Shiny Shelf

Batman & the Monster Men

By Mark Clapham on 10 December 2005

If I go for too long without reading a satisfying Batman comic, my flesh begins to itch.

Well, not quite, but with a minimum of four regular monthly titles starring Bats being published for as long as I can remember, alongside numerous spin-offs, mini-series and guest appearances in other titles, I’m used to very regular Bat-fixes. He’s my favourite comic book character – has been my entire life – and it shouldn’t be too much to expect that out of the many titles DC publish featuring Batman, there should be plenty to read.

Unfortunately, of late none of the regular titles have quite hit the mark. ‘Batman’ is a series of overlong, albeit impressive, action sequences with a plot that constitutes a lot of continuity based shock moments. ‘Detective Comics’ has spent the last year dominated by ‘City of Crime’, an eccentric, grim conspiracy epic by ‘Stray Bullets’ writer Dave Lapham that has never quite taken fire in the way it should. Meanwhile, ‘Gotham Knights’ is currently a villain book, focussed more on the plots of Hush than Batman himself. Between these three books, all the constituent parts of a great Batman comic are there – shame they’re spread across separate titles.

With Batman’s adventures in the wider DC universe dominated by tiresome ‘Infinite Crisis’ related antics (and Geoff Johns’ inability to realise Batman was right about Hal Jordan all along), that leaves no solid title that scratches that Bat-related itch.

Matt Wagner’s ‘Dark Moon Rising’ project is two, six-part mini-series adapting some of the earliest Batman stories into current continuity, set shortly after Frank Miller’s ‘Batman: Year One’ origin story. The first mini, ‘Batman & the Monster Men’ adapts a story from 1940 featuring Professor Hugo Strange creating towering monsters from mentally ill men. As opposed to the pantomime villain of the original, Wagner’s Hugo Strange is motivated by a desire to improve the human race, distressed by his inability to create anything other than monsters and stealing to fund his research.

Wagner reinterprets the story as Batman’s first experience of dealing with superhuman villains after his first year of fighting Gotham’s mobs. He thinks he’s making progress against the crime families, and Bruce Wayne has begun a relationship with Julie Madison. There’s the possibility that Batman may not be needed and Bruce can live happily ever after – a possibility that the rise of a new generation of freakish villains will inevitably crush.

Wagner writes a rock-solid Batman story with detection, fights, grotesque crimes and a minimum of continuity or other distractions. There’s no Robin, no huge supporting cast, just Batman, Jim Gordon, Alfred… everything that viewers of ‘Batman Begins’, or indeed anyone with a casual knowledge of the property, will be familiar with. In spite of expanding the original story from twelve pages to six issues, it’s a tautly scripted comic that plays to the strengths of the character. I’ve never been a big fan of his painted covers – for some reason his figure-work in paints always seems distorted and stumpy – but here his work is clean and atmospheric, with great colours from the ever-reliable Dave Stewart.

A bit brutal, quite nasty and with a lot of action, this hits all the marks for a good Batman comic. The first two issues are out now.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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