a new generation, my method would have just been to recommend that you all go and read the older stories. The three that I pictured above are all awesome (details in the “Interesting Facts” section). Personally, I don’t get the world we live in right now. It’s all about what the next new/big thing is. What’s hot…what’s new…what’s happening. Reboots and remakes galore. Hollywood remaking every property in existence. I just don’t understand why people feel the need to create the same thing over and over. Is that really even creating? Granted, the Matt Wagner story is a remake, but at least he waited 66 years to do it. But enough of my rambling, you probably want me to get to the actual comic already.
Our story opens with Gotham and Gotham Girl battling Solomon Grundy. Personally, I’ve always seen Grundy as much more of a Green Lantern/Superman villain. Whenever he shows up in the Batverse, it always throws me just a little. The story, in conjunction with Batman, that I most commonly remember him from, is the Thanksgiving Day issue of The Long Halloween. It may very well be that they were trying to play up on our nostalgia from that story, because the same artist who did The Long Halloween also provided a variant cover of Grundy in the sewers. And that is right out of The Long Halloween. But I digress.
Over the years, Grundy has been displayed with varying levels of superhuman strength. Sometimes just beyond human limits, and other times, enough to give Superman a bad day. Given that Grundy is standing toe to toe with G&GG, it leads me to believe that his power levels are more towards the later at this point. So when Batman performs a one armed pile drive on this mountain of a man and then pins him under his boot, it kinda ruptured my suspension of disbelief. I can accept that Batman used Grundy’s momentum against him, in order to flip him, but how exactly was Batman holding him down? Logic aside, this scene was super cool. It showed super-powered people barely holding their own, and then Batman showing up out of nowhere (in the coolest way ever), and taking care of business like it was nothing.
This issue also gives us a better idea of where the story is headed. It’s not about supremacy. These people aren’t here to challenge Batman and take away his right to defend Gotham. They look up to him and want his guidance. They realize that Batman is “the man”, and this feels like untrodden territory to me, so I’m all for that.
Then we jump to the Batcave, and simply everything said and done is perfect. From the visuals, to the scenario, and right down to every line of dialogue uttered (especially Alfred’s dry wit). Everything is so on point, it’s like King was following a how to guide on constructing a Batman scene. I could see how some might say it was too perfect, but I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. I also know that some people will say that being late to/not wanting to attend a charity gala would be a copy of Batman Begins. But really, Batman Begins had that scene because it has been a staple of the Bruce Wayne persona for over half a century. It’s there because that’s how it should be, not because it’s copying something else. Bruce Wayne throws charities. Always has. And he never wants to do anything that will take away from his Batmaning time.
The only thing I didn’t care for in the Batcave/Wayne Manor scene was the dip he gave his dance partner. That, right there, is total Dick Grayson mannerisms. That’s not something I expect to see from Bruce Wayne. Bruce can be mildly charming, but his persona is often more reluctant than straight-up suave. It just feels off.
Then we get an awesome Police Headquarter rooftop scene, and just like the Batcave/Wayne Manor scene, it’s everything it’s supposed to be and more. I could go into detail, but then I’d just be describing every single thing that happens. Because that’s how much of it is honestly perfect. I’m so happy right now. I will share the end of the scene with you though:
Oh wait…haha. My bad. That’s from another comic. But it makes the same point. Batman has mad skills that even powers can’t contend with. When he pulls his famous disappearing act, G&GG don’t understand why they can’t detect him with their ultra-vision. For those of you wondering how that’s possible, I remember a nice little explanation that was given in Legends of the Dark Knight #1 (2012). In the story, Batman has to contend with Amazo, and he says, “When you can see through everything, you can’t see anything.” (Hmm. Maybe I read too many comics. I should probably get out more.)
Art for this issue is handled by David Finch, and I’m already seeing a decisive improvement in the quality of the work. If you read my last review, I felt that while Finch was doing a good job, I’d definitely seen him do better. This still isn’t his best, but it’s getting there. The only negative things that really stood out to me were a couple of Bruce faces that could have used some fine tuning. But then he gave me a shot of Batman crouched on a chimney, so I forgot all about it.
If that had been a gargoyle, it would have been textbook.
- Those lines coupled with the look on Gordon’s face is hands down the funniest thing I’ve seen in months. I’m seriously laughing while typing this.
Odds and Ends:
- Last issue, we had about five or six references to artist and writers spread throughout the story, with their names being used to identify shops and buildings. Here, Grant Morrison has the honor of getting one of the rooms in Wayne Manor named after him.
- Halfway through the book, Gordon gets a visitor at his office that says this. Personally, this was all I needed to get super hyped. The last page reveal was completely unnecessary for me and even less moving than it was probably intended to since I already had my freak-out moment.
- Above, I supplied three images of Monster Men. The first is from Batman #1 (1940). The second is from Matt Wagner’s (yay!) retelling of the 1940 classic, entitled: Batman and the Monster Men (2006). The third is from the 1977 run by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers (yay again). If you have not read any of these, please do so.
- Another must read Hugo Strange story comes to us from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight. It was a five part story from 1990 that originally appeared in issue #11-15. It was called Prey, and you can most likely find it collected in trade. Once again. Please read this. You won’t regret it.
Kinda looks like a string of snot coming out of his nose.
- You want to read a Batman story that gets Batman so right it’s uncanny.
While I enjoyed Batman #1, I loved Batman #2. This just hit so many beats perfectly. While some of it is definitely stuff I’ve seen time and time again, it was just done so well that I can’t really fault it for giving me what it did, since really, it had so much quintessential Batman throughout. I was also delighted beyond belief at the inclusion of the surprise villain. Thank goodness these comes out every two weeks now. I couldn’t wait a whole month to see what happens next.
SCORE: 9 / 10