Hey everyone! I’m Cam, one of the new guys on the Batman New Team. I’m still reeling from somehow making it through a comically tragic series of clerical errors very long and very grueling application process, but I’m super glad to be on a team full of wonderful people who love comics just as much as I do! The Batman News Team has been very welcoming and nice to me, and I definitely don’t just feel like the greenhorn who gets saddled with the-
Alright, that’s cool. That’s fine. Can’t do Nightwing on my first day, I get it. I don’t have the clout for that.
It’s just… Man-Bat? The guy that was created when Frank Robbins was REALLY drunk one night and said “Hey. You know Batman? What if we switched his name around and then made that a bad guy?” THAT Man-Bat? There’s no possible way this could be good or anything, right? No sense of cosmic irony that would take all these negative things I’m saying and bring them back to bite me in the ass, right?
Oh no! A page that proves me wrong! What cosmic irony!
Alright. Joking aside, it’s safe to say I really loved this book. The writing was phenomenal, exploring a side of Man-Bat I always felt was underutilized: the effect of a literal performance enhancing drug on a very desperate and very unstable man. I am fascinated by the idea of Kirk developing an addiction to the serum, rather than his reappearances as Man-Bat being leftover serum causing him to change at random. This, coupled with Kirk’s internal dialogue with the Man-Bat, also provides a very welcome third dimension to the character. It is made clear that Kirk still wants to help people, and dreams of being a hero, and the way that the Man-Bat side of him latches on to that provides a neat and compelling motivation for the character. This is shaping up to be a nice leadup to the Man-Bat we see on Justice League Dark.
As for the actual plot of the issue, it’s pretty standard “anti-hero wants to be a better man but he can’t yet because he’s the anti-hero” fare, but writer Dave Wielgosz brings a level of depth to the anti-hero archetype that isn’t typically seen. Kirk isn’t just a vigilante that doesn’t care if he kills people, a la Red Hood, The Punisher, Black Adam, etc. He’s a man who, despite all intentions to do the right thing, consistently fails. The best part, though, is that he keeps trying. I look forward to seeing Man-Bat’s hard journey to self improvement pay off and watching Kirk grow as a person.
The issue begins with Kirk fighting with his wife. His obsession with perfecting his serum and being the Man-Bat has driven a wedge between them. Par for the course for Man-Bat so far, until… Francine leaves him. In an honestly refreshing take on their relationship, she’s tired of being put through the trauma of Man-Bat, tired of dealing with Kirk’s addiction. And it IS an addiction. We get some nice character building with an internal dialogue between Langstrom and the Man-Bat, with the latter using Kirk’s desire to help people and be a hero as leverage to convince him that he needs the serum. It’s heartbreaking stuff, and genuinely made me feel for Kirk for what is probably the first time ever.
The action kicks off as Man-Bat swoops down on some thugs, who are a part of the Blackout Gang, a group of criminals that Man-Bat helps stop in his first appearance way back in Detective Comics #400 which is a pretty cool callback. Speaking of callbacks, this issue features something I personally haven’t seen in a long while: Man-Bat talks. He’s less coherent than his first appearance, but giving Man-Bat the ability to speak opens up legions of possibilities for character moments down the line, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Wielgosz does with this. Batman inevitably shows up to stop both the goons and the large bat monster, and something interesting happens here: Batman is depicted as a semi-villain of this story! Their conflict eventually leads to a moment that got me genuinely hyped for this series, but I’ll hide that in the spoiler tags below.
These five panels legitimately made me sit up straight when I read them. I mean, holy crap. I know I ragged on the “leftover serum” gag earlier, but having it be a conscious choice made in conjunction with the Man-Bat personality in his head, giving in to his addiction, is just… So COOL.
Unfortunately, despite all of the thematic and narrative triumphs of Wielgosz’ writing, there are a couple bumps in the dialogue department. Man-Bat, in particular, says some things towards the end of the issue that confused me. There’s a panel in which he says “Don’t give your life up for a dead man,” and it’s not really clear who he’s talking to. Batman himself also has some pretty formal dialogue. None of these problems were book-ruining, but they did jerk me out of the story when I got to them.
The art in this issue is REALLY solid. I’m a big fan of the way that Sumit Kumar is using lines throughout the issue. That might sound dumb at first, but hear me out. Take a close look at this set of panels:
See those lines near the utility belt and face? That’s a shading technique known as crosshatching, and I love it. It gives this whole issue just the right amount of a gothic, wild vibe (and this might just be me here) for a modern day monster story. But that’s not all. See how Batman’s cape is made almost entirely of vertical lines? That’s a conscious choice, just like how wearing vertical stripes can make you seem slimmer and taller. Kumar uses the opposite effect for Man-Bat throughout the issue, using horizontal lines to emphasize just how big the creature is, and makes its fur consist mostly of a lot of sharp, diagonal lines to capture his wild nature.
Personally, I think this works massively to the advantage of the book, making it a delight to look at.
It’s not just lines, however. Romulo Fajardo Jr. uses color excellently throughout the book. As you can see in the above panels, he’s a big fan of contrasting colors, which he uses to make things really pop from the page. He even uses the idea of contrast in the scene where Kirk gives in to the Man-Bat, changing from a soft green to a very hard, dark red. I may be reading a little too much into this, but red and green are opposite colors on the color wheel, and I think it’s a fantastic way to showcase the dualistic nature of the Man-Bat transformation.
The lettering in this issue, done by Tom Napolitano, is also nothing to scoff at. If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s monster speak.
I absolutely LOVE when monster characters get cool and weird word balloons, and the fact that this carries over into the internal voice is just the cherry on top.
- Reimagining characters is what you live for.
- Sympathetic villains on the path to redemption are your type.
- You like pleasant surprises.
- You’re cool and could sit with me at the lunch table.
I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t expecting this book to be good. Fine? Yeah. Okay? Sure. But GOOD? I would have laughed in your face. I’ve never been happier to be wrong. This book is shaping up to be a fantastic arc for Kirk Langstrom, and manages to keep him compelling while still making you wary of the fact that he is half literal monster. I’m personally looking forward to the rest of this series.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.