“Detective Comics” #23.4 by Frank Tieri, Scot Eaton and Jaime Mendoza features Man-Bat as this issue’s Villains Month tie-in, and Tieri keeps things pleasantly straightforward. Rather than trying to go long with a revamped origin or contrived link to the just-begun “Forever Evil” event, Tieri opts for a simple standalone that blends nicely enough with the backdrop of a Gotham without a Bat-family to protect it, enabling him to showcase the gradually unraveling mind of Man-Bat himself, Kirk Langstrom.
Tieri kicks things off with a surprising twist, by way of an introduction featuring not Langstrom, but instead Langstrom’s transformed wife Francine, playing off a recent storyline and making this particular comic one of the rare Villains Month issues that’s not completely divorced from the latest events in the ongoing series. When Langstrom does show up, Tieri provides a brief battle between the two that’s exactly as long as it needs to be, clearly establishing the differences between Francine’s unrestrained, animalistic tendencies under the influence of the Man-Bat serum compared to Kirk’s seemingly controlled and heroic behavior. Eaton and Mendoza not only give both Man-Bat and Woman-Bat appropriately bat-like and villainous appearances, but differentiate the two naturally, with some help from colorist Jeromy Cox.
Francine’s ominous statement before exiting early on foreshadows the rest of the story, but it doesn’t suffer for it as Tieri’s story isn’t one built on suspense or unpredictability. It’s instead one that just examines Langstrom’s gradual transformation from well-meaning protector to something far more instinctive and sinister, as Langstrom’s noble motives conflict with the nature of his alter-ego. The story’s strength isn’t in waiting for the unexpected; it’s in watching the expected simply unfold.
Tieri and Eaton are synchronized as they chronicle Langstrom’s sad and slow descent; while the narration proclaims Langstrom’s self-congratulatory interpretations of his actions, the art boldly and often brutally shows the reality of these same actions, highlighting Langstrom’s increasing detachment from reality and ironic descent into the very kinds of behaviors that motivate him to act. Tieri makes it clear that Langstrom is an addict, made so by his serum, and Eaton and Mendoza capture this perfectly; not only with Langstrom’s increasingly erratic conduct, but also by his own personal appearance and that of his laboratory. One panel vividly, almost uncomfortably, summarizes the depths of Langstrom’s addiction. The pacing is a little quick, but the point is made nonetheless: it is Villains Month, and Man-Bat is, after all, a villain.
This otherwise-impressive character study is blemished by a couple of small but distracting creative blunders, however. Langstrom’s overreaction in dispatching a car thief leads into a somewhat forced, albeit brief, confrontation and exchange with Commissioner Gordon that isn’t really necessary. Tieri’s story is clear on its own and his point is made, without this awkward insertion. And Eaton and Mendoza’s Gotham, with its park full of people relaxing and playing chess, doesn’t seem all that in character for Gotham on a good day, let alone one that’s missing its heroes and is under super-villain occupation. Flaws aside, though, Tieri tells a pretty insightful Man-Bat tale that can set the stage for his next appearance, and Eaton and Mendoza bring all of the ugliness and brutality to life. As Villains Month comes to a close, this comic stands out as one of the better products to come from it.