03rd Feb2021

‘Man-Bat #1’ Review (DC Comics)

by Dean Fuller

Written by Dave Wielgosz | Art by Sumit Kumar | Published by DC Comics

I’ve always been a bit divided on the Man-Bat character. A great concept, and a character I personally do like, but one that has conceptual flaws. Firstly, he’s a bit of a ‘one-trick pony’. That is, Man-Bat stories always run the same way. Kirk Langstrom intends to do something good, is taken over by his ‘evil’ alter-ego, is then full of regret for being a misunderstood monster. Sort of a blend of the Morbius and The Lizard characters. Secondly, the identity crisis. Is he an anti-hero? a villain? a monster? a tortured scientific Jekyll and Hyde? All of these things? Usually it depends on the writer and the storyline, and poor old Kirk will be nudged in whatever direction they see fit. For me, on balance, he’s a solid supporting character, or recurring guest-star, and not one that can carry his own book. So that must be why I’m here reviewing his solo book….
But I digress.

We start with a quick character update, showing us exactly what Kirk is. A man corrupted by power. A scientist who genuinely wanted to help people, he developed a serum that turned him into Man-Bat, and it became the dominant factor in his life. As any addict does, he chooses the serum over his own wife, who leaves him. This being the perfect opportunity to sort out his life, Kirk instead doubles down on the victimhood thing. It’s all his wives fault he decides, she doesn’t see the good that Man-Bat can do, the genius that created it. Think of a Bruce Banner that fully embraced having created The Hulk, and wanted to be The Hulk all the time rather than Banner. That’s Langstrom. All that being said, Langstrom still believes he can be a force for good in Gotham, and heads out to take on a criminal gang.

Gotham, of course, is positively brimming with bats, and the daddy of them all shows up, Batman himself. Batman knows exactly who and what Langstrom is, a tortured but dangerous genius who inevitably creates more trouble than he solves. Batman helps Man-Bat take down the gang…is what Langstrom sees. The reality is different. Batman tries to get Man-Bat to stop interfering, and is responsible for what could have been a huge disaster in the middle of Gotham. Batman spirits the unconscious Langstrom away, before Gordon and Bullock can arrest him, and administers an antitoxin to return him to human form. Not only that, but Batman’s found a serious problem.

Langstrom is essentially dying. The serum has been mutating his cells over time, eroding his humanity and control, and will end with Langstrom’s brain just shutting down. Wielgosz writes Batman like a junkie’s friend, one who has been pulling his friend out of trouble for too long, and has had enough. Batman says this, how he has helped Langstrom rather than punish him, and his patience has run out. Langstrom doesn’t want help, he wants sympathy, and doesn’t accept that he cannot control Man-Bat. Batman decides this time Langstrom is going to Blackgate Prison, and turns him over to the GCPD. En route, though, Langstrom turns into Man-Bat, and escapes. This time, though, he’s attracted the attention of the wrong people.

When there’s something strange, in Gotham’s neighbourhood, who you gonna’ call?

Suicide Squad.

A better first outing than I expected, albeit a lot of the enjoyment came from the Batman guest spot. This obviously fits the criteria I mentioned earlier, that the Man-Bat character works better as a guest star or support character. Here, it certainly felt like a Batman book more than anything else, though obviously any book set in Gotham will. It was well scripted, with some nice interaction and exposition between Bruce and Kirk concerning their relationship, though the book itself was more of a scene setter overall. It certainly looks promising. The art was nicely stylised, a few influences on show in there, but worked nicely with the colours to establish a feel and look that meshed with the script. Good team for the book.

Although not quite shrieking with delight, or completely batty over it, for me this was a decent first issue for a decent concept series, enough to definitely get your teeth into.


***½  3.5/5


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