Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Batman and the Monster Men by Matt Wagner Review


Set in the early days of Batman’s career, Monster Men follows the epic Year One storyline with a less than stellar volume that shares none of the preceding book’s quality. Monster Men has more in common with other early-Batman books that suck like Year Two, The Long Halloween, and Prey, the latter of which this book is a prequel to. It’s also a remake of a classic Batman story from 1940, so in theory, this book should be fun – except it’s not. 

Matt Wagner tells the story no-one wanted to read of how Dr Hugo Strange became so obsessed with Batman in Prey. In this book – and in line with the campy b-movie horror tone of the book’s title and original story – Strange is a mad scientist trying to cure genetic defects inherited at birth, in order to create perfect humans. Except his experiments go horribly wrong and wind up giant, brain-dead cannibals. Because he’s broke and being hounded by creditors, Strange decides to harness these Monster Men’s strength to kill the gangsters he’s borrowed money from to get them off his back – enter Batman. 

Monster Men could be a fun story – could – but this one isn’t because Wagner’s treatment of the story is so very unimaginative. The familiar gangsters – Maroni, Falcone, etc. – are still stereotypes, “talkin’ like dat, bawss – hey it’s da bat!”, toothpicks or cigars sticking out of their mouths, flipping coins, while Strange feels like he stepped out of a Hammer horror movie, making long mad-scientist-y speeches from his first appearance and even having a be-turbaned assistant called Rajan! I know this latter point is intentional as this book is supposed to echo cheesy horror movies and the 1940 Batman story, but it just doesn’t work here as the tone is far too serious. The Monster Men are exactly what you’d expect – caveman types with large, irregular teeth, low brows, and frequently near-naked to showcase their hairiness. How wrong can you go when trying to create a perfect human? Strange is the worst geneticist ever! 

There’s a pointless attempt at a romance story between Bruce and Julie Madison, possibly the least memorable of Bruce’s girlfriends, which ties into the boring gangster storyline, and Bruce gets his first Batmobile. This book isn’t amazingly written or drawn especially well but neither are terrible - they’re just kinda average. I did like that Wagner referenced that panel in Year One where Bruce kicks a tree while training and Wagner replicates that movement exactly when Bruce is fighting the Monster Men. Also like a lot of other early Batman books, this one shows the decline of traditional crime figures like gangsters and the rise of the new criminals, the colourful villains like Strange, alongside the rise of the costumed vigilante. But inspired moments are unfortunately few in this book.

Strange sees Batman beating up his Monster Men and realises Batman is the perfect human specimen, instantly becoming obsessed with him leading in to the events of Prey –an awful and contrived reason, especially as the whole geneticist thing isn’t touched on in Prey where Strange has somehow reinvented himself instead as a prominent psychologist and master hypnotist! 

Monster Men isn’t as awful as Prey but it’s still not good. Hugo Strange remains a crappy character whose presence in a book is a clear sign that what’s about to follow will be garbage. Wagner’s not a bad artist/writer but Monster Men is definitely not one of his better efforts. Books like Monster Men show why Batman’s best foes aren’t physically powerful, because guys who just hit things really hard tend not to produce imaginative stories while guys like Joker and Riddler become icons. Conceptually this is a good story, but the finished book is very poor.

Batman And The Monster Men

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