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?