Man-Bat

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Detective Comics #402 © 1970 DC Comics. COVER ART BY NEAL ADAMS.

Man-Bat

(pop culture)
Is he friend or foe? Batman can never be quite sure when the terrifying Man-Bat flutters into view. “Challenge of the Man-Bat” by writer Frank Robbins and artists Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, in Detective Comics #400 (1970), begins with Dr. Kirk Langstrom preparing a “night-creature habitat exhibit” under the auspices of the Gotham [City] Museum of Natural History. He feverishly burns “the midnight oil” on a top-secret project: a bat-gland extract that gives him heightened hearing and self-generated sonar. The zoologist is stunned by his serum's unexpected side effects, as formerly faint sounds are now deafening, and a mere table light is more than his eyes can endure. His woes are only beginning, however—he watches in horror as his hands sprout hair and metamorphose into claws, and his face transforms into a repugnant bat/human hybrid. Aghast, Langstrom intends to find a cure for his mutation, but soon encounters Batman, aiding the hero in battling the Blackout Gang, thieves whose infrared goggles give them night vision. Professing his idolatry of the Caped Crusader—“It was your inspiration … your great fight against criminals of the night—that brought this [transformation] on me!”—Langstrom slips away into the night. The bat-men again crossed paths two months later in Detective #402, when Batman discovered Man-Bat raiding a laboratory for biochemicals needed for his antidote. Appalled after realizing that Man-Bat was not wearing a costume as he had assumed, Batman attempted to help Langstrom, with the aid of the scientist's fiancée, Francine Lee. The growth of bat wings (with a wingspan of more than 13 feet) completed Langstrom's transformation into Man-Bat, his animal instincts overriding his human intelligence. After a climactic battle in the Batcave, where Man- Bat intuitively sought refuge, Batman barely prevailed over this maddened monster. When next seen in Detective #407 (1971), Langstrom and Francine married. Being the devoted wife, Francine took her husband's serum and became She-Bat, but a serum created by Batman restored the couple's humanity. “There's a lot of talk about who created Man- Bat,” remarked Julius Schwartz, the editor of Detective Comics (and Batman) during the 1970s, in Les Daniels' Batman: The Complete History (1999), indicating that he brainstormed the character. Conversely, Adams remembers that the idea for Man-Bat was his. In his foreword to Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams vol. 2 (2004), Adams recounted that he pitched “Manbat” (no hyphen) to Schwartz: “Manbat is an obvious and great idea … Look, Julie, one day, this same obvious idea is going to occur to someone up at Marvel. They'll giggle first at the idea then they'll do it, just to mess with DC.” Adams also wrote that he had constructed the origin story synopsis for Man-Bat, giving it to writer Frank Robbins, who, “along with Milton Caniff, was one of my heroes. It was a gift to a hero, I was glad to do it.” Man-Bat's origin story was folded into a sequence of the Batman newspaper strip in late 1970, written by E. Nelson Bridwell and illustrated by Al Plastino (who borrowed quite liberally from Adams' originals, swiping several classic poses of the character). Monster-hero and monster-villain comics were the rage during the 1970s, when the Comic Code Authority lifted its ban on horror characters, and Man-Bat enjoyed frequent appearances in various DC titles. Robbins continued to chronicle Langstrom's saga in Detective, also assuming the art chores from Adams (Robbins was known for his long-running Johnny Hazard newspaper strip, which he wrote and drew). Man-Bat teamed with Batman in The Brave and the Bold #119 (1975), where Batman briefly became a Man-Bat himself, and Langstrom graduated into his own series later that year, which ran for two issues. “Robin Meets Man- Bat,” a 1976 Batman narrated comic book from Power (Peter Pan) Records, featured Neal Adams art (and a partial reprint of Detective #402). Man- Bat appeared in solo backup tales in the late 1970s, in both Detective and Batman Family; emerging fan-favorite artists Marshall Rogers, Howard Chaykin, and Michael Golden were among Man-Bat's artists. As the character's story progressed, Francine temporarily became She-Bat again after being bitten by a vampire bat, and Langstrom improved his serum, gaining control over his conversions and maintaining his intellect as the pseudo-superhero Man-Bat. Mr. and Mrs. Man-Bat had a daughter, Rebecca, in 1978, and into the 1980s Langstrom's mental instability resurfaced during his Man-Bat transformations. In the mid-1980s, a Man-Bat prototype toy was created by Kenner as a possible addition to its Super Powers action-figure line; the line was discontinued before Man-Bat could be produced. Man-Bat's tragic tale was first adapted to the screen in “On Leather Wings,” a 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS). Appropriately, Marc Singer—known to sci-fi fans as the star of The Beastmaster (1982)—voiced the bestial Bat-foe. Man-Bat appeared in additional BTAS episodes, and Kenner produced an action figure of the softer, kid-friendly cartoon version of the villain. In the years since, additional Man-Bat action figures have been produced bearing the more gruesome visage of the comic's version of the character. In the late 1990s, Man-Bat was rumored to be under consideration, along with the Scarecrow, for what was then being called Batman 5, aka Batman: Darknight (one word); this version never materialized. Man-Bat returned to television in the animated program The Batman (2004–present), portrayed by Peter MacNicol. DC Comics revamped Man-Bat's origin in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #5 (1995), as part of a series of “Year One” editions for its characters. In writer Chuck Dixon and illustrator Quique Alcatena's “Wings,” Kirk Langstrom was now profoundly hearing impaired, devising his bat-serum as a means to cure his progressive deafness. Subsequent appearances have portrayed Man-Bat more as a monster than a rogue, and the character starred in a 1996 miniseries. Misfortune continues to roost in the Langstrom family cave. The youngest of the brood, Aaron, was born a freakish boy-bat due to his father's tainted cellular structure. To protect Aaron from Gotham's myriad dangers, Francine and Rebecca have become She-Bats. Batman remains sympathetic to this family's peculiar plight, but generally regards Man-Bat as a danger.

Man-Bat

(pop culture)

Man-Bat is a vampire-like character introduced in the 1970s by DC Comics as the stiff guidelines of the 1954 Comics Code were being relaxed. Created by Frank Robins, Man-Bat made his initial appearance in Detective Comics (No. 400) in early 1970. The original story concerned Kirk Langstrom, an expert on nocturnal mammals at the museum in Gotham City, the home of superhero Batman. Langstrom had become obsessed with the idea of besting Batman in some way. In seeking to accomplish his goal, he concocted a serum made from the glands of bats. The serum gave him a natural sonar power and the supersensitive hearing abilities associated with bats. There was an unwanted side effect—he began to transform into a giant bat creature.

Langstrom was trying to find some way out of his predicament when thieves broke into the museum. Batman was about to be defeated by the thieves when Man-Bat showed up to help. In their next encounter, Man-Bat attempted to steal drugs that he hoped would reverse his condition. At the time, Langstrom was engaged, his marriage was approaching, and he was trapped in his bat form.

His fiance, Francine, took some of the serum as an act of love and thus joined Langstrom in his batlike existence. With Batman’s help they both received an antidote and returned to human form.

Their story appeared to be over. However, there was enough reader reaction to include several new Man-Bat stories in future issues of Detective Comics. In No. 429, Francine was bitten by a vampire bat and became a vampire she-bat. Her vampiric side was cured by a complete blood transfusion. Meanwhile, Langstrom had continued his research and attained the ability to turn into Man-Bat at will by taking some pills. He became a crime fighter like Batman. In this capacity he earned a large reward that left him independently wealthy. At the end of 1975, DC Comics tried to test their new character, who seemed to have a large following, with his own comic book. The first issue of Man-Bat appeared in December 1975. In it, Langstrom was called upon to deal with super criminal Baron Tyme, who had discovered a means to control Francine and use her to commit crimes.

Tyme’s intervention reactivated Francine’s vampirism. The new comic book was short lived, however, and after only two issues, Man-Bat returned to Detective Comics. Over the next decade, Man-Bat made sporadic appearances to interact with Batman (for example, in Batman Family No. 18 in 1978 and Batman No. 348 in 1982) and occasionally with other DC characters, such as Superman (DC Comics Presents No. 335 in 1981). In 1984 a second attempt was made to revive Man-Bat in a separate publication. The original Man-Bat stories from Detective Comics were reprinted, but only one issue appeared, and Man-Bat returned to a secondary role in the ongoing DC cast.

Through the 1990s to the present, Man-Bat has made periodic appearances and, in the hands of new artists John Bolton and Kelley Jones, developed a more sinister appearance. He has also been involved in more stories which have pushed him to the edge of human society. In “Final Night of the Man-Bat,” for example, Doug Moench and Jones placed Man-Bat in a Gotham City that had lost its sunlight and Batman had to save Man-Bat from losing his humanity altogether and becoming a killer.

In the middle of the first decade of the new century, Batman is apparently killed in a story line called the “Final Crisis,” though the people of Gotham only know that he has disappeared and seemingly abandoned them. While a power struggle begins to fill Batman’s place, Langstrom is struggling with the possibility of changing into Man-Bat and killing his wife as a tragic result. His wife disappears and, while searching for her, Langstrom is captured by the villainous Doctor Phosphorus, from whom he learns that he no longer needs the serum to make the change into Man-Bar. When the opportunity arises, he changes in order to save his wife from Phosphorus’s evil designs.

Man-Bat has proved popular enough to remain an active character in Batman’s comic book world and to make the jump to television beginning with Batman: The Animated Series (1992–1995). There have been several Man-Bat action figures.

Sources:

Delano, Jamie, and John Bolton. Batman Manbat. No. 1–3. New York: DC Comics, 1995.
Man-Bat. DC Comics. Nos. 1–2 (December 1975/January 1976,–February/March 1976).
Man-Bat. DC Comics. No. 1 (1984).
Man-Bat. DC Comics. Nos. 1–6 (June 2006–0ctober 2006).
Moench, Doug et al. “Darkest Night of the Man-Bat.” Batman 536–68 (November 1996–January 1998).

Manchester, Sean see: Vampire Research Society