Wednesday, March 16, 2016

MB5: Man-Bat Over Vegas!

Detective Comics #429 (Nov 1972)
cover: Nick Cardy
title: "Man-Bat Over Vegas!"
writer & artist: Frank Robbins
editor: Julius Schwartz 

In New Mexico, an underground nuclear test blast causes after-shocks in caves near Hoover Dam. This causes schools of panic-stricken bats to fly into the dam. Later that night in Las Vegas, a dead man is found with bite marks on his neck.
In Gotham City, Alfred and Batman catch the news of a mutant monster vampire bat running lose in Las Vegas. They laugh it off until they learn that Kirk and Francine Langstrom are actually in Nevada. Suddenly, Batman is sure that the "vampire" is really Man-Bat flying amok.
The next night, Batman is in Las Vegas. He has convinced show-dancer Debbie to act as bait to try to catch her fiancee's killer. Sure enough, Man-Bat attacks Debbie on the roof of her casino. Batman challenges him and saves Debbie, but he is stronger than before. Man-Bat throws Batman over the side of the roof. In his lust for prey he follows Batman as he falls, which allows Batman to use his wings as a cushion to their fall.
After the crash, Batman tries to stop him but Man-Bat flies off. Batman borrows a police helicopter and gives chase. He follows him to Kirk and Francine's base camp near Hoover Dam. He suddenly realizes that Man-Bat is not Kirk at all, but Francine! Batman finds Kirk alone, asleep, at the camp. Kirk tells Batman that one of the Hoover Dam bats scratched her, which must have sparked the change to She-Bat.
The two men decide to go spelunking for Francine in the nearby cavern. Unfortunately, Francine is asleep on a ridge deep in the cave. As night falls they finally manage to find her, but she changes in the moon-light and attacks. Kirk is willing to kill her to cure her, but luckily Batman manages to capture her. He suggests giving her a full blood transfusion to clean out her contaminated blood. They head back to a Las Vegas hospital to attempt the procedure.

This story holds a special place in my heart. It was the first issue I found when I went on my Search For Man-Bat. After coming across the character in Batman Family and his own short-lived series, I decided I wanted to have all of his appearances.... and this is the first "back-issue" of his I found. On the other, this story is not very good.

Compared to the four previous Man-Bat stories, this one flies in another direction (pardon the pun). This time the Bat-Serum is treated more like a were-wolf bite. Kirk and Francine are victims, changing when there is a full moon. A quick glance at the previous stories will show you this is NOT how the Bat-Serum had been working. We'll have to see if this interpretation of the Bat-Serum sticks in continuity, or if it was just for this one story.

As a vampire slash were-wolf story, "Man-Bat Over Vegas!" works. There is legitimate, sustained suspense as Batman encounters "the creature." There is an actual mystery and Batman's initial assumption is proven incorrect for a change. On the other hand, She-Bat is attacking him while naked; he didn't notice that he was a she? I mean, come on....! So much for being the world's greatest detective if he doesn't notice breasts or the lack of a penis on a giant bat. Likewise, Kirk sleeps through his wife's change? He must sleep really soundly.

So this story works as a vampire slash were-wolf in Las Vegas story, but not really as a Man-Bat story. Interestingly, the story reads very similarly to the 1972 TV-movie, "The Night Stalker" starring Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak. This is the famous movie of a news reporter hunting down a vampire in Las Vegas. If you haven't seen it, try your local library. It's worth watching.
This is the first time that cover artist Nick Cardy drew Man-Bat. His pose here neatly hides the fact that Man-Bat is actually She-Bat.

This is the second and last time that Frank Robbins would illustrate a Man-Bat story. His art style is not for everyone, but the dynamic fight sequences and the moodiness of the spelunking scenes are very well done. See below for what I mean.

I came across this story again in 1990 during the Tim Burton Batman craze. As part of The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told it was translated into Japanese. I have a copy in Japan, so the next time I go back I will try to find it and post scans.

Man-Bat Trivia Notes:  
  • The back-up story in this issue stars Jason Bard by Frank Robbins, Don Heck, and Joe Giella callced "The Case of the Loaded Case."  
  • There is a letter in this issue's letter column by then-fan Mike W. Barr. Barr would grow up to write some of the best stories of the Eighties, including Camelot 3000 and Batman & The Outsiders. 
This story has been reprinted in the following books:
Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told    

Man-Bat was created by Frank Robbins and Neal Adams

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