Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Detective Comics (Man-Bat) by John Layman issue #23.4

This particular Villains Month issue has less to do with Forever Evil itself and more to do with the backup stories on Man-Bat written alongside the Wrath storyline (from issues #22-24). Hell, it even picks up right after what happened in the last installment of the Wrath arc. If you've been following John Layman's run as dutifully as I have been then you should know by now that this man has a talent for supplemental stories. In some issues, his standalone material even surpasses his major arcs in quality and execution alone. I consider the Man-Bat subplot to be a very engaging story that grew on me in a rather unnoticeable way.

I never realized how eager I was to read its installments issue after issue. I never expected to care about Kirk Langstorm, but the New 52 version, together with Layman's meticulous characterization, has made me care A LOT.

My only encounter with Man-Bat as a villain is back in the pilot episode for Batman: The Animated Series and he left no discernible impression after that. This is why it has come as a shock to me to become emotionally invested on this character all of a sudden--and it happened because Layman took time and considerable effort to rewrite Man-Bat's history starting with Kirk Langstorm as a very sympathetic dude. From what I understand, the old version painted him as your garden-variety mad scientist who created a serum from the chemical composition of bats, tested it on himself, loved it, and then started loving it way too much that he became a bloodthirsty, chaos-seeking freak of nature.

This time around, since the special issue #19 story The 900 we meet Kirk Langstorm as your garden-variety do-gooder who actually discovered the bat-serum as a cure for hearing-impaired children (because bats have sonar hearing. I forgot the scientific specifics of his research, sorry). That alone was already tugging at my heartstrings (since I have a special-needs brother myself). That short piece ended with Langstorm sacrificing himself by taking the serum to stop a man-bat army (courtesy of Emperor Penguin) from infesting Gotham and murdering innocent civilians. His wife and fellow scientist Francine also takes the serum so she could find him and bring him home because the transformation really took a toll on him. So...it was quite a heartfelt, humane story. It's great that Layman decided to pursue it and, for three issues, I followed Kirk Langstorm and Francine as they battle the monsters within them that only come alive every time they secretly indulge with the bat-serum. For Kirk, it's a catharsis that allows him to feel free. For Francine, it was the opposite. She became vampiric thanks to the adjustments in the formula she's dosing herself in. She started terrorizing and eating people at night and it's up to Kirk to put an end to it. The Langstorm domestic dispute that follows was rife with drama and climactic confrontation where two people who love each other can suddenly turn into bats and beat the crap out of each other. It sounds absurd on paper but it's actually very poignant.

You can even view it as a metaphor for marriage rotting within in a sense that when there is deception and a lack of trust between partners, it puts pressure on both sides which can lead to seriously damaging effects in the relationship. At least that's how I've put meaning into it and it definitely enhanced my appreciation for the story itself. Anyway, I don't want to oversell this minor arc but I honestly recommend you start following this story because it's engaging, evenly paced and surprisingly contemplative and personal. This issue ended in an ambiguous way and I can't wait to know what happens next after such a crucial moment occurred.


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