Welcome to the second installment of Breather Books. These are comic book stories that are commonly referred to as “done-in-one”. There are no 12 part “epics” that will change everything, for-real-this time, here. Instead these are single issues, and maybe graphic novels, that can be enjoyed, on their own, without any additional parts. If you are tired of event books and need a rest, these books are for you.
This week’s selection is a book I picked up this past weekend at Cape Comic Con in Cape Girardeau, MO. Justice League: Gods and Monsters-Batman #1
This title is a tie-in to the animated home-release Justice League: Gods and Monsters. This stand alone one-shot gives additional backstory to Batman. Who in this continuity is Kirk Langstrom, more commonly known as Man-Bat in regular DC continuity.
When I first heard that the DC animated team was going to do another “evil” Justice League, I rolled my eyes. After the Justice Lords on the Cartoon Network Justice League show and the Crime Syndicate of the previous dvd release, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, did we really need to be going back to that well? It starts to give the impression that the creators don’t think the regular versions of the characters are “edgy” enough, or aren’t as interesting. Plus, how many takes can one team have on “bad guy Justice League?” “Diminishing returns” was all I could picture.
That started to change when I heard that Bruce Timm would be directly involved in this and that this was a concept he had created. Timm and his team gave us Batman: The Animated Series and Superman. Then they made a show about a teenage Batman in the future, that was amazing! That was a concept that should have been dead on arrival. Instead they made a show that is still enjoyable now. To this day, that alone has bought them a lot of slack with me. So, I was more interested in the concept when I heard Bruce Timm was coming back for this.
In this story “Hunger”, some of the gaps for Kirk Langstrom’s transformation into Batman are filled in. It recounts how, suffering from lymphoma, Langstrom administered an antidote to himself that turned him into a vampire. Over time, he loses touch with his family and loved ones and spirals further into his new self.
Probably the most interesting aspect of this story is that it shows the status of the criminal underworld in Gotham now. In this world, Bruce Wayne never became the Batman. Therefore, the crime bosses he took down are still operating. Lew Moxon, Rupert Thorne, and others are still in play. Even Joe Chill, who here, presumably never gunned downed Thomas and Martha Wayne, was never defeated.
Langstrom, escalates his stealing from bloodbanks and feeding on the homeless, to attacking criminals. Eventually, he goes after the big fish in Gotham, Moxon. Slaughtering Moxon and his crew, Langstrom starts to feel remorse for the victims left in his wake. He then befriends Moxon’s surviving son and confides in him about his condition. Together, they work on a cure to heal Kirk.Aware of a new crime boss in Gotham, Langstrom seeks him out after Moxon’s widow is slain. Confronting this new boss, Kirk is shocked to learn it is Joe Chill, risen from the dead. The result of the Batman’s attack has left him seemingly indestructible. Langstrom disproves that theory with a nearby ax. Returning to their lab, Kirk deduces that the mysterious new boss in Gotham he has been chasing is in fact, Moxon’s son, Jeremy. Confronted with this accusation, Jeremy confesses and admits that he knew that Kirk killed his father. Jeremy attempts to persuade Kirk to join him in ruling Gotham, knowing that Langstrom would never hurt his friend. Unfortunately for him, Langstrom also proves him wrong. The ending leaves this Batman even more isolated and alone than before, sure to fully embrace his new role.The only thing that disappointed me about this book, is that we never see Langstrom in his full Batman costume. It seems that while he is working with Jeremy, that would have been an opportunity to show the development of his uniform. It doesn’t really take away from the story though and gives it more of a “Year One” feel. Also, this is easily the most interesting thing they have done with Joe Chill since “Year Two”. For a character that is so vital to the Batman legend, he is typically pretty boring.The story was written by J.M. DeMatteis and Bruce Timm. The art was done by Matthew Dow Smith. The cover is by the great Francesco Francavilla with a variant by Darwyn Cooke of the previously mentioned Batman Beyond. This comic came out last summer so is probably still available in most comic shops. It is also available digitally too, from the usual suspects.Tomorrow, I will be covering more of my experience at the Cape Comic Con last weekend. Since I talked so much about Bruce Timm above, here is a photo I took with him at a Wizard World in Chicago years ago when Batman: Gotham Knight premiered. (I’m the good-looking one.)