Wednesday, July 13, 2016

MB8: Man-Bat #1

Man-Bat #1 (January 1976)
cover: Jim Aparo (Ernie Chua?)
title: "Beware The Eyes of Baron Tyme!"
writer: Gerry Conway
penciller: Steve Ditko
inker: Al Milgrom
editor: Gerry Conway 

The story begins somewhere unknown, as Baron Tyme is conjuring a spell to control Francine Langstrom. At the Langstrom's home, she suddenly falls under his spell, becoming She-Bat and knocking out her husband, Kirk, before he can change into Man-Bat. He awakes/shakes off her attack and takes his bat-gland serum to follow her. He faces several illusions in his chase, and is afraid that he has lost her.
Meanwhile, She-Bat has received a mental image of the man Tyme has ordered her to kill. She finds him in downtown Gotham City and is about to kill him when Kirk arrives, knocking her out. He asks the intended victim, Professor Raymond Arthur, if he knows anyone named "Tyme" who might want to kill him. He admits that he knows Clement Tyme at Antioke University, but doesn't believe he's the bad guy. Suddenly, She-Bat bites and kills Arthur. Man-Bat leaves him, taking She-Bat away.
At Batman's apartment, he and Alfred discuss the new bat-killings in Gotham City. Batman had been out of town on another case, but is adamant that the murders will end.  He starts his investigation at the Gotham Museum of Natural History, where director Wilkins tells him that Langstrom quit recently, after getting the $100,000 reward.
At Langstrom's home in Gotham's suburbs, Man-Bat gives She-Bat the bat-gland antidote so that she reverts back to being Francine. Suddenly, Batman uses a sonar pulse to drive Man-Bat outside. As Man-Bat flies out, Batman grabs him and they battle in the air.
Man-Bat, frantic, kicks Batman off of him, then comes to his senses and saves him from a very abrupt landing.  Man-Bat then explains the situation to the Caped Crusader. The last time they met Batman thought Francine was going to have a blood transfusion, but it turns out that she didn't because Kirk thought that she was too weak. Everything was fine until two weeks ago she started acting weird, and then the recent killings began. She started acting even weirder. When he tried to hypnotize her, he found out about Baron Tyme, in a high tower, trying to control her.
Batman gives Francine a sedative, then offers to help Man-Bat track down Baron Tyme. Man-Bat refuses, screaming, "Tonight the Man-Bat flies alone!"
At the highest tower at Antioke University, Man-Bat finds Baron Tyme casting a spell at his brazier. Tyme easily captures Man-Bat, then explains to him that as a professor of Medieval History he learned that sorcery and black magic was real.  He experimented and summoned a "demon" from Hell. He made a bargain with this demon for unlimited power in exchange for several human lives. From this demon, Baron Tyme learned about She-Bat and with his initial powers, he took control of her to kill for him.
Baron Tyme is about to conjure the final spell to complete his power transfer when Man-Bat uses his sonic scream to disorient him. Man-Bat escapes out of the tower, and then the brazier catches the room on fire and it explodes, killing Baron Tyme.

As discussed in our last installment, this solo Man-Bat series got *huge* press for its first issue release. It seemed to be the jewel of the "Conway Corner" group of new titles, including a return of the Golden Age All-Star Comics and Blackhawk (which got their own joint ad the next month). And yet, it ended up running only two issues.

The story itself is good, although there is a somewhat "rushed" feel to it. How does She-Bat know where to find her targets? She is following the mental manipulation of Baron Tyme, does HE know that Professor Arthur is walking down that particular street at that time? If Baron Tyme had already killed sufficient number of victims, what exactly is he doing when Man-Bat interrupts him in the tower? These types of questions only pop up after several reads, however. Initially the story trusts in adrenaline and drama to get to its climax. It is not badly done.

Nor is the art anything to complain about. Although the poster art seems more "dramatic," the art in the story itself seems more "cartoony." Steve Ditko often straddles the line in his style between serious art and cartoony art. It is generally serious here, but I still think that perhaps inker Al Milgrom put more work into the poster pose than in the issue itself. Just take a look at several of Man-Bat's close-ups presented here to see what I mean. It's not bad; far from it, but I think a little stronger inker might have made the story look a little bit more moody and atmospheric.

That being said, Steve Ditko's Batman is all about the moody and atmospheric! Of the 22 times he appears in this story, only twice is his face not hidden or in shadow. This is a very nice version of the Caped Crusader. I wish we had seen more.

With this issue Man-Bat and Batman part ways, not to team-up again for several years. Man-Bat has up until this point been tied to the Caped Crusader. After "flying alone!" with this story, Man-Bat is no longer just another Batman Family supporting cast member.

Atleast, that was the plan.

With no letters of comment to print in the letter column, Gerry Conway writes a history of the character, siting his previous seven appearances. For historical purposes, the page is reproduced in its entirety. Astute readers will see that I circled the appearances as I managed to track them down. In case you are curious, B&B #119 was the last one I needed to complete my collection.

Man-Bat Trivia Notes:  
  • The cover illustration of Man-Bat is clearly by Jim Aparo, but the Batman figure looks more like an Ernie Chua (Chan) re-do than classic Aparo. 
  • The cover scene does not appear in the story. 
  • The director of the Natural History Museum, Mr. Wilkins, makes his last appearance in this story. 
  • Batman references the events of Detective Comics #429 as having occurred "last year." 
  • Man-Bat received his $100,000 reward in The Brave & The Bold #119, erroneously referenced as B&B #121 in this story. 
This story has been reprinted in The Steve Ditko Omnibus #2    

Man-Bat was created by Frank Robbins and Neal Adams

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