This book forms a the second half of a two-parter with Batman and the Monster Men. This book continues directly on from events in Monster Men, it starts with Bruce Wayne reflecting on Cat Woman and wondering if he is the inspiration behind her appearance. Realising that she is a thief, he worries that his own costumed antics have "inadvertently given license to every crook with a flair for the dramatic" to assume aliases and don costumes, a most unwelcome side-effect of his Batman. The feisty feline only features during what would have been the first edition of 'Mad Monk' (which consisted of 6 individual comics) but she is everything that she ought to be; sexy, sleek, sassy and dangerous.
As this is still covering the early days of Batman we get interesting insights of Bruce Wayne's mental notes to improve his performance - within the first few pages he is suffering the effects of a battle with Catwoman and realises that his costume provides very little protection against poisoned cat scratches - let alone a bullet. Although his relationship with Alfred is solid, he is still developing his mutual friendship with James Gordon, and his nocturnal affairs are impacting on his personal life. We get to see the practicalities of living as a masked hero, having to sleep during the daytime and then pretend to sleep during meetings in order to maintain his carefree image. Having a girlfriend complicates things somewhat and Julie Madison plays a key role in this story. The duality of his life means that his relationship with Miss. Madison is suffering. She's falling for him but is constantly let down by his need to be somewhere else, though even her strong headed attitude melts when she thinks of Gotham's most eligible male.
Obviously this compliments Monster Men well, but the tie-in with Year One helps to establish this as part of the same timeline. This is most evident with James Gordon's run-ins with the less than professional attitude of some of his peers. Resentment over his anti-corruption stance reference his clashes in Year One, and suspicion over his special relationship with the Batman mean that he is very unpopular to many - but some share Gordon's vision and value his rumoured alliance with the masked crime fighter.
This story seems to have been undeservedly bashed, it has a few weaknesses but is overall strong. The conclusion feels a bit rushed (especially where the main villain is concerned) but there are some fantastic elements to the book. I'm not a fan of things being too supernatural as it can lead to sloppy story-telling, it seemed as though Mad Monk was treading that path but whether events are truly occult or simply 'cult' is left ambiguous and up to the reader to decide. Observations on Harvey Dent's almost double personality are subtle but a great way to lay the foundations of his future and act as a knowing nod to fans. There's the obligatory Superman reference and as I always tend to write - Alfred gets some of the most amusing dialogue.
The artwork is fairly consistent (with only some faces not quite looking as you expect at points) with the sky-scrapers of Gotham City providing a pleasing set of lines for Batman to glide through. As before, pages sometimes follow a colour theme and there are some very vibrant pages including a double page with some magnificent reds where the black and greys of Batman's costume look incredible in contrast. Other double page spreads showcase some excellent artwork and Rallstone Castle looks sublime.
In a nutshell: Maybe not one of the all-time Batman greats, this is non-the-less a continuation from the Year One comic reboot and it works well. By the end of it you feel that Bruce Wayne/Batman has matured further and become more effective at what he does. It also ends on a note which will have you desperate to read the next book in the series: The Man Who Laughs.
on 4 February 2013
Batman battles a vampire cult - what's not to like?
For some reason, 'Batman & The Mad Monk' has been somewhat maligned by the online Bat-community. Because of these dodgy reviews, I actually avoided getting hold of a copy for a while. However, now that I have read this book, I can honestly say that it is one of the most fun, entertaining and artistically vibrant Batman yarns of recent years.
First, some backstory: 'Batman & The Mad Monk' has its origins in a pulpy 'Detective Comics' tale from 1939 by Gardner Fox and (Batman co-creator) Bob Kane. Ergo, this version is essentially a modern re-telling of the original.
Despite a then-contemporary re-vamp (pun intended) of the story sometime in the 1980's, the tale has not been seriously re-told or re-visited since the 40's. However, Bruce Wayne's battle with the 'Mad Monk' character has remained an important part of Batman's early career, with the case regularly alluded to throughout the 7+ decades of the character's adventures. Throughout the years, the Monk's distinctive red mask has been depicted prominently amongst Batman's many trophies, something that has often created curiosity amongst fans.
This new version of the story is the second (and concluding) chapter of writer/artist Matt Wagner's 'Dark Moon Rising' story arc, which re-visited this 1939 story and, in the preceding chapter, re-told the story 'The Giants of Hugo Strange' (which first appeared in 1940's 'Batman' Issue 1). In contemporary continuity, this story takes place sometime between 'Batman: Year One' and 'The Man Who Laughs' (with 'Batman: Prey' possibly taking place between the two of them - but that's open to interpretation).
The story continues the reintroduction of Bruce's Golden Age flame Julie Madison, as our hero's nocturnal activities (as well as her Father's continuing nervous breakdown) begin to take a serious toll on their relationship. The story also follows on from 'Year One's character development of (future) commissioner Jim Gordon who is, at this point, a Captain. Jim is still having to (literally) fight against police corruption and defend this new costumed vigilante who has taken up a one-man war against crime.
As with the previous chapter (Batman & The Monster Men') the essential elements of the story remain unchanged, but a deeper, more complex and modern story fills in the remaining gaps.
The artwork is kinetic, visceral and exciting. The red and black colour palette contrasts superbly with the grays of the castle walls and the textured sheen that colourist extraordinaire Dave Stewart applies to Batman's cape and costume. Each page is truly dazzling to behold, whether it depicts Gotham City by night or the seedy nightclubs from which The Monk's assistant plucks the cult's unfortunate victims. Somehow, Wagner manages to take a cartoonist's approach to the character design, but applies an architect's vision to both Gotham City and the Monk's castle (yes, he has a castle - complete with stairs that disappear and a box room that collapses in on itself with blades coming out of the wall. Oh yes). Wagner's supple artwork is so nuanced and perfectly tuned, that the (often wild) shifts in tone between relatively explicit violence and gore (an unfortunate underling is placed in an iron maiden before being torn apart by timber wolves) and gentle, sensitive moments between Bruce and Julie, or Julie and her father, appear subtle and perfectly judged. This story is beautiful, bright and evocative. On every page.
Another nice touch, I felt, was the ambiguity surrounding the titular villain. Rather than give the Monk a definitive origin, alter ego and powerset (as the 80's version did), this new version is a real mystery. In fact, he may not be a vampire at all. Yes, he drinks Human blood, yes, he is hypnotic and yes, he appears to move superhumanly quickly (but Batman is drugged out of his mind when he observes the last trait). But who is he really? What is he?
Just like 'The Killing Joke', we are forced to consider the possibility that this villain does, in fact, have multiple origins.
Is he Niccolai Tepes, a murderous foreigner from Eastern Europe?
Is he Richard Rallstone, wealthy orphaned Bruce Wayne analogue who travelled the world pursuing exotic pleasures as opposed to justice?
Or is he the spirit of a vampiric demon entity known as 'The One Who Walks in the Shadow of the Moon'? A monster that has possessed before and is waiting to possess again (much like 'Dracula' in the old Hammer Horror movies). This last interpretation neatly sets him up for a return to comics at some point.
This is a fluid and flexible story that is, at its core, pure pulp. It is not at all afraid to go to extremes of lurid camp, bloodthirsty savagery or downright silliness (often in the space of a page).
My only knock on this book is that the final rooftop showdown between Batman and The Monk is rushed and anticlimactic. It looks great, but it's very much a 'deus ex machina' moment...In fact, the whole ending could be a little more conclusive.
Finally, for those fans who found the concept of this story to be too outlandish, allow me to remind you that this is a story about a man who dresses up like a bat in order to fight crime. If you really are intent on everything mentioned in this book being 'plausible', then look up so-called 'real life vampires' online or imagine that The Monk did it all with chemicals and trickery (it works in all instances).
Overall, this is not an 'essential' Bat-story. It is, however, an awesome one.
If you're still not sold, then I have two words for you: silver batarangs. Oh yes.