The Dark Tales of The Dark Knight #18 (The Origin of Man Bat)

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By Will Barber – Taylor

Following on from the previous story, the brilliant Elseworlds story Order of The Beasts this time we look at a much more recent story. Detailing the history and origin of Dr Kirk Langstrom, aka Man Bat it also introduces us to Kirk’s dangerous and deadly father Abraham (Batman: The Dark Knight 28 – 29).

Similar to the previous story taken from the page of Batman: The Dark Knight that we have examined in this comic, this story deals with the social realities of life. Though the main villain is a giant winged bat the story is essentially about American Capitalism.

Centring on the character of Abraham Langstrom, the father of the creator of the Man Bat serum Kirk Langstrom, the story follows Abraham as he uses the Man Bat formula to turn himself into a raging beast. Batman, of course, intervenes to try and stop Langstrom from preying on the weak and homeless of Gotham. Langstrom earned his money by buying weaker companies and stripping them of all their money and assets before selling them off.

Langstrom’s view of life is based on this capitalistic view of the world – everything has its price and life is made for men like him. He comments nears the beginning of the comic about how he feels that now he has everything what else can he do but conquer nature itself. Langstrom sees the murder of the homeless as merely an extension of his own capitalist ideas; the weak die and the strong survive to populate the Earth. The idea of a supposedly respectable citizen turning into a deadly creature of the night is obviously reminiscent of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde but the idea presented in the story is much cleverer than simply paying homage to a gothic masterpiece. Langstrom’s sees his picking off of the homeless by night simply the same as his business activities in which he picks off weaker companies and uses them for his own gain. Man Bat is therefore a representation of American Capitalism; a culture that dictates that greed is good and that the strongest should survive even if they do this at the expense of weaker people.

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Batman is starkly opposed to this and says that he cares about the people Langstrom is mercilessly killing. He wants to protect them and make sure that they don’t get murdered by a man who is clearly insane. Throughout the story Batman tries to distance himself from Langstrom as we learn early on in the story that Langstrom admired Bruce when he was a young boy because of the stamina that Bruce possessed. Batman clearly does not want to be compared in any way to Langstrom as he has used his natural intelligence and ingenuity to turn himself into a monster. The constant battle that Batman feels within himself throughout the tale is that he doesn’t want to be like Langstrom or emulate him because he is the antithesis of everything that Batman is.

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Ethan Van Sciver’s artwork in the comic is to be particularly praised. Van Sciver gets the right line between cartoonish bulk and eerie realism in his depiction of Man Bat. The creature is bulky and terrifying; it is some form of mythological beast flying from the deserted cities of Ancient Greece. Van Sciver also brings life to human characters as well. His depictions of Batman and Alfred are particularly noteworthy and fit in nicely with other portrayals of the pair from over the years.

Overall, The Origin of Man Bat is a deeply layered and complex story which also serves as a tense action thriller. It will keep the reader on the edge of their seat until the end. Highly recommended.

Next time we will look at The Man Who Murdered The Past.

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