Furious at the discovery of yet another vial of Man-Bat serum in her home, her husband’s crowning achievement in a plethora of broken promises, Francine decides to confront Kirk one last time. The ensuing argument crescendos into a flurry of angry words and bitter accusations before coming to a caesura on Francine’s last words: “I started moving my things out weeks ago… you never noticed.” Desperate to prove to his wife and the rest of Gotham City that Man-Bat can be a force of good, Kirk guzzles the remaining serum and takes flight. When deafening noise alerts Kirk to the theft of an experimental weapon, he seizes the opportunity to win over his critics definitively.
“Scientists fail and we fail and we fail until we get something right.”
An excellent examination of both addiction and the titular character, Man-Bat #1 is a compelling introduction to the series. One of Wielgosz’s greatest accomplishments with this issue lies in how he makes Kirk a sympathetic villain. He manages to strike the perfect balance between showing the reader that Langstrom is not a good guy and allowing us to understand and relate to his struggle. Ultimately, Wielgosz’s exploration of the character drove me to reread this issue several times.
Throughout the opening sequence of this issue, Kirk’s dialogue evokes the words of an addict and abuser in a traumatic relationship. When confronted by his wife’s desire to leave, he says, “I’m not going to die, Francine! And I’ve been through this exercise with you before. I’ll see you when you come back!” It’s not a moment that is meant to endear us to the character, but instead shows us how far he has fallen into addiction. In this moment, Kirk is attempting to guilt Francine into staying by disempowering her and her decision. Wielgosz’s work here is excellent as he perfectly captures a tactic that many abusers use to control their victims. Thankfully, it doesn’t work on Francine.
After his wife’s departure, Kirk becomes single-minded about his use of the Man-Bat serum. He says, “Man-Bat is good for me. I feel confident, I feel free, I feel powerful… I feel greater than I ever have as Kirk Langstrom alone…” Kirk’s language here is evocative of an addict. In this moment, Wielgosz is establishing Langstrom’s dependence on the Man-Bat serum. Much like an addict, he claims that the serum provides him with all of these wonderful side effects that make him even better despite the inevitable wake of destruction they leave behind. It’s in this moment that it’s hard not to feel sorry for Kirk, as it clear that the addiction has taken over.
However, Wielgosz does an excellent job of helping the reader to understand Kirk’s continued use of the Man-Bat serum by centering it on his desire to help humankind. During his attempt to thwart the Blackout Gang’s theft of a sonic device, Langstrom protests to Batman that he can stop them. In these panels, it is clear Kirk wants to use his condition to help and not harm. He even proclaims after, “…I’m a hero…” It’s hard not to empathize with Kirk in these moments as it’s clear that he wants to use his curse for the greater good. Although this desire does help us relate to the character, it does not justify the serum’s use.
Ultimately, Kirk’s attempt to stop the robbery goes awry as he inadvertently causes millions of dollars in collateral damage and injures a hundred people when the sonic device accidentally detonates. Wielgosz’s narration does an excellent job of giving you the impression that Kirk feels in control during the sequence. As a result, the reader almost feels blindsided alongside Kirk by Batman’s words that, “this was the most feral and powerful I have ever seen Man-Bat.” It is clear that Langstrom has been blinded by his addiction, and his narration has blinded the reader.
“Gotham City… respects bats.”
Sumit Kumar’s artwork with Romulo Fajardo’s colors is perfect for this book. Kumar’s panel work is dynamic, and his depiction of Man-Bat is spot on. Sumit’s pencils present a monstrous creature capable of the millions of dollars of collateral damage he inflicts on the city. Additionally, Fajardo’s colors make each sequence feel dark. This is perfect for Man-Bat’s dire mental and physical state. Moreover, Tom Napolitano’s letters do an excellent job distinguishing between Kirk Langstrom and Man-Bat as the latter takes control of the wheel.
Make no mistake, although Man-Bat #1 is dressed in the trappings of a traditional superhero comic, it is a wonderful examination of its title character and addiction. One of Wielgosz’s greatest accomplishments with this issue is how he manages to strike the perfect balance between showing the reader that Langstrom is not a good guy and allowing us to understand and relate to his struggle. Additionally, Sumit Kumar’s artwork and Romulo Fajardo’s colors are perfect for this book as they perfectly capture each character and moment.
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