Bat Signal

Issue 429 – “Man-Bat Over Vegas!”

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Our veritable Bingo-game of Batman villain appearances here on Bat Signal has scratched off a new square this week folks. And it’s one of the weirder villains that I always forget counts as a member of Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Man-Bat! In case you don’t know who Man-Bat is, or can’t figure it out from context clues, Man-Bat is essentially a werewolf, only he turns into a massive bat. I’m not really positive on the specifics of that transformation, but I assume it’s like most of the other “scientists who turn into monsters” villains in comics, and that Dr. Kirk Langstrom was trying to cure some disease with bat DNA or something, and accidentally turned himself into a giant Bat monster. Which is why you don’t rush human testing people. Anyway, we have out first Man-Bat story on the site, and it’s a doozy. I mean, look at that cover. That promises some ridiculous action, and this thing delivers like crazy. I’m always a fan of Batman hitting the road and going to a different city to beat up mentally challenged people, and Vegas promises for a much crazier setting than London, as we learned a couple of weeks ago. So sit back and get ready to hear about Batman beating up a Bat monster on the Strip.

The story starts off in an incredibly ominous place, with some nuclear testing being done outside of Nevada. A bomb is set off, uncovering some previously hidden cave systems around the Hoover Dam that are just chock full of bats. And once they’re free, they begin flying all around the surrounding area, flitting around the Dam and eventually Vegas. And once that’s established, we cut over to the strip where some angry old white people (the standard visitor to Las Vegas) are wandering around, and come across the body of a man who appears to have been drained of blood, and has two puncture wounds on his necks. Oh shit, vampires! At least that’s what the Las Vegas media seems to think, because they begin reporting on vampire attacks like crazy, scaring all of the citizens. And the idea of vampire attacks is obviously going to be national news, so the story begins spreading around the county, until it obviously gets picked up by Bruce Wayne and Alfred, which leads to this hilarious panel.

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Now, I misread this panel at first, and didn’t realize Batman was talking about vampire bats, and thought that he was freaking out about how ridiculous it was to claim that Nosferatus were hanging out in Vegas. Which wouldn’t be that crazy, since we’ve already had Batman fight yetis. Anyway, he gets all bent out of shape about the idea of Kirk Langstrom being involves, which gets even worse when Kirk and his wife then proceed to be interviewed on the news as experts on bat studies. Langstrom explains that those caves around the bomb site just had a hitherto unknown species of vampire bat, and that they’re probably the ones draining full-grown adults of all their blood. That’s…a suspicious theory. And Bruce ain’t buying it! He gets all furious that Langstrom is clearly succumbing to his “Bat-Madness” and killing people.

We then cut immediately to the Las Vegas strip where Batman’s getting to business. He explains to us that he’s already met with the local police to let them know he’ll be operating in their city, so they don’t shoot him, and he’s got a whole plan ready. And what’s his plan? Well he’s somehow convinced a show-girl to excuse herself from the show, head up to the roof to act as live bait for Man-Bat. Which seems dangerous, but Batman’s the professional here, so I guess he knows what he’s doing. Anyway, Man-Bat comes swooping down to eat the woman, and Batman springs into action, clubbing him with a Batarang. Batman then gets ready to tie the Man-Bat up and get him taken care of, when it wakes up, and starts pummeling Batman. Which is surprising, since Batman claims he hit Man-Bat hard enough to knock it out for hours. So Batman’s a little worried that Man-Bat may have become much more powerful than before, and they begin tussling, before collapsing down into a casino. Where Batman is then promptly punched in the face by a pit boss who can’t aim.

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The man quickly apologizes, not wanting to get the shit beat out of him by Batman, and Batman gets back to hunting. He runs out of the casino to the waiting police helicopter that he commandeered, and gives chase. Man-Bat guides him away from Vegas, and they end up making it out to the site of the Langstrom’s research post, confirming Batman’s fears that this Man-Bat is Langstrom. But as he lands, he notices something strange. There’s a band-aid clung to his glove, which he assumes must have come from the fight with Man-Bat. Which is strange, because when the Langstrom’s were on TV, it was Fran Langstrom who had a noticeable band-aid, not Kirk. Uh oh!

So Batman bursts into the Langstrom tent, hoping that his fears are baseless. Unfortuantly he opens the tent to find Kirk asleep, shocked that Batman is yelling at him in the middle of the night in Nevada. Batman explains his fears to Langstrom that Fran has become the new Man-Bat, which Kirk claims was something he was worried about. Apparently when they were excavating these bat-caves Fran got scratched by one of the dead weird bats, and started acting strange. So the cave bats made her a Man-Bat? I guess, they don’t really get into that much more, and head down to the caves to find Fran. And for some reason they decide to split up, which is never a good idea, and begin searching the cave for Fran. And Kirk is the lucky winner, coming across Fran in her Man-Bat form, and getting attacked. Luckily though Batman comes swooping in and kicks Fran in the goddamn head. He then ties her up, and Batman and the Langstroms get in his helicopter and fly off to a hospital, because Batman thinks a total blood transfusion will fix her. Because I guess the Langstrom’s have some crazy disease now where they’ll turn into Man-Bats if they get grazed by bats. Which probably means they shouldn’t be bat scientists? Eh, who cares, the issue ends before they even get to the hospital, so they’re probably fine!

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This issue was silly as hell, and I loved it. The story was delightfully crazy, and there were some tremendous scenes in this book. I love the idea of Batman going to fight a criminal in Vegas, a town that really defeats his whole aesthetic of darkness and fear, and I think Man-Bat was probably the weirdest choice for one of his villains. Seeing Batman and Man-Bat having a crazy fight over the Strip was a lot of fun, and I honestly would have loved it if it had even more time there. It’s also hilarious to me that the whole nuclear bomb stuff was a red herring. I kind of assumed the idea was going to be that the bomb test mutated the bats, which then gave Man-Bat even more powerful powers. But I don’t think that’s what happened? From what Langstrom explains any bat bite would have turned them into a Man-Bat, so I’m not sure quite why Fran Langstrom became a more powerful Man-Bat than Kirk. But as crazy as the story was, I think one of the main contributing factors to my love of this issue was the writer/artist of the issue, Frank Robbins. I’ve never heard of the guy, and haven’t read one of his issues yet, but he did a crazy job. The character designs were just a little strange, the dialogue was wacky as hell, and there was all kind of awesome narration boxes. I love having narration boxes shaped like bats in the issue, that’s great. And there were all these weird sound-effects being incorporated in people’s speech bubbles, and bits of dialogue being drawn like sound-effects. It was just a strange and fun little issue with a whole lot going for it, and I dug the hell out of it.

“Man-Bat Over Vegas!” was written and penciled by Frank Robbins, 1972.

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