When the one-page montage that opens Man-Bat #4 shows Kirk and Francine Langstrom living and working together in utter bliss, we know that it’s all a fantasy — and not just because this particular simulation was the cliffhanger of the last issue.
The simple six-panel setup shows Kirk and Man-Bat — that pesky alter ego of his — coexisting alongside one another in harmony. In one frame, Man-Bat and Francine labor over a piece of scientific machinery, and in the next she and Kirk share a warm embrace on the couch together. The fact that this will never be a reality is the root of Man-Bat’s tragedy as a character, and the theme around which this continually compelling series continues to revolve.
As the plot of this issue picks up, it isn’t long before the illusion is shattered for Man-Bat himself and he becomes aware of his situation: The Scarecrow has trapped the Langstorms in mind control loop through the use of subliminal signals (because fear toxin is just way too old school in 2021). Scarecrow hopes to keep them in his psychological dollhouse long enough to repair the sonic cannon Man-Bat broke all the way back in issue #1 — ostensibly so it could be used to project these subliminal signals on an even grander scale.
In a series that’s already filled to the brim with plot, this issue keeps up the fast pace with plenty of key developments. The ticking clock of Kirk Langstorm’s cellular instability takes center stage here, as we’re told it is only a matter of time before his rapid cellular generation threatens to destroy his physiology entirely. Meanwhile, Batman is hot on the trail and arrives just in time to see Man-Bat go toe to toe with the Scarecrow and his new allies, the Blackout Gang.
The art here from penciller Sumit Kumar and colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr is high quality once again, providing varied, interesting panel layouts and appropriately moody coloring. Computer screens glow in neon light, night skies are deep blues and purples, and warm colors are saved for powerful backdrops in showcase character moments.
A particular standout for this book for me thus far has been Romulo’s character designs. Man-Bat looks every bit as menacing and monstrous as fans of the character would expect, but his physicality also incorporates an expressiveness and vulnerability that add to the depth of the story’s themes. Batman himself is also a pleasant surprise here. Kumar renders the Dark Knight as an extremely physically imposing man, and he is often shaded in pitch black while in action, looking almost like a shadow. One scene where he interrogates a terrified criminal on a street corner is a particular favorite, and perhaps one of my favorite Batman panels I’ve seen in a long time.
Man-Bat #4 is another solid entry in a mini-series that’s fast-paced, well-drawn, and confident enough in its character-driven themes to stand out in a climate where there are a lot of Gotham books being published. It’s fun to turn the lens toward different characters in Batman’s orbit, especially when their tragedy is being rendered in a way that’s compelling and entertaining all at once.
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