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Okay, WHO INVITED MAN-BAT? – Batman Family #13

November 12, 2011

Of the satellite Bat-titles, Batman Family has to be one of the most interesting. I’ve expressed my love for Batman and the Outsiders (more specifically, Jim Aparo’s Batman and the Outsiders) before, but with that team of youngsters you have the Caped Crusader as the elephant in the room. No matter how much you might get into Geo-Force, Metamorpho, Katana and the rest, they’re overwhelmed by Batman’s presence. It’s like astronomers looking for planets in distant solar systems. They can be found, but with that big star shining away, you have to look really, REALLY hard.

Not so with Family. Batman was mercifully absent much of the time, allowing his supporting cast a chance to have a good little run on their own. It’s an intriguing little stew. You had the alluring Batgirl. You had Robin. You had the always proper, always composed Alfred. Sometimes Batwoman showed up. Likewise for Commissioner Gordon and others. And you had Man-Bat.

Let’s digress for a moment. Man-Bat. Surely the black sheep of the family, and one of the laziest concepts and names ever introduced. I’m a bit disappointed we never got a Man-Super (though I can’t say that I always hate the “reverse” concept). We can be grateful that after his transformation into his bat-self, Kirk Langstrom retains enough wherewithal to keep his slacks on. I’m talking getting down on your knees and paying homage to to Jehovah, Allah, Ra, or whatever deity or deities order your universe GRATEFUL. The bat is surely the most nude of all mammals, with its wings spreading out like a flasher’s coat. Praise be that such furry nudity doesn’t get extended to human size.

Digression over. I’m not a fan, but Man-Bat definitely added to the Family menagerie. In this particular issue we have one of the instances where he’s more lucid and therefore a force for good. Huzzah.

Who’s the villain then? Remember that two-year stretch in the 1960s when Alfred was dead? After saving Batman and Robin’s lives he was killed, but, unbeknownst to his employer (and the readers), he was revived as the cottage cheese-skinned Outsider (of no relation to the team). He manipulated characters and events in a number of attempts to kill the Dynamic Duo, until he revealed himself and met defeat at Batman’s hands. Alfred was then returned to his natural butler form, with no memories of his time as the big ugly.

The Outsider makes his untriumphant return in these pages. Huzzah again.

The extra-long “The Man Who Melted Manhattan” is brought to us by Bob Rozakis, Don Newton, Marshall Rogers and Bob Wiacek. As Robin and Batgirl (a by-day Congresswoman at this point) both have their high-octane motorcycles go all haywire and almost kill them, with Alfred appearing at random as they careen and bounce about the streets of New York, Robin recalls that two-year hiatus of his servant/pal. His memory isn’t the only faculty that’s stimulated by shared danger:

That, my friends, is an awkward pass. “Ineligible receiver. Five yard penalty. Loss of down.”

While Dick Grayson is getting rejected, the Man-Bat is out fighting crime in his own unique, half-naked manner. In his travels he comes across the Outsider, who does a little abracadabra to split him in two:

The fight with the were-jaguar does not go well for Man-Bat — back to our young un-lovers. Robin ain’t done mackin’ yet:

Batgirl’s reaction to Dick’s sweet nothings is the same as what we all had while watching the “romance” of the Star Wars prequels. Soporific, baby.

The Outsider confronts our two young heroes (after turning the buildings of New York into lit candles — his dirty deeds really lack focus) and Man-Bat, left for dead after the earlier contretemps, joins in. Turnabout is fair play as the Man-Bat returns abracadabra fire and Alfred is split off from his Outsider persona. He and his fists of fury take no prisoners:

The Outsider falls of a bridge and is gone forever, Alfred passes out (once again having no memory of his Outsider tenure), Man-Bat returns to his loving wife(!) and Robin looks forward to another night of boxing the clown. HOLY BLUE BALLS!

I said at the start of this post that Batman Family can be interesting, and I stand by that. The Batman-free combos make for some different dynamics. A change of pace. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re good. The art is uneven in this issue, the story is clogged with dreadful dialogue (Robin and Batgirl are constantly remarking about the awfulness of the other’s quips — that doesn’t help the reader, folks), and the Outsider’s goofy vengeance is a weak foundation to weave a story around. This is a wasted opportunity to revisit and build upon one of the more memorable eras in the Bat-titles. With characters ranging from a member of the House of Representatives to a half-naked nocturnal mammal scientist, things can easily degenerate into a mess. A mess is what we have here, despite the entertainment value of watching Robin strike out bigtime.

The “death” of Alfred sure as hell wasn’t Ulysses, but it deserves better than this warmed over tripe.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Darci permalink
    July 28, 2012 12:39 am

    Re: “Man-Bat returns to his loving wife(!)”

    Sure enough. In fact, Francine also became She-Bat several times.

    Re: “despite the entertainment value of watching Robin strike out bigtime.”

    I wonder if your entertainment is lessened by learning that Dick and Barbara ended up knocking boots many, many times? IIRC, he even slept with her the night before he was to marry Koriand’r.

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