Monday, May 19, 2014

On the Wings of the Man-Bat - Detective Comics 402, + Alex Ross Does Batman '66

Detective Comics #402 (August 1970)(cover by Neal Adams)
"Man or Bat?"
Frank Robbins-Neal Adams/Dick Giordano

Doug: Often Karen and I joke to each other, and even to our readers, how bad our memories have become. Well, today's a case study in that for me. About three months ago I scheduled my individual reviews through the spring on alternating Fridays (NOTE: due to scheduling necessitites, this post was adjusted in our queue to run today), as has become my custom. I had been thinking about doing some more Neal Adams Batman, and thought -- "Wow -- Detective Comics #400 would be perfect!" So I set it up, added the cover and the creator credits, and then forgot about it until late in April. One night I got out my copy of Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams, volume 2 and began to read that issue. It looked awfully familiar -- moreso than it should have, given the last time I thought I'd read it. Well, there's a reason for that. Into the first autumn of this blog's existence, Karen and I began to do "BAB Two-In-One" reviews, where we'd each take a look at a book in a short review. You guessed it -- back in 2009 I reviewed 'tec #400... and completely forgot that I had! So, while I can't bill today's review as one of "Doug's Favorites", it is the sequel to that first Man-Bat story, and should serve us well in seeing the character fleshed out.

Doug: I'll be reading and scanning from the aforementioned Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams, volume 2. As has been mentioned before, Adams recolored every cover and story in the book, so be sure to leave a comment on that at the conclusion of today's review. I'm wondering if, given the characters involved in today's yarn, we'll like it better than we often do.

Doug: We open in a dark storeroom inside Biochem, Ltd. Some hoods are on the floor, attempting to crack a safe. Unbeknownst to them, a figure hangs from the rafters, watching their every move. That figure is one Kirk Langstrom, the Man-Bat. Langstrom has come here, too, to get some chemicals that he hopes will serve as an antidote to his new "condition". As the baddies open the safe, Langstrom prepares to descend on them -- just as his idol, the Batman, would do! But speaking of the Batman -- guess who enters the room? You guessed it... the Dark Knight storms through a window and disrupts the drug heist. Man-Bat is beside himself -- he was prepared to take what he needed and go about his business. This now complicates matters. Man-Bat decides that if he doesn't move, Batman may defeat the criminals and close the safe. So he drops from the ceiling, just as Batman is collared by the gang. Langstrom's presence of course tips things in favor of the "good guys" and the two Bat-Men win easily. Batman greets his new "friend", recalling how they'd teamed just a short time earlier at the Museum of Natural History. But Man-Bat isn't in the mood for talking -- he's distraught, and tells his hero that he himself came for something in the safe. Batman takes exception to the idea of stealing, and even when Man-Bat shows that he has cash to leave on site, Batman still hassles him. The two tussle, and Batman tries to remove the "mask" of the Man-Bat. You know what happens -- it's real! Langstrom begins to break down, yelling that he never wanted to become what he is. And then he uses Batman's distraction to cheapshot the Caped Crusader.

Doug: As Langstrom knelt over the fallen Batman, he envied his "foe" for being able to stay a man once out of his Bat-disguise. With the booty in tow, Langstrom bolts from Biochem, Ltd. and heads back to his headquarters -- the Museum. Letting himself in with a key, Langstrom heads for his lab. Batman recovers pretty quickly, but can't discern what is missing from the safe. He wonders to himself just what he's come up against. Meanwhile, Langstrom's fiancee has arrived and is being held up by a security guard. The guard explains that no one is permitted inside the Museum after hours except Dr. Langstrom -- no exceptions. But Batman arrives, and hears Ms. Francine Lee's story of Langstrom feigning a trip to Chicago to see his sick mother; his sick mother who was never sick! Batman says he thinks he knows what is going on.

Doug: Up in his lab, Kirk Langstrom prepares to take the chemical he'd pilfered earlier in the evening. But as he cautions his optimism, he hears footsteps. Immediately Batman and Francine enter the lab. Langstrom starts, and drops the vial he'd held! Now hurt, dazed, and upset, he turns and leaps right through a 3rd-story window. Sure he'll be killed in the fall, Francine and Batman rush to the broken pane, only to see Langstrom light softly on the ground and sprint in the direction of Gotham's Central Park. Neal Adams does a fantastic job throughout these early scenes in conveying emotion on Langstrom's bat-like face -- fear, uncertainty, anger, etc. All feelings are evident and obvious to the reader. Francine turns to ask Batman why he thinks that was Kirk; Batman says that before the creature cried out, he could tell that his lips had mouthed the word "Francie"; Francine breaks down. But Batman picks up the bottle from which Langstrom had drawn his hopeful remedy -- he recognizes the chemical, and says that he has the ability in his own lab to duplicate it. He only hopes that he can find Kirk quickly, and swings away.

Doug: Batman soon picks up Langstrom's trail. He finds him atop a cliff in the park. Langstrom spies a bat, spooked from a tree. He marvels how it has a home, yet in flight is free. He wishes he could have that. Batman calls to him from below, and expresses his desire to help. Langstrom scoffs at his idol, and then launches himself off the cliff. Batman worries that Langstrom will kill himself, when suddenly Langstrom's trenchcoat begins to fall off -- revealing long leathery bat-wings! The transformation is complete: Kirk Langstrom has become a Man-Bat! Batman returns to Francine and breaks the news to her. He then calls the GCPD and asks them to issue an all-points bulletin for something they are not going to believe...

Doug: Man-Bat has fixated on the bat he'd seen in the park, and trails it. Kirk Langstrom wants a home, and following his "brother" is about as good an idea as he knows. The bat approaches a wall of rock, and disappears into a crevice. But the hole appears too small for Langstrom's humanoid form. But he twists, and squeezes, and finally manages to fit his body inside... and a gigantic cave opens before his eyes. It's a site that Langstrom quickly deduces can only be the headquarters of the Batman! Does anyone besides me ever wonder how they got that giant penny into the cave? But these were the days when Bruce Wayne had left Wayne Manor and the Cave behind for a penthouse HQ atop the Wayne Foundation building. Nevertheless, in order to duplicate the serum that could save Kirk Langstrom, the Dark Knight needed to be in the Cave's lab. As the Batmobile approached, the lights came up to full strength, and Man-Bat cried out in pain. A nocturnal creature, his eyes blazed. Then he remembered his sonar sense.

Doug: As the Batmobile enters the Cave, Man-Bat hones in on the opening in the cave wall. He takes flight toward that opening, coming into view of the car's headlights. Batman sees him, and worries that Langstrom will fly right into the car. Attempting to create a diversion, Batman slams on the brakes and leaps from the car. Unfortunately, Man-Bat had sensed the car and had taken evasive action -- on a flight path right into Gotham's Guardian! Both men tumbled, but Langstrom seemed to regain his senses first. As he took flight again, Batman grabbed onto his ankles. Up, up, they flew to the roof of the cave, when the Man-Bat wheeled and used his hands to break Batman's grip. Down, down fell the Batman, landing a bloodied mess. Man-Bat now flew straight for the Cave's opening; Batman thought that if Langstrom got out, there'd be no further opportunity to help him. Fingering the Batmobile's remote on his utility belt, Batman called the car to him, which in turn closed the opening in the wall -- just as Langstrom arrived. Crashing hard into it, the Man-Bat fell limp at its base.

Doug: Batman limped over to his quarry as quickly as he could, fearing the worst. But feeling a pulse, the Dark Knight knew he had to save Langstrom's life with the serum. But wait -- what if the severe blow Langstrom sustained had wrecked his mind? Would Batman cure him, only to leave him living as a vegetable for the remainder of his life? Batman fretted for a moment and then made the fateful decision -- even if Kirk Langstrom lost his quality of life, he'd do so as a man and not as a monster. Batman rushed to concoct the antidote.

Doug: That's it. This story was only a 16-pager due to the Robin back-up. So talk about a cliff-hanger! Wow -- but, dear reader (gotta talk like we're on the letters page of a Silver Age DC), fear not! The next installment of this now serialized adventure appeared in Detective Comics #407... which happens to be included in the very same hardcover I am using today! So rest assured -- at some point we'll revisit the Man-Bat. Shoot -- I can't wait to see what happens next! But in regard to this story, I'd be hard-pressed to name an art team better than Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. Hitting on all cylinders in this era, certainly. And I don't think Frank Robbins' script was bad -- I actually found it quite good. I'll freely admit to my prejudice against his work based on my feelings toward his art. But several readers, not to mention other commentators, have heaped high praise on his Batman writing. Sign me up -- this is good Batman writing! I hope you enjoyed this as well -- we know Adams has his detractors among our frequent commenters. As I said at the top, leave us a thought. Oh, and about the coloring? I thought its moodiness was perfect given the time of day and settings for the script of today's story.

PS: After writing this, I really did think it would be cruel -- on all of us -- if I didn't continue to review these adventures. This is a fun story! So, sit back and relax for a bit. My review of Detective Comics #407 ("The Bride of Man-Bat!") will run next Monday, May 26th. Can't wait!

Doug: I just saw this in DC's new solicitations. It's the cover to Batman '66 Meets Green Hornet #3, and is by Alex Ross. Thoughts?


Fred W. Hill said...

I don't have this particular issue but I do remember reading a Batman story featuring the Man-Bat a kid during this time-frame (my dad threw out a bunch of my comics in 1972 when we moved from Long Beach, CA, to Salt Lake City). My memories of the story itself are vague but I did like the concept. Funny that about a year later for the 100th issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Lee closed out with Spidey himself becoming more spider-like with 4 extra limbs and in the next issue faced off with his own bat-themed nemesis, Morbius, which led in turn to another confrontation with Spidey's original scientist into animal-monster-man, the Lizard!
Back to the Bats tale, simply beautiful cover by Adams and his usual great work within. I've a hunch that the Man-Bat was his idea, particularly as this didn't come out too long after he'd co-created Sauron over in X-Men. The Man-Bat seems such a natural to conjure up as part of Bat Man's rougues gallery but with the Marvelesque touch of making him sympathetic, seeking a cure for his condition, rather than an all out evil and insane villain.

Edo Bosnar said...

Good rundown, Doug. I'd like to see more reviews of these, as the only Man-Bat story drawn by Adams I'd ever read was the Power Records version, which is, I think, a mash-up of several of these Man-Bat features.

david_b said...

Ditto on Frank Robbins stories. I thought he was an unsung hero in returning Batman to the more traditional pulp crime/gothic stories in the early '70s. Pretty insightful, creative plots, which much like O'Neil on GL/GA, Robbins helped greatly carve a more distinctive personality on the Bat books for the Bronze Age from the more generic Silver Age mold. I suspect Robbins would have made a far better and distinquished name for himself in the Bronze Age if he hadn't picked up a drawing pencil on his Batman and (later) Captain America stints, although I acknowledge his loyal fanbase on the Invaders book.

Another classic Adams cover here, probably one of the best. It's a cover that NEEDS to be bought in VF+ condition and matted. Just a beauty.

(Sorry, had to delete/repost to further define Robbins' excellent writing qualities..)

Doug said...

No problem, David! We appreciate your loyal, daily participation.

Thanks, too, to Fred and Edo for their comments as well.

And wait until next week when Frank Robbins pulls a stunt we'd normally attribute to that Zany Bob Haney!


Dr. Oyola said...

I don't have much to add except that I have long thought of Man-Bat as a rip-off of Spider-Man's The Lizard.

dbutler16 said...

Doug, you think you have a bad memory? I read this (in BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS) about 8 months ago and remember very little. I do remember that the next issue had the wedding, though.

Doug said...

That issue is coming your way next Monday, Dave!

Osvaldo, I can see your point. Perhaps if the powers-that-be had stuck with Langstrom's envy of the Batman and played that up it might have distanced him from other characters who he might have resembled. I'd be curious to see if you have further thoughts after next week's review of Detective Comics #407 (the next Man-Bat installment).

Any feelings on Adams's recoloring? I know we've dealt with that topic many, many times, but wondered if there were fresh thoughts specific to this story? I think it's quite tolerable given the subject matter/characters/settings. But at the end of the tale, as I've remarked before, one does think, "Man, that was just a whole lot of brown."


Doug said...

Oh, and Fred? You're one of those unlucky ones with the thrown-out comics stories? That stinks!


Doug said...

As I've been saying over the past week, "In other news...", here's the brand new trailer to the GotG movie -- see what you think (is that Ronan the Accuser I spy near the beginning??).


Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, I know I'm on record as saying I don't like Adams' recoloring of his older work (as in, e.g., the original Ra's saga), but it's not as bad here.

And the new Guardians trailer is quite good; I love the songs they're using so far in the soundtrack ("Hooked on a Feeling" and the awesome "Spirit in the Sky"). These aren't MY Guardians, but man, this looks like it could be a fun movie - I just can't fin adequate words to express my delight that Rocket Raccoon is going to be in it.
And yes, that very well may be Ronan. I also spotted a brief glimpse of the Collector as well.

Doug said...

The computer coloring lends itself to moody settings. It would look terrible on an upbeat book like Amazing Spider-Man. For this story, and for some of the Tales of Asgard stories, it fits.

In toy news, I saw that the Marvel Infinite Series 3-pack exclusive at SDCC will be Starfox, Nebula, and Thanos (wearing the Infinity Gauntlet). Hmmm... movie tie-in?


david_b said...

LOVE the Ross print.

Wow and WOW.

All four leads never looked better. Wish we didn't have to look at over-the-top Roger C Carmel smack in the middle, but alas that's the episode they were in.

Colonel Gumm was the ONLY downside to an otherwise spectacular team-up.

Doug said...

Upon a re-watch of the GotG trailer, with my finger pointed squarely at "pause", I can report that Ronan the Accuser is indeed in the film. There's also a quickie of what looks to be the Infinity Gauntlet (at least it's a very large glove with some flashing lights around it) and there's another split-second shot of someone manhandling the Collector. Looks like fun!

But I miss Charlie-27 and the gang...


J.A. Morris said...

I'm not a fan of recoloring. Here's a fan-made "slide-show" of this issue if you want to compare the original colors to scans that Doug posted:

Fred W. Hill said...

Regarding my thrown out comics, yep, stinks, Doug, but at least it only happened the one time and before I got more seriously into collecting! To be fair to my dad, I don't think he did it to be mean, he just didn't seem to realize that they meant anything to me and I wanted to keep them. To him they were just one more box of stuff to get rid of while we were moving yet again.
As to Dr. O's comment, I certainly wouldn't regard the Man-Bat as "stealing" off the Lizard, but more of a variation of a riff, which the Lizard himself was, variations of ideas that go back to ancient mythology thousands of years old. Man-Thing & Swamp Thing were variation of the Heap which in turn was inspired by a Theodore Sturgeon novel, which in turn was likely inspired by folk tales about muck monsters. As long as the new creators can come up with sufficient differences to make the variations unique and tell good stories with them, that's all that matters to me.

Anonymous said...

Can't go wrong with Neal Adams and Dick Giordano! To me, the only other duo which compares is Byrne/Austin on the X-men. Hmm, gotta agree with Doug here - good thing Frank Robbins is plotting and not doing the artwork here! Truly legendary stuff.

Ross's poster looks good. We rarely see the '66 TV version of Batman rendered in comics or posters - it's usually the darker Frank Miller version we see most of the time, so this is a welcome change. Robin looks like he has his hands full with Kato here! Personally, I think Kato/Bruce woulda really layed the hurt on Robin/Ward - in the comics and in real life!

- Mike 'Biff! Sock! Pow!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Garett said...

Thanks for the review! Great art. After seeing J.A.'s video, I do prefer the original colors. The recoloring here is not terrible though.

Not a fan of the Ross painting here. Maybe it's after seeing the Adams/Giordano art-- Ross doesn't have their warmth or dynamism. Really like the drawings where Man-Bat is looking at the moon, then starting to fly, and the later panel where Man-Bat grabs Batman's wrists. Great angles, action, anatomy, inking throughout.

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