What's that, you say? Gotham was hit by Man-Bats only recently in Batman Incorporated? And original Man-Bat Kirk Langstrom has been a friend of Batman for years?
Not anymore. Despite Batman's continuity having shifted almost wholesale over from the pre-Flashpoint days, we now learn that the many Man-Bat stories never happened. Batman is here introduced to Kirk and wife Francine by guest star Batwoman, who's come across them as she battled the new breed of bat.
As for the Batman Inc Man-Bats, they're referenced in such a way as to make me suspect writer John Layman could have done without them showing up across the hall - who wants to show off their new outfit when someone's already wearing it?
As an Olde-Time fan, I'm disappointed that Batman's suddenly lost a big chunk of history. Trying to see things from the point of view of newer readers, though, why shouldn't they have the same thrill of meeting Man-Bat that I once had. I saw Man-Bat debut in Detective Comics #400 - or at least, in a reprint thereof a few years later - and younger fans see him born anew in, to all intents and purposes, Detective Comics #900.
He's not so scary-looking these days, his visage less ratty and more like a Chinese carnival mask. Less horrific, I'd say, but the art of Jason Fabok overall is a treat to look at, especially when he cuts loose with spreads and splashes of the city, Batcave and biting bat-people; the images really bring Layman's story to life. The script is competent, but never catches fire. Batman isn't terribly impressive here, as Alfred does all the detective work and the day is saved by Langstrom. There's a clear message that while Batman thinks he's the only one who can sort things out, it's just not true. This is compounded by a scene showing Batgirl and Nightwing ignoring his entreaties to team up with him - Batgirl fights the Man-Bats alone, while Nightwing rides away from Gotham. It's actually pretty unbelievable that these two wouldn't put the (stupid) falling out in the pages of Batman aside for the greater good of Gotham, and I couldn't ever see Nightwing not helping at all. But Layman is apparently a gentleman, diluting his own tale to service not only the Batman title, but Nightwing, where Dick is about to relocate to Chicago.
Hey ho, overall this is a decent lead tale, not just reintroducing Man-Bat but incorporating one of the most chilling Batman villains and igniting a major storyline featuring the newest kingpin on the Gotham block. But that's enough Man-Bats, eh? Let's see what this issue's bonus shorts have to offer.
Dang. More Man Bats. There's Mrs Langstrom - her traditional appearance supplanted by a Barbara Gordon makeover - reminiscing about Kirk and their work before making a bad decision; Mr Combustible and other small-time masks rampaging through Gotham as Batman is distracted by the Man-Bats; and members of the GCPD sharing opinions on Batman in the aftermath of the attack. All written by Layman, and drawn by Andy Clarke, Henrik Jonsson and Jason Masters respectively, the stories are again, decent without ever taking off. Layman and Clarke do, though, conjure up my favourite image of the issue in the rather disturbing Man-Batlets.
And then there's a short starring Bane, setting up his upcoming storyline in the Talon book. With script by that comic's regular writer, James Tynion IV, and art by Mikel Janin, it's probably all right if you like that kind of thing. I don't, which is why I don't buy Talon - this is nothing more than cross advertising I'd rather not be paying to read.
The 80-pager - at $7.99 for around 70pp of story and art it's not a bad deal - is rounded out by a series of pin-ups, with my favourites being those by Dustin Nguyen and Cameron Stewart. The gatefold cover by Fabok and colourist Jeromy Cox is really rather nice too, part of the DC promotion previously known as WTF? Month, before wiser heads prevailed.
While not a bad comic, what this book lacks is a done-in-one, iconic offering showing why Batman has survived into his eighth decade. Instead we get a regular Batman title, only bigger.