“Night of the Monster Men,” the six-part Bat-Family crossover with Nightwing and Detective Comics, starts with Batman #7, scripted by Steve Orlando, who’s penning the rest of the crossover, co-plotting this issue with regular Batman writer Tom King. It also features pencils and inks by Riley Rossmo, colors by Ivan Plascencia (who previously has gone by “FCO Plascencia”), and letters by Deron Bennett. Is it good?
Batman #7 (DC Comics)
Cover By Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn
I was pretty unsure about “Night of the Monster Men” when it was first announced. It’s not that I didn’t like the creators involved. Granted, I haven’t read much by Steve Orlando, but I’ve heard great things about him, DC seems to like and trust him enough to have secured an exclusive agreement with him, and I respect the hell out of him for not only being one of the few openly gay creators at either of the big two, but for doing that Midnighter series that, as I understand, not only features a gay lead, but frankly depicts him with an active, non-monogamous sex life…in a mainline DC comic, no less! Plus, Lord knows that Riley Rossmo can draw.
No, I was more nervous because the whole effort seemed to reek of desperation. For one thing, it’s difficult for me to get excited whenever a superhero comic tries to “modernize” an older story. I have a real affection for the original “Monster Men” – no, not the Matt Wagner-written-and-drawn Batman and the Monster Men miniseries from 2006 (not casting aspersions on it, I just never read it), but the 12-page story from way back in 1940’s Batman #1, featuring the first appearance of supervillain Hugo Strange (not to mention little-known characters like Catwoman and The Joker that never seemed to find an audience), as written by Batman co-creator Bill Finger and (allegedly) drawn by (alleged) Batman co-creator Bob Kane with Jerry Robinson.
Variant cover by Tim Sale
That story is as rough around the edges as other Golden Age superhero comics that I’ve read, but it’s a fun, goofy adventure for what it is, as much as revisionist historians may like to believe that those early Batman comics were nothing but super-SERIOUS exercises in DARKNESS because Batman used a GUN (fact: all things considered, the Caped Crusader stopped using guns pretty shortly after that one, misunderstood panel) and it was like, NOIR and stuff (fact: the term “film noir” wasn’t even coined until 1946), even though the truth is probably that we only view those golden age Batman comics as grim and gritty because they preceded the Silver Age (which is not to say that they couldn’t have been dark for their time).
Anyway, at this point, there’s no real reason for this story to be retold. If you’re not using it to establish the experience as one of Batman’s first run-ins with an honest-to-goodness supervillain, what’s the point?
Well, as we’ve seen time and time again in fiction, a story doesn’t need to be “necessary” in order to be entertaining and have value.
And really, I was mistaken for assuming that this would be a flat-out retelling of the original story of Hugo Strange and the Monster Men in the first place. The basic concept of “Batman vs. Giant Monsters created by Hugo Strange” is still there, but that’s about it. So far, at least. This is only the first part of the crossover, so it may pick up more elements of the O.G “Monster Men” story later on, but at the moment, this is a story that could not have been told in 1940, and not just for the obvious reasons (better coloring technology, Steve Orlando wasn’t born yet, etc.).
No, this seems to be shaping up to be a story built on the way that Batman has settled into his role in this universe. When a seemingly impossible physical threat storms Gotham City, Batman must rely on his allies – even though, it would seem, they’re all in way over their heads. We’ve seen plenty of versions of Batman in which he’s a loner, whose reluctance to ask for help or show any kind of weakness is his fatal flaw. It’s nice to see Batman working as a team player, mentor, and leader again – which I have been delighted to see in the other Dark Knight books throughout DC’s Rebirth initiative.
Speaking of those other series, I want to circle back to that accusation I made earlier about this crossover reeking of desperation. It seemed a bit crazy to have an inter-title crossover just a few months after Rebirth and all the #1s that came with it started. Wouldn’t that disrupt the flow of the stories? Don’t the creators need more room to let their stories breathe? Doesn’t everyone hate having to pick up extra titles just to be able to keep up with the ones that they’re already following?
Look, I don’t know why this crossover was planned on a corporate level (besides, you know, the desire for money), but so far, it seems to be working the way that a crossover should. For one thing, let’s not forget that as easy as it is to hate DC’s aggressive new publishing schedule (unless DC finds a new Jack Kirby, they’re not going to find any artists capable of drawing two issues per month every month, which means that they’re not going to have the team dynamic that everyone loved about Snyder and Capullo’s Batman run), publishing a comic twice-monthly allows the stories to move faster. That means that both Batman and Detective Comics were able to complete their first arcs, and while I haven’t been following Nightwing, I assume that that is the case for that book as well.
In other words, each book involved has had time to establish its own unique voice. It helps that Orlando worked with King to plot the book, because it allows for a smoother transition from the previous issue. Nothing seems “off” about any of the characters or their voices, although Orlando certainly provides his own unique touches.
At the same time, anybody who hasn’t read the previous Batman issues can certainly pick up this book and follow along, provided they aren’t the kinds of readers that have difficulty picking up context clues and need every character and element of a story to be explained to them (look, Batwoman is a Jewish lesbian ex-marine that’s also Bruce Wayne’s cousin, and she has almost nothing to do with the Batwoman that briefly appeared in 50’s Batman comics created almost entirely for the purpose of proving that Batman and Robin were not homosexual. Just…go with it.)
As for the problem of having to pick up more titles, that’s still going to be annoying if you’ve only been following one of the books involved. Again, I haven’t been reading Nightwing – I can’t read them all, folks.
(Side note: if you’re reading Batman right now, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you aren’t also picking up the current run of Detective Comics. All-Star Batman, spinning out of Scott Snyder’s previous Batman run, is also fantastic, though it’s not involved in this crossover.)
All I can say is that, if there rest of the installments of “Night of the Monster Men” are as good as Part 1, I won’t complain about buying the other five.
For one thing, as I’ve already mentioned, Steve Orlando’s script is pretty tight. He understands how to keep a comic briskly paced without relying entirely on action, and he understands that a good action scene can’t be mounted by the artist alone.
But that art…damn. Let’s talk about Riley Rossmo for a moment. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of his art in the past…never more than a single issue on any given series. It seemed pretty rough-lined, and I am on record as saying that I prefer a cleaner line, but like Jock and Sean Murphy, Rossmo uses that scratchiness to convey mood and atmosphere. There’s still some of that looseness in this comic, but perhaps owing to the fact that this is the blockbuster action spectacle that it is, his work is a lot smoother in this issue, with excellent, shadowy inking to boot. For the most part, he doesn’t do anything particularly strange or experimental with the layouts, but he didn’t need to. It’s clear and easy to read, and that’s the most important part.
That’s to say nothing of how well he draws the Monster Men themselves. We only see two of them this issue, but I can’t wait to see what he does with the others. Both of them are nightmarish abominations, complete with unnatural proportions and a generally brilliant take on the concept of a Frankenstein’s monster. If these monsters appeared in the original “Monster Men” story from 1940, the kids reading it (children reading superhero comics! What a thought!) would have nightmares. This is some gross, wonderful stuff.
It’s also great to see Ivan Plascencia back on Batman. Colorists usually don’t get as much love as they should, unfortunately, but I was always surprised by how little he was talked about during the last Batman run, considering all the breathless praise laid upon Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. One thing that I love about him is how, even in a “dark” comic like a 21st century Bat book, there are some bright colors here and there, and the ones that are there really pop off the page in contrast to the blacks, browns, and greys.
It’s a bit disappointing to see regular series letterer and industry legend John Workman sitting this issue out, but Deron Bennett still does a fine job. His letters are a bit more subdued than the bold, loud ones that Workman is known for, but he still knows how to nail a sound effect, not to mention performing the letterer’s basic function of making a comic legible and easy to read.
If this comic has any problem, it’s that it’s very clearly a “part 1.” There’s clearly still a lot of work to be done in terms of moving the plot forward, developing characters, and, perhaps, establishing a theme. Luckily, Part 2 is already available in Nightwing #5, and I can’t wait to pick it up.
Is It Good?
Batman #7 kicks off “Night of the Monster Men” in spectacular fashion, with some great action tempered by quieter, yet effective character moments. It’s comfortably familiar and accessible while refreshingly new, with innovative takes on old concepts. In other words, it’s emblematic of what DC’s Rebirth has been getting right.