NOTE: If you haven’t read Batman #7 yet, go ahead and do so before you read further. You won’t be totally lost, and this issue of Nightwing stands on its own just fine, but it’s best to get the full story.
The Monster Men are here in the first big crossover since DC Rebirthed over the summer, and expectations are high. It spans the next few issues of Batman, Detective Comics, and Nightwing, unquestionably three of the strongest titles on DC’s current publishing slate, and it takes its cues from one of the earliest Batman stories ever printed. On top of that, this is the first story following the incredibly moving Detective Comics #940, and tensions among the Batfamily are understandably high enough already without a bunch of mutated creatures running around.
So, how is it?
And really uneven. But we’ll get to that.
Picking up right after the events of Batman #7, the Batfamily has split up to take care of two separate threats: an incoming hurricane, and Hugo Strange’s eponymous monster men. Batman, Batwoman, and Nightwing have stayed in the city to investigate the monsters while Orphan and Spoiler lead Gotham citizens to higher ground and safety in a cave system outside of the city. In one of the more clever twists, Clayface has split his form into multiple law enforcement types for crowd control purposes, even though the heavy rains are rapidly degrading the integrity of his mutations. It’s a nice touch, adding a valid “ticking clock”-type threat, and reinforces Karlo’s path toward reform and redemption.
Hardly anyone in the main cast gets much of a moment to shine, though, as Orlando (a gifted writer to be sure) attempts to tell both a B-movie “monster of the week” type story while also trying to show Bruce’s grief after the apparent death of Tim. Both paths have equally compelling storytelling potential, but without committing fully one way or the other the whole ordeal falls flat.
Credit where it’s due, there’s quite a bit that works. The main monster is designed beautifully, with a look that is as gorgeous as it is terrifying. Roge Antonio, whose work on the last few issues of Grayson I really enjoyed, draws a great comic: it’s cartoony and energetic, grounded enough that it isn’t abstract while retaining a type of buoyancy and movement that really catches the eye. Orlando also has a few great lines here and there, and it’s evident that he at least knows and understands the characters.
The problem is he tries to have it both ways with the goofy fun and the character-driven drama, and it just drags for long stretches. I know what he’s going for when Bruce selflessly throws himself in the path of the monsters, and I genuinely like beats like that, but when it’s preceded by a scene like this…
…the attempts at genuine emotion feel out of place. Don’t get me wrong, I welcome a Batman who is vulnerable, a Dark Knight with cracks in his normally stoic facade, a Caped Crusader whose desire is to protect others before himself. I just don’t feel like those more nuanced moments have as much of an effect as they would have had they been in a different story. I mean, this is called “Night of the Monster Men,” which carries an expectation of pure cheese, and there’s a scene where it’s revealed that Batman has literally turned every single lamppost in Gotham into a film projector. It’s goofy in the best possible way, but only when the script wants it to be.
Had this been played straight, with the heroes reacting to the weirdness of the situation head-on, it may have succeeded and, given that the story has just begun, it may get there still. Right now, though, this feels like a case of having your cake and eating it too, by taking two separate ideas, throwing them together, and leaving both sides lacking.
That’s not even mentioning the focus on Duke and Claire, who feel more like main characters than Nightwing does in his own book. Aside from the fact that “Duke and Alfred sitting in the cave and feeding answers to everyone” is kind of overused and takes almost all of the mystery out of every situation, their roles aren’t really that bad. In fact, Claire has a nice hero moment at the end that got me intrigued, but that’s the point: this is Dick’s book, yet he feels like a tertiary character. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure he had more to do in Batman than he does here. I won’t fault Orlando at all for having to juggle so many characters in this story, and nobody feels outright wasted, it’s just strange that the title characters get less to do than people who aren’t actually in the field.
Also, side-note: the use of names over the comms are wildly inconsistent. Batman got on to Spoiler for using real names instead of code names in Detective, but everyone (including Batman himself) flip-flop between the two. I’m as glad as anyone about not having to read “Penny One” anymore, but calling him Alfred in public seems like a bad idea, even if it is over a supposedly secure connection.
Anyway, this could be great fun, and at times it is; this could also be gripping drama, and at other times, it is. What it isn’t is consistent in the tone it tries to strike, and for a story about giant monsters rampaging through a city while Batman grieves one of his partners, a lack of consistency is the last thing you want.
- You read Batman #7.
- You’re ok with two halves of different good ideas.
Overall: Don’t get the wrong idea: this story never really gets bad, it just isn’t great. Alternatingly silly fun and compelling tragedy, Orlando never commits to one tone over the other and both stories suffer for it. The idea of the titular threat could be a great, goofy romp, and an exploration into Bruce’s fresh grief should be more moving than it is. The former doesn’t work with the gravity of the latter, though, and the latter doesn’t get nearly enough focus to actually feel genuine, so the whole issue just feels off. And for a story called “Night of the Monster Men,” this should be an absolute blast when it absolutely, though unfortunately, isn’t.