Wednesday, February 24, 2016

MB4: Man-Bat Madness!

Detective Comics #416 (Oct 1971)
cover: Neal Adams (?)
title: "Man-Bat Madness!"
writer & artist: Frank Robbins
editor: Julius Schwartz 

Batman attends the actual wedding of Kirk & Francine, post-poned after the ending of Man-Bat's previous appearance (Detective Comics #407). As a wedding present he gives them a case of anti Man-Bat serum. He tells them that if they ever "flash-back" to their bat forms, they will be able to return to normal using this medicine. Later they talk together and consider their condition as similar to diabetes, in that they decide to always carry a vial of the serum at all times.
After their honeymoon Kirk returns to work at the Gotham Museum of Natural History, During a full moon, other scientists at the museum are working on an ultra-sonic vibratory system. Only Kirk, because of his previous transformations, can hear this "noise." It sends him over the edge, and he starts working on the Man-Bat serum again. Suddenly, he remembers that he has a date to take his wife to the opera.
At the opera, the violinists' high notes drill into Kirk's head, triggering the change. Francine tries to get him to drink the antidote, but the opera singer's high C note shatters the ampule. Kirk turns back into Man-Bat.
Coincidentally, Bruce is also at the opera. He switches to Batman and they fight above the opera stage, then Man-Bat escapes into the subway system. On a subway train a terrorized passenger pulls the emergency break, causing a flash fire. Batman begs Man-Bat to help him save the people in danger, which he does.
Man-Bat returns to the Gotham Museum, where Francine is waiting. She begs him to reconsider, but Man-Bat wants to take his new, improved serum so that he will never return to his human identity.
While he is distracted, Batman switches it out with his new, improved antidote. He hadn't had the chance to test it, so he is afraid that it might prove fatal. Kirk survives the change, and Batman promises another dose strong enough to prevent any more "flash-backs" from happening.

This story is notable for several reasons. Not only is this the first Man-Bat story that was not illustrated by Neal Adams, it is the first of two that was actually illustrated by Man-Bat's co-creator, Frank Robbins, and is Robbins' first artwork for DC. Although Robbins came to DC Comics in 1968 as a writer of Batman, Superboy, and The Flash, he was at that time mostly known as the creator of the comic-strip Johnny Hazard. This story is Robbins' first artistic work for DC, and in an open letter to DC fandom explains that he was so enraptured by the character that he asked for and received permission to illustrate the story.
Frank Robbins evidently enjoyed illustrating this story, as he returned to his drawing board several times after this. He definitely had a terrific sense of design. Here is the splash page, which in my opinion is a better illustration for the story than the actual cover.
And while Frank Robbins the artist is no Neal Adams, his style is wonderful in its own way. Check out this page of Kirk Langstrom working in the lab. See how his eye is "mutated" in the first panel, as seen through the bunsen burner? And the point of view of the scene in panel three, from INSIDE the wall safe? And of course, the shadow of the bat in the last panel. All beautifully creative stuff.
As for the story, it is another nice brick in the on-going Man-Bat saga. Kirk is trying to "go straight" but his environment works against him. He continues his fight between his "human" side and his "bat" side, a confrontation we will see again and again.

The worst part of this issue is the cover, which appears to be one of Neal Adams' lesser efforts. Or perhaps it was an inker? Man-Bat himself gets the worst of it, as he appears more as a quick sketch, with none of the typical Adams' detail he had in his first three cover appearances.

Man-Bat Trivia Notes:  
  • The cover scene never appears in the story. 
  • The back-up story in this issue stars Batgirl in "The Deadly Go-Between!" by Frank Robbins and Don Heck. 
  • This issue features two reprints. "Rex: Circus Detective" by Robert Kanigher, Alex Toth, and Sy Barry was originally published in Rex the Wonder Dog #3 (May/June 1952). Casebook Mystery "The Case of the Gold Dust Death" illustrated by Ramona Fradon was originally published in Gang Busters #30 (Oct/Nov 1952). 
  • Frank Robbins writes a letter to the fans in this issue explaining why he wrote and drew this story. It is reprinted above in its entirety.  (On the right is an odd letter saying that Batman has the greatest super-hero uniform....with Aquaman getting an "Honorable Mention.")
This story has not been reprinted.    

Man-Bat was created by Frank Robbins and Neal Adams

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