TITLE: “Batman: Night of the Monster Men”
AUTHORS: Steve Orlando, Tom King, Tim Seeley, James Tynion IV
PENCILLERS: Riley Rossmo, Roge Antonio, Andy MacDonald
COLLECTS: Batman #7–9, Nightwing #7–8, Detective Comics #941–942
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
CUMULATIVE PRICE: $17.94
GRAPHIC NOVEL RELEASE: March 2017
***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
This “Night of the Monster Men” crossover boasts an extremely talented group of writers and artists, stars Batman and some of his more popular allies, and is even inspired by one of the very first Batman stories. It also began a week after DC “killed” Tim Drake. So there was a lot of potential here for a creative, emotional, thrill ride.
Yeah, none of that happened. “Night of the Monster Men” feels like your wife dragging you to one of your friend’s weddings. It’s an obligation you’re stuck with, so you try to make the best of it. But in the end you’re just happy to get the hell out of there.
Running through Batman, Nightwing, and Detective Comics, this story sees Hugo Strange create giant monsters that attack the city. Much of Batman’s surrogate family gets wrapped up in the chaos. But despite all the innocent lives that hang in the balance, Strange’s entire plot is about Batman himself.
All this Hugo Strange/Monster Men stuff is inspired by a story from 1940’s Batman #1 entitled “Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters.” It’s a respectable early outing for the Dark Knight by Bill Finger and Bob Kane in which Strange creates a bunch of big ogres to terrorize the city. Matt Wagner took the same cue for his 2006 miniseries Batman and the Monster Men, which was exponentially better.
“Night of the Monster Men” suffers from a variety of problems. But chief among them is a lack of emotional stakes. That’s an odd problem to have, considering what just happened with Tim, and how many of Batman’s surrogate family members are in this fight. In the first issue, Batman repeatedly emphasizes that no one else is dying. This gives the impression that we’re going to get an overprotective Batman, frantically trying to micromanage the efforts of his partners to keep them from dying. This would be futile, of course. But it would have made a great emotional backdrop. We also had the perfect cast for such a story, with Bruce having recently trusted Batwoman to train this new crop of young heroes. And of course, we’ve got his original partner, Dick Grayson. Hugo Strange’s motive also would have been more poignant.
Instead, we mostly get a story about Batman fighting monsters. Monsters created from cadavers, no less. We can’t even go the route of, “Don’t kill the monsters! They’re people!” Later, two of our heroes are turned into monsters, but they don’t mine this for much emotion either.
Granted, they’re cool looking monsters. “Night of the Monster Men” enlists Riley Rossmo and Andy MacDonald, both of whom excel in the fantasy/horror side of things. We also have they very capable Roge Antonio, who give us a nice blend of horror and naturalism. Instead of going the ogre route, the story mostly opts for a mix of mutant aberrations and giant kaiju type monsters. They’re fun to look at, but they’d be more fun if they were more than mere physical threats to our heroes Batman. There’s little of any depth or substance to them, and what the final issue attempts to pass as such via Strange’s motivation doesn’t connect in a meaningful way. (That monster represented fear? But weren’t we supposed to be afraid of all of them?)
So instead of a coherent crossover that ties into and takes advantage of Batman’s fragile emotional state, what we essentially get is a bunch of fluff that they attempt to tie together at the end with some psych mumbo jumbo. It’s all so hollow.
“Night of the Monster Men” also suffers from being a little too long, and a little too crowded. The story struggles to give Spoiler and Orphan something to do in all of this. Like Booster Gold in his Justice League Unlimited episode, they’re mostly relegated to crowd control. There’s a cave sequence (not that cave) involving Spoiler, Orphan, and Harvey Bullock that largely feels like padding. If they’d cut that out, along with the ridiculous scene where our heroes use giant guns and harpoons on top of buildings (conveniently adored with the heroes’ insignias) to stop a monster, they’d probably have been able to trim this down from six issues to four. Five at most.
Nightwing #8 and Detective Comics #942 also make full use of the “Hugo Strange dressed as Batman” trope, as we learn that Strange himself wants to be Batman. A fine motive, though not necessary in this case. “Night of the Monster Men” would have worked fine as Strange’s attempt to spotlight Batman’s inadequacies and force him to hang up the cowl, in the process pouring salt in the wound left by Tim’s departure. Perhaps the urge to use the only piece of classic Batman/Hugo Strange imagery was too intense. Admittedly, at that point I was just happy we were finally getting a scene between two human beings, as opposed to hollow monster battles.
On the upside, this story makes fine use of Clayface’s new status as one of Batman’s allies. He plays a practical role at first, spreading himself out to guide people out of the city. He also plays an integral role in the finale. But his highlight here, and one of the highlights in “Monster Men” as a whole, comes in Batman #8. As the Dark Knight is about to face one of the monsters head on, Clayface envelops him, effectively becoming a suit of armor. Does technically this fall under the banner of giant awful Batman robots/armor? Absolutely. But the execution is unique enough that it gets a pass from me.
“Batman and the Monster Men” offers good showings from the artists attached, and a bright spot here or there. But by and large, this was a turn off and a waste. Nightwing and Detective Comics were both on a solid course up to this point, and things were starting to look up for Batman. Hopefully we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming in short order.
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