Detective Comics #407 (January 1971)(cover by Neal Adams)
Frank Robbins-Neal Adams/Dick Giordano
Doug: Here we are, back with another Man-Bat tilt in the pages of Detective Comics. About two weeks ago I set out to review 'tec #400 and then realized, in all my glorious senility, that I'd already reviewed it! So I flipped through a few pages in my hardcover copy of Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams, volume 2, and found the next Man-Bat story -- 'tec #402. The last story was so good, and had a nice cliffhanger (Man-Bat laying unconscious on the floor of the Batcave), so I wanted to satisfy my own curiosity. And hey -- by today's title, you can see that one of true loves in the life of a BABer is coming up. The rubber mask.
Doug: If you'll recall, back in Detective #400, Kirk Langstrom got himself into this mess while creating a bat exhibit for the Gotham City Museum of Natural History. On this day, as Batman peruses the newspaper he finds that Langstrom's work is finally set to be unveiled to the public. Even more attention-grabbing is the next paragraph in the story where the writer tells that Langstrom will marry his childhood sweetheart, Francine Lee. Batman's off to the church as quickly as he can go. I found it odd that on the way, Batman thought to himself that Langstrom was "the deluded genius who secretly turned himself into a Man-Bat!" OK, I suppose Langstrom did do it to himself, and I suppose it was his fantasies of being like the Batman that caused him to research the possibilities, but what struck me about this line was Batman's former sympathy and genuine concern for Langstrom in the previous installment of this story. As the clergyman is about to pronounce Langstrom and Lee husband and wife, the Dark Knight swoops in and grabs... you guessed it -- a rubber mask off of Langstrom's head, exposing him as a Man-Bat!
Doug: Man-Bat took off to the heights of the cathedral, while his would-be bride burst into tears. Batman asked her why she was so upset -- that surely she could not have thought of going after Langstrom in his present form. Francine told Batman that if he thought her love for Langstrom ended that night not too long ago, he was wrong. The Dark Knight then thought back to that fateful night in the Cave, when Langstrom lay prostrate on the floor, his head battered by the closing door to the Cave as he'd sought to escape. Batman, knowing Langstrom had wanted an antidote to his present condition, took it upon himself to try to duplicate the serum. But where he went wrong was in talking to himself as Langstrom came back around. It would seem that the Man-Bat took exception to being called a "creature" -- the blow to the head had unseated Langstrom's former consciousness and left him an angry Man-Bat, now seeing things quite differently than he had only hours earlier. This Man-Bat saw Batman as inferior to him as a man, and as a bat. This Man-Bat had animosity on his mind.
Doug: Batman's alarmed at Langstrom's last comment as he left the Cave -- that he wanted to be a Man-Bat. Knowing he could not talk Langstrom down in the current state of affairs, Batman left the Cave to get Francine. Perhaps she could coax her fiancee from the shadows. But it was no go -- Langstrom had evidently fled the Cave through the same crevice he'd used to enter. Batman dropped Francine back at her home, and left a phone number at which he could be reached in an emergency. But soon after their parting, Francine heard scratching on her window pane. It was the Man-Bat, silently asking her to let him inside. She complied, and Langstrom started right in with a challenge to her -- could she look at him without being repulsed? She said yes, and leaped into the arms of the Man-Bat. But she hinted that she wanted him to change back to a human form; this angered Langstrom and began to show us the deepness of his mental changes. She offered to call the Batman for the antidote, but Langstrom ripped the number from her hands and destroyed it. Not only was he volatile, but borderline hostile. He asked Francine to unequivocally prove her love for him.
Doug: Francine was charged with going to the Museum and presenting the director with a request from Langstrom -- feigning illness, Langstrom had written a note requesting that Francine have access to his laboratory. The director complied, and Francine was able to gather a large case of materials to bring to Langstrom. We're not clear as to what exactly she brought, but let's just say that the next time we see Kirk Langstrom he is no longer a Man-Bat but his old self. You guessed it again -- the BEST rubber mask ever crafted! You get a look at that Man-Bat dude's ears? How in the world would you tuck those under a rubber mask?? So Langstrom goes to the Museum himself, and greets his boss. He requests to be able to finish the exhibit and then promptly slams the door in the guy's face. Once inside the gallery, he removes his mask and talks to the stuffed bats as if they were real. Bonkers...
Doug: Back at the cathedral, Francine finishes relating this chain of events to the Batman. She says that she is going to call Langstrom back to the altar and marry him. Batman tells her that her marriage would be a mockery; and then I think Frank Robbins left the typewriter and Bob Haney sat down, because Francine suddenly removes a rubber mask to reveal that she is a She-Bat!! Holy Coyote-Ugly, Batman -- it's the NEW best rubber mask ever crafted! The Dark Knight recoils in shock, as Francine's leathery arms suddenly appear from beneath her long-sleeved wedding gown. She takes to the shadows high in the cathedral's rafters, looking for her mate.
Doug: Batman barely evades a huge chandelier sent crashing his way by Langstrom, and then tries to figure out a way to get to the two bats before they fly off. Our hero truly wants to help them, but if they get out of the church, his chances are about nil. He quickly elevates to the bell tower -- the only place with open windows. As he arrives, Francine attacks from below by ringing the bell, throwing Batman off-balance. At about the same time Langstrom attacks, making Batman drop the vial of antidote he'd carried. But in a desperate effort to reacquire it, the Caped Crusader stretched his arm as he'd never stretched before and grabbed it. Taking it strongly in his right hand, he was able to jab it into Langstom's leg. As Francine moved in for the supplemental attack, he swung the needle at her, also connecting. The two bats fell to the landing of the bell tower, and slowly began to revert to their human form. And with their change in form came a change in their psyches. They were human again, and Kirk apologized to his fiancee for what he'd put her through. The Batman had been successful in his goal to heal Dr. Kirk Langstrom.
Doug: Although separated by eight issues and seven months, this 3-parter was really a lot of fun. As I remarked in my previous review, I had no prior experience with Frank Robbins' writing, but found him more than capable in handling the adventures of the Dark Knight. Of course I poked fun at the big reveal of Francine, but Neal Adams' rendition of that scene was just great. Really, we could perceive the Man-Bat character as a horror derivative, and Adams really hit a home run on that single panel. I'd recommend this "series" to anyone who digs Man-Bat; for most of us, I would guess our main exposure to the character came in the pages of The Batman Family. And oh how I wish I still had those in my collection!