Let’s get this out of the way right at the top…Man-Bat is ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. The basic idea was to take the name Bat-Man, a man who dresses like a bat and reverse it to Man-Bat, a bat who dresses like a man. That is – as I said – ridiculous. But Man-Bat is one of those Silver/Bronze Age concepts that are so in your face silly it goes full circle and over time has become borderline sublime.
In the hands of good writers and realized on the page with a unique (and at times horrifying) design, Man-Bat has become one of the caped crusader’s more interesting villains. He’s been given a detailed back story, familial and romantic relationships, as well as a mentor-ish relationship with Batman, and has generally become a well-rounded and sympathetic character. Albeit one that looks like a bat wearing pants.
In the new 5-issue min-series from writer Dave Wielgosz and artist Sumit Kumar, we find Kirk Langstrom (Man-Bat’s alter ego) hitting rock bottom. His wife finds that he’s been secretly using the serum that turns him into Man-Bat and after confronting him about it, she leaves. This sets Kirk off on a mission of redemption, he will attempt to be a hero and show her what kind of a man he is. This goes horribly wrong.
Batman intervenes, attempting to reason with Kirk telling him that the serum is making him more and more feral with every use and that at some point he won’t be able to change back, he’d be too far gone to be saved.
Kirk cannot be reasoned with, however, and so is taken into custody (for his own good) but dramatically escapes in a closing cliffhanger.
As a first issue Man-Bat #1 admirably gets right to the point. There is no extended setup and introduction, rather it quickly explains the premise and goes straight for the action. And the action is pretty dramatic as only a leathery winged rodent-human hybrid in torn jeans can provide.
The obvious takeaway here is the metaphor of drug abuse and addiction. Langstrom’s use of the serum and the way it affects him are blatant in its symbolism but never going too far, walking the fine line that keeps the theme poignant without becoming a parody.
And there are some nice details with Batman serving as a kind of sponsor and initiating a sort of intervention. As well as Francine (Langstrom’s wife) telling him as she leaves that she’s been moving her things out for weeks without him even noticing, showing just how far gone Langstrom is by the time the series starts.
And while I won’t go so far as to say this is groundbreaking in any way, the story is told well and the art is engaging that it goes beyond its inherently silly premise and tells a story that has the potential to be a compelling tale of personal trauma and weakness. It remains to be seen if this will turn out to be a redemption story or a tragedy.
That alone is enough for me to come back for issue 2.
written by DAVE WIELGOSZ
art by SUMIT KUMAR
cover by KYLE HOTZ
variant cover by KEVIN NOWLAN