Thursday, November 17, 2005

Batman & The Monster Men #1

How cool was it of DC to launch their All-Star initiative in this huge way? All-Star Superman and All-Star Batman on the same day!

What's that you say?

This isn't All-Star Batman? You say this iconic take on Batman by one of the best creators in comics isn't under the All-Star label? You say this is?

Oh. Isn't that disappointing.

Matt Wagner is an All-Star in my book, and a Wednesday that sees Superman and Batman stories this good sets my inner fanboy a-squealin'. This is the beginning of a project that explores the shift Batman makes early in his career from fighting thugs to fighting supervillains, freaks, and monsters. Though he hasn't done extensive runs on the character, I somehow think of Wagner as one of the definitive Batman artists and writers. I've always liked the look of his Batman: stocky, powerful, and very much a man in a costume. Visually, Wagner's Batman is not a god among men - he's just a man trying to be a hero. It's always very simple and direct, with clean lines that lend everything a timeless feel. Though there are costume choices that point to this being in current continuity, it doesn't feel jarringly unlike the 30's, when these stories were originally set. It feels like a classic Batman, still tightly connected to the pulp world that birthed him.

Past the art, what Wagner really nails in Monster Men is the conflicts inherent in Batman. Too often, writers feel they need to smooth out the jagged edges of Batman. They choose one facet of the character, and forego the rest because to integrate it is daunting. Theirs is the "scary" Batman, or the "playboy" Batman, or the "good guy" Batman. Wagner realizes that all these are part of the character, and in a very striking sequence near the middle of the book, he jumps from persona to persona to persona: he is a terror and a playboy and a do-gooder, all in the space of a few panels. There's no integration or smoothing - Wagner simply lets the character act, and allows the reader to form their own opinion of who and what this Batman is.

Since I've returned to comics, I have been waiting to read some great Batman stories again, but the regular books seem impenetrable and Miller and Lee have left me cold. Batman & The Monster Men is exactly what I've been waiting for. After all the anticipation I had for Morrison's All-Star Superman, finding this equally good Batman tale was a pleasant surprise. I'm hoping it doesn't get lost in the shuffle, and gets some notice for being the All-Star title it really is.



Spencer Carnage said...

Oh crap. Not knowing much about Wagner's work along with not really digging the covers for this, I totally passed it up. Now I HAVE to wait a zillion years before they turn this into a trade. Thanks a lot, Mark.

Mark Fossen said...

Being an oldster helps. :)

Mage, Grendel, Sandman Mystery Theatre ... those were great books. I hold Wagner up there with guys like Mike Mignola. He's a classic.

Shane Bailey said...

Grendel did it for me. Especially Grendel Prime.

Shane Bailey said...

I picked this up Friday night on your say so and loved it. Thanks for making me spend more money pal! ;)

Kurt said...

I came to the same conclusion - this would have been a much better All-Star Batman entry than what we're currently getting. And Wagner's even mentioned that we might see Robin in the second series. Which should make for some interesting comic blogging.

I've never read MAGE or GRENDEL but they're on my buy list.