INFINITY GEMS: Batman and the Monster Men
A series of editorials on “lost” comic book classics, this installment of INFINITY GEMS focuses on a Batman miniseries from 2006, set shortly after the events of Frank Miller’s BATMAN: YEAR ONE.
Most comic book fans know of at least one story which they feel never got the attention or appreciation that it deserved. A story they believe can stand up to the very best that a particular character has to offer… or even stand proudly alongside the greatest comic books ever created.
These editorials are a place where comic fans can showcase one - out of what is, undoubtedly, an infinite amount - of these hidden gems which they hold so close to their hearts… Fandom’s INFINITY GEMS.
Batman & The Monster Men, issues #1-6
Published from January 2006 to June 2006
Written by Matt Wagner
Art by Matt Wagner & Dave Stewart
Some time ago I decided to go about making a Post-Crisis Batman chronology for myself (this was before DC’s latest reboot, back when saying "Post-Crisis" actually meant something). To accomplish this, I read as many stories from Batman's early years as I could find. In the end, the list of my first 5 Batman tales read:
1. BATMAN: YEAR ONE
2. BATMAN & THE MONSTER MEN
3. BATMAN & THE MAD MONK
4. BATMAN: THE MAN WHO LAUGHS
5. BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN
Several “Batman: Year One” Annuals, and even Catwoman’s own "Year One" miniseries, didn’t make my cut. I wanted a solid run of stories that would live up to the promise of Frank Miller’s BATMAN: YEAR ONE origin story, and which would show the character gradually evolving from the rookie vigilante of that story, into the Caped Crusader of stories like “KNIGHTFALL” and “NO MAN’S LAND,” set almost 10 years later.
Looking at that list of my first five Batman stories, I’m sure many fans will be wondering what BATMAN & THE MONSTER MEN (not to mention its sequel, BATMAN & THE MAD MONK… but that's a tale for a future GEMS article) is doing there alongside such prestigious company. BATMAN & THE MONSTER MEN does feature the Dark Knight’s first run-in with Doctor Hugo “don’t call me Stephen” Strange, but more importantly, it presents a fun and well told story of a young Batman getting his first glimpse at how weird Gotham (and, by association, the DC Universe) could be.
Writing Batman in this time period is tricky, but Wagner really does a tremendous job of crafting a Dark Knight that’s a little naïve (he still thinks that his war will be won when he takes down Gotham’s mobsters), but still possesses the machine-like precision of his methodology. Write the character as too naïve, or too much like his later, nearly unbeatable “whups Superman when bored” self, and he seems off. Finding this balance is a real requirement when writing early Batman stories, and failing to do so is the reason many “Year One” Batman stories fail, in my opinion. In BATMAN & THE MONSTER MEN, however, Matt Wagner pulls this off perfectly. His Caped Crusader really feels like a Batman fresh from the events of BATMAN: YEAR ONE, and not the veteran crimefighter of later tales.
The plot is fairly straightforward, but I love how, as it unfolds, it shows the reader more of the Gotham City that existed before the freaks became the main threat. This is the city when it was still the Carmine Falcones and the Sal Maronis that were primarily responsible for tainting Gotham’s streets. Maroni even plays a supporting role in the story; a nice touch considering his later importance to the Batman storyline.
Hugo Strange is an interesting opponent, as well. A Batman villain mostly known for figuring out that whole “Batman = Bruce Wayne” thing way before any of the Dark Knight’s more famous villains managed it, this story is set prior to that discovery. That Strange remains a compelling and interesting villain without that aspect in play is surprising, but certainly appreciated.
Pulling triple duty with script, pencils and inks (quadruple duty, actually, as he also painted the covers for each issue), Wagner’s art takes a little getting used-to. It has a bit of that “rough around the edges” look that early Frank Miller or Eastman and Laird’s TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES comics have. His visual storytelling is superb, however, and he draws some truly amazing Batman shots throughout the miniseries. That Matt Wagner’s art is so nicely accentuated by the work of Dave Stewart really says something about Stewart's talents , as I imagine that the rougher aspects of Wagner's style would make his work rather difficult to color.
The bottom line is that BATMAN & THE MONSTER MEN isn’t THE KILLING JOKE or KNIGHTFALL or a Batman “major event” of that ilk. It’s just a cracking little story from the “Year One” era that features Matt Wagner's distinctive art style and which adds some more texture and character to both Batman and Gotham. Those are more than enough reasons for me to recommend it to any fan of superhero comics.
Written and Submitted by RoNiNKSpCtre (Rhian Rutherford)
Link to the first INFINITY GEMS article:
SPIDER-MAN: THE CHILD WITHIN
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