Last week I noted that I’ve really only reviewed Marvel books, this week I will rectify that situation somewhat. I went to my local library a few days ago. I fully intended to ONLY return books and pay my late fees, and NOT check out anything new. I did return some books, however, I didn’t pay those late fees and I walked out with a stack of graphic novels and a few non-graphic novels (although one is written by Stephen King, so it’s graphic in a very different sense). One of those graphic novels was a Batman collection featuring Man-Bat! Today we’ll look at Detective Comics no. 400.
First, issue 400! Wow! This comic came out in 1970 and they were already at issue 400. At that point in time, Marvel wasn’t even a decade old. Yes, the company existed under various other names, but the Marvel that changed comics didn’t. Before Marvel could redefine comic books Superman and Batman invented. The cover also features Batman’s sidekicks who don’t show up in this story and fill the back pages, pages we won’t focus on here.
The story begins with a crazy Bat-Guy named Langstrom. He’s working on some really batty stuff, better than Batman stuff. It involves bat gland extract, which sounds super gross.
The Blackout Gang breaks into… honestly, I’m not sure, somewhere, but the where is less relevant than the why, which I also don’t know. What REALLY MATTERS is the technology they’re using to out bat-man Batman (you with me there?). This tech includes hearing and seeing in the dark, things the real Batman can’t do… yet.
Meanwhile, the Bat-Guy can also see in the dark and has a sort of bat-like radar screech. Based on my vast knowledge of science I know that bats can’t see in the dark, they basically scream and listen for the sound to bounce back to them, telling them what’s in front of them. Which I guess makes them Daredevil? NO! No Marvel, this is a DC review!
At the same time, Batman, the regular Batman, the Bruce Wayne one, is working on artificial ears, which he tests on poor Alfred. There is a nice dynamic to this story as you have Man-Bat, Batman and the Blackout Gang all working to gain or utilizing the same bat-like abilities as the story progresses. On that note, Langstrom’s gland extract is not just giving him bat-like abilities, but making him bat-like. The Man-Bat goes into hiding.
Batman again confronts the Blackout Gang, while it’s not the fight you want to see, at this point you and I are both waiting on the Man-Bat vs. Batman tussle. The creators Neil Adams, Dick Giordano, and Frank Robbins know it and play with that.
Despite his improving technology and ability to “see” in the dark, Batman listens for the heartbeats of the gang members. However, the gang seems to be one step ahead of Batman, using a cacophony of bouncing ping-pong balls to overwhelm Batman’s hearing.
Batman appears to be defeated when an unlikely ally shows up. No, not Robin or Batgirl as the cover might promise, also, I just said unexpected, those two are not just expected but required to help Batman. It’s none other than the Man-Bat!
One of the gang members is about to kill the Man-Bat, but Batman gathers himself just in time to save his fellow bat. Man-Bat reveals that he was inspired by Batman, and in a very Batman-like way, vanishes.
The final panel is a glorious tease. It challenges your expectations about the guy the cover presented as a new bad guy, the same guy who saved Batman in this very comic. Is he friend or foe? Come back next week for Detective Comics 402, the second appearance of Man-Bat, to find out!
Josiah Golojuh is a writer, who loves the sweeping fantasy of Green Lantern and the gritty reality of Batman (find his collection of short stories here), he’s also a YouTube commentator (grit and fantasy aplenty).