Bound to a sofa by duct tape and electrical cords, Man-Bat awakens to find himself in the clutches of Task Force X’s resident psychologist turned psychopath, Harley Quinn. With the rest of the Suicide Squad incapacitated, our Maid of Mischief is free to provide her patented brand of counseling to the desperate doctor. And this time, she pinky promises not to use the mallet. What secrets will Harley unearth from deep within the desperate doctor’s psyche? More importantly, is Kirk Langstrom ready to cope with these revelations?
“Always regressing, never progressing, ‘Man-Bat.’ You’ll blame anyone else for your problems.”
Framing the entirety of Man-Bat #3 as a counseling session between Kirk Langstrom and Harley Quinn is a bit misleading as only the first six pages feature any interaction between the two characters. With only five issues in this series, Wielgosz wisely chooses to push the narrative forward instead of derailing the story and losing any momentum built from the prior installment. Despite the brevity of their interaction, Dave Wielgosz still manages to pack all the necessary character exploration into every page.
As a result, Wielgosz’s analysis of the titular character remains a highlight of the series. From the opening moments of this issue, the reader witnesses Kirk Langstrom’s ideal resolution to his current situation. Kirk aspires to clean up the mess he created by finding a cure for all the individuals he deafened with the sound cannon and cracking the transformation process into Man-Bat. These personal goals help us relate to the villain, as everyone has experienced the desire to fix their past mistakes.
However, as Man-Bat progresses into his story, Harley interjects, “Even your fantasy of how this is going to work out is deranged.” Her reaction results from his desire to win his wife’s affection and become a celebrated hero in his own right. Although Kirk’s need to reconcile with Francine is entirely understandable, Harley points out that it’s unrealistic to believe that simply fixing these two mistakes will win her over. Additionally, his yearning to be celebrated among the population is not the type of motivation that makes one heroic.
Throughout Man-Bat #3, Wielgosz does an excellent job of reminding the reader that despite Langstrom’s desire to become a hero, he is not heroic. After fleeing his impromptu therapy session with Harley, Kirk seeks refuge with his sister. At one point, Man-Bat narrates, “We’re going to need her, Kirk. And not just for food and shelter…” These words allude to Kirk’s need to use Lisa as a test subject for a serum he intends to use to restore hearing to the individuals he hurt in Gotham. Using others for personal gain is never heroic, and Kirk’s fundamental misunderstanding of his sister’s situation illustrates the character’s insensitivity. Lisa’s response is perfect.
Instead of treating Lisa’s exceptionality as a hindrance, or rather as something she needs to be cured, Wielgosz rightfully has Lisa rebuke Kirk for his insensitive request. She says, “I’m not broken. I like my life very much, and you don’t need to fix me.” This is an incredibly meaningful response that empowers characters and, by extension, readers, with exceptionalities.
Additionally, Wielgosz’s expert handling of the supporting cast is not limited to Kirk’s sister. The previous issue revealed the Scarecrow was behind the attempted theft of the sonic cannon. When Dr. Crane resurfaces in this issue, he approaches a distraught Francine reading headlines about her husband. When she claims that she doesn’t know where Kirk’s location, Scarecrow responds, “Your value extends well past babysitting that man-baby-bat of yours. You’re a renowned expert on sound.” This is incredibly refreshing because Wielgosz doesn’t utilize the tired trope of “the significant other as bait.”
His assertion that she can use him to help create subliminal messages emphasizes her abilities instead of her relationship with the protagonist. Wielgosz eventually pays off Scarecrow’s statement during the issue’s final sequence. Instead of dangling Francine in front of Man-Bat to provoke an attack that will lead to the protagonist’s capture, Scarecrow barges into Lisa’s home and ensnares the title character. Wielgosz’s subtle work here helps Francine feel more like a fleshed-out character and less like a plot device in this issue.
“Go fix this. Please. I don’t think you’re bad to the bone. But I think you’re heading that way if you don’t make some changes.”
One thing that makes Sumit Kumar’s work in Man-Bat #3 so impressive is his ability to adjust each panel to suit varying characters’ aesthetics. Throughout the entire opening sequence, we are presented with summer blockbuster panels depicting Man-Bat’s victory and reconciliation with his wife. These panels are interrupted by Harley Quinn standing in front of the “hero’s big kiss” with a big thumbs down and her tongue sticking out. This type of fourth-wall-breaking panel work has become typical for the former psychologist. Moreover, during the sequences involving Scarecrow, the panel work takes on a horror aesthetic. Additionally, Romulo Fajardo Jr.’s colors help convey the appropriate tone for each sequence. These changes show how the team adapts to each situation.
Unfortunately, there is one panel in which the position of the character makes their face looks awkward. Specifically, I’m speaking about Harley’s face in the last panel of the two-page spread. It’s only a small problem in an otherwise wonderfully illustrated issue with excellent character designs.
Exploding with wonderful artwork, Man-Bat #3 is an excellent examination of Kirk Langstrom and his alter-ego. By painting the character as an individual who wants to do good but whose actions aren’t heroic, Dave Wielgosz has struck gold. We are presented with an imperfect character who we want to see succeed despite these imperfections. Additionally, Wielgosz’s work with the supporting cast is perfect in this issue as he empowers them and focuses on their abilities. All of this perfect analysis is bolstered by Sumit Kumar’s excellent artwork and Romulo Fajardo Jr.’s colors. (Also, is there a reference to Batman: The Animated Series in the newspaper headlines?”
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