Volume Two of Neal Adams’ work was up next on “the shelf”, and I must admit, I was like a little kid on Christmas when I realized I’d get to read more of his stories so soon. I was enjoying the other stories from Crisis on Multiple Earths, but I was anxious to get back to some more modern forms of storytelling.
Volume Two continues in much the same vein as Volume One, with Adams’ illustrations leaping forward with their depictions of the caped crusader’s escapades around Gotham. Adams seems to have hit his stride with the character easily enough, bringing a new level of creativity to Batman’s adventures that still astounds me.
There were a number of memorable stories and illustrations in this collection, but my favorites by far were those that centered around Man-Bat, alias Kirk Langstrom. Langstrom is introduced as a scientist studying nocturnal creatures who decides it’s a good idea to ingest a bat extract (or “batstract”, because I love a bad pun), which has the terrible (though unsurprising) side effect of turning him into, you guessed it, a man-bat.
In earlier issues this would have been a far-fetched, comical storyline, destined to be remembered as a footnote in the Batman archives and nothing more. With a more acute storytelling technique, matched with Adams’ unique styling, the story instead takes on a life of its own.
From the first panel featuring Man-Bat, I sensed he would be a character worth remembering:
The sheer emotion, the abject terror on Langstrom’s face when he realizes what he has become inescapably draws you in. Adams managed to blend animalisic features with human emotions so seamlessly, moreso than I’ve seen in any other comics of the time. Every panel featuring Man-Bat made me want to keep reading, and drew me into the character’s story more and more.
The characterization present in Volume One as well as Crisis on Multiple Earths continues here, and once again in this way Man-Bat is the star. Rather than transforming into a clear-cut villain, Langstrom is shown as a tormented soul, attempting to find his place in the world:
Langstrom isn’t trying to be a criminal, he’s simply doing what he feels he has to in order to find a cure to his rather unique situation. He even goes so far as to bring money to this theft, leaving it in place of the goods he’s taken. This is a far cry from the standard thugs and mobsters usually seen in Batman, and makes the story all the more engaging because of it.
Man-Bat appeared in a total of three stories in this collection, and after reading his origin I can honestly say it’s one of the most engaging origin stories I’ve read so far. I enjoy reading about the happenstance criminals, those who’s situations drive them to desperate measures, yet who are pained by the decisions they are forced to make. I find these characters infinitely more intriguing than the one-dimensional “bad guy” so common in earlier stories. I’m hoping that as storylines develop over the years, more characters like Man-Bat crop up in the comics. Theirs are stories I would never tire of reading, and arguably find even more engaging than the superheroes themselves.
Comic development seems to be progressing quite nicely at this point, but we’re still not quite at the dark, ever-brooding dark knight many are familiar with. That much became clear when I came across this in the trade:
Yes, Batman had a Christmas special, in which no crime is committed and Batman spends the entire night singing Christmas carols with the entire police force. A part of me never wants this whimsical, childish side to leave the character. I know he develops into a darker anti-hero as the decades progress, but there’s something inexplicably fun and entertaining about images like this. It’s probably just the absurdity of seeing a vigilante crimefighter partaking in some good-natured holiday cheer. These aren’t images that one usually puts together. I find them greatly amusing though, and wish these would pop up randomly throughout the Batman comic, even if only as a throwback to his earlier crimefighting, cartoonish behavior. I’ll be curious to see as I get into the 80’s and 90’s how many of these little traits fall by the wayside and how many manage to hold on.
I didn’t want to finish this trade, knowing I have a bit of a gap before the next Batman collection on “the shelf”, as I prepare to delve head first into the Jack Kirby Omnibus. Mistah J has told me there are Batman trades on the shelf that I can always read in between the Kirby collections, but I am a purist (read: a psycho) and have to read the trades in the chronological order Mistah J has collected them. Even now, having only read a handful of trades, I find my mind wandering off, imagining how certain storylines played out, or how various characters were first introduced. Mistah J’s collection is extensive to say the least, and he’s constantly adding to it, but no comic collection could ever be truly complete, containing every single issue of every comic ever published. It’s inevitable that our interests would vary, or that I would want to know more about certain characters who don’t pop up on the shelf as often as I might like. There are plenty of comics ahead of me to be read, yet I already have a list of characters and stories in mind that I’d like to go back and read more of, whether Mistah J adds to his collection, or I start my own.
For now, I think I’ll focus on reading “the shelf” first, before I even consider branching out and starting my own collection.
*sigh* These comics really are going to take over my life 🙂