"Night of the Monster Men" was a six-part story that ran weekly through two issues a piece of Batman, Detective Comics and Nightwing, detailing Batman and his many allies' attempts to safeguard the city from bizarre monsters created by Hugo Strange and set loose on the city as part of an elaborate (and rather silly) attempt to dramatize the renegade psychologist's diagnosis of Batman's flawed psyche.
Before we get into the story itself, it is probably useful to remind ourselves what's been going on in Gotham City just prior to this event story.
Batman recently took Duke Thomas under his wing and began training him as a new partner, here taking the unusual step of not naming him Robin (Duke wears a black and yellow, bat-themed costume when on the streets, but thus far hasn't taken a codename of any kind). Among their very first challenges were facing two metahuman superheroes–Gotham and Gotham Girl–driven mad by Psycho-Pirate's Medusa Mask. Gotham died, but Gotham Girl survived, and has been living in the Batcave with them (For more on Duke, check out All-Star Batman; he's been appearing in both the main story and starring in a back-up feature).
At Batman's behest, Batwoman has been training Spoiler (Stephanie Brown), Orphan (Cassandra Cain) and criminally insane supervillain Clayface (Basil Karlo). Their first big mission was trying to stop her father and his secret splinter group of the U.S. military from killing dozens of Gothamites that they believed were part of a conspiracy that may or may not even exist. Batman's new team succeeded, but at the cost of Red Robin Tim Drake's life...or so it seemed. In reality, he was saved only to be imprisoned by the mysterious Mr. Oz (This was the first story arc of the recently de-relaunched Detective Comics).
The original Robin, Dick Grayson, recently retired from his brief career as a super-spy for Spyral and resumed his Nightwing identity. He's currently working alongside a sketchy new partner named Raptor to stop the Court of Owls from going international (in the pages of Nightwing, obviously).
As for Batman's other allies, current Robin Damian Wayne is MIA (apparently off founding a new iteration of the Teen Titans, as can be seen in the pages of Teen Titans), Batgirl is traveling Asia (in Batgirl) and Red Hood is semi-undercover as a bad guy in an effort to infiltrate Black Mask's criminal organization (in Red Hood and The Outlaws).
Now, if the Monster Men sound familiar to you, there's a good reason for that. Batman first faced off against Hugo Strange's Monster Men in 1940's Batman #1, in a story entitled "The Giants of Hugo Strange." In that story, most likely written by Bill Finger and drawn by Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson (although credits weren't exactly trustworthy in that particular franchise at that particular point in time), Strange injected five insane men with a super-serum that turned them into 15-foot-tall ogres bent on mindless destruction–a perfect cover for his robberies.
Matt Wagner returned to that material for his 2006 miniseries Batman and The Monster Men, which expanded and updated the story to fit into modern Batman continuity and meet modern comic story-telling style. Both would have been knocked out of the character's official history with 2011's Flashpoint-driven reboot, making this third version of the story the official one. The monster men in Wagner's telling were still very man-like; not so in writer Steve Orlando and company's version.
Even without the threat of monster men, this is going to be a pretty terrible night for Gotham City, as Hurricane Milton is bearing down on it. That's right, a hurricane. Gotham City not only sits atop a massive fault line (see "Cataclysm" and "No Man's Land"), it's also in the path of hurricanes, making it the most dangerous place to live on the eastern seaboard, and that's just when considering the natural disasters!
This is explained via a radio announcer, for which I blame the issue's co-plotter Tom King, as he used that device in "Robin War" as well. Batman is meeting with his top lieutenants Batwoman and Nightwing atop a building, telling them that they are going to make sure no one dies at all, no matter what, to which they both essentially reply not to be so crazy, Batman; it's not like you can punch out a hurricane. Batman is really upset about Tim Drake's fake death, though, and so he calls "everyone" in.
Here "everyone" merely means Spoiler, Orphan, Clayface and the Gotham City Police Department. I've already mentioned where his other sidekicks are, although I'm not sure why he hasn't called in the Justice League, as presumably Superman, for example, actually could punch out the hurricane...or at least use his various spectacular powers to divert it. Of course, one could always ask why Batman doesn't just call his bro Superman to come solve any problem he's faced with, and readers of Batman comics generally have to just accept the fact that Batman won't call in the League because they are reading a Batman comic and not a Justice League comic. That's a little more difficult in this case, though, as he just called the League in two issues ago to help him take down Gotham (the mad superhero, not the city), and, as we'll see, the League eventually shows up during the course of this story, right when they are needed the least.
The plan is for Clayface to split into a bunch of selves, each of them in the shape of GCPD officer, and his clay-selves, Spoiler and Orphan will help evacuate the city and keep peace at the caves outside of town.
And then a monster shows up, so Batman takes Batwoman and Nightwing to deal with that while the others handle crowd control.
Said monster is very, very different from the previous versions of the monster men. These monsters begin their "lives" as corpses laid out on tables in a morgue, and then start...dripping. Red goo. Hugo Strange, meanwhile, is working out in the nude.
The first monster looks like a two-story tall baby, one fat baby arm bigger, redder and fatter than the other, with a massive, swollen, mushroom cloud-shaped head with a huge red eye in the middle of it.
Using giant syringes to take tissue samples and with Alfred and Duke on the computers, Batman and team are able to determine that the giant baby monster was the guy who slit his own throat in front of Commissioner Gordon the previous Batman arc, warning "The Monster Men are...coming." Also, it has heavily modified cells, "like programmable stem cells, but super-charged."
But this is, of course, only the first monster. A second appears on the final splash page (that's the one at the top of the post), this one even less human in appearance, bearing a body something like that of a huge pteradon, but with a long, maned neck terminating in a fang-filled animal head with six red eyes. At this point it becomes pretty clear what this story is going to end up being all about: Batman vs. kaiju, basically.
I immediately thought of Steve Niles and Kelley Jones' series Batman: Gotham After Midnight, during the course of which Batman broke out a giant monster-fighting machine he had made, which was essentially just a giant metal punching machine.
|Batman's giant monster punching machine, from Batman: Gotham After Midnight #3.|
My next thought? Okay, maybe now you call in the Justice League. Multiple giant monsters seems more like a League-level threat than Gotham (the guy, not the city) was in issue #5, you know?
This chapter is drawn by Rossmo, who is probably the strongest of the three artists involved in this story. I'm not sure who designed the monsters, but they deserve high-fives; they are all very different from one another, and some of them look like Guy Davis-level weird; more anime monsters than old-school kaiju (Cover artist Yannick Paquette unfortunately does a poor job of featuring the monsters themselves on these covers, as you can see above; I can't tell you how disappointed I am that they didn't have Jones draw these covers, as Batman and monsters are pretty much his exact wheelhouse).
I wonder where Sims would place Rossmo's bat-ears on the Sprang-Jones scale...?
In the Batcave, Duke is whining to Alfred about having to stay indoors with him doing computer stuff instead of being out there fighting giant monsters with Batman, while Gotham Girl, wearing Duke's old Robin jacket over her superhero costume like they are going steady or something, remarks that she can hear buildings crumbling and giant heartbeats with her super-hearing. Guys, there's an entire mansion a short elevator ride above you; surely you can find Gotham Girl something to wear aside from Duke's old coat.
In the city, Batman and Batwoman take on the second of the monsters, the one that looks a bit like a huge furry pterosaur with a weird head, while Nightwing is tasked with tracking down Hugo Strange, starting with the morgue where the corpse that grew into the first monster was last seen.
Before he goes, Nightwing mentions that Batman does have a giant-monster fighting plan (Ooh, I hope it's that Kelley Jones contraption!), which he calls "The Tower contingencies" and Batman calls "The Wayne Watchtowers." By whatever name they are called, however, we are told that they are too dangerous to activate before the city has been completely cleared.
Does Batman have giant-monster fighting mechas all folded-up inside a few of his properties? Is the climax of this series going to involve our heroes launching giant, bat-themed Evas?
We'll just have to wait and see.
In the meantime, Batman activates Duke's "special project," "The Bat-Beacon." This is essentially Batman's own emergency broadcast system, which projects holograms of Batman out of all the street lights, so he can tell people to evacuate and to keep a stiff upper-lip and everything.
From there, he and Batwoman grab some super-motorcycles to fight the monster with; by the time they've engaged it thusly, it has grown two more heads.
As for the girls, they are helping Detective Harvey Bullock and other members of the GCPD move evacuees into the cave system outside of town, but something weird is going on there. Everyone is getting irritable and angry, as is prone to happen in such situations, but there's a red liquid covering them, so maybe their anger isn't entirely natural?
At the morgue, Nightwing does not find Strange, nude or otherwise, but he does find evidence that there are not two, but four monsters that have burrowed their way out of there. Our Oracle Bros Alfred and Duke help determine the identity of one of the dead guys-turned-monster, and Nightwing realizes that it is headed for Blackgate prison.
This is the monster on the cover. Monster #3 is roughly human-sized from the waist up, with a Nosferatu-like head, a desiccated torso and insect-like arms and legs. It drags a gigantic, bloated mass behind it, likely containing something super-gross.
Nigthwing is in the process of hurriedly assembling a hang glider or something to fly out to Blackgate with when Gotham Girl rockets passed him on her way to save the day. If you missed Tom King's initial Batman arc, her deal is that she and her brother were both given Superman-like powers, but the more they use them, the quicker they burn out their life forces. Additionally, she is suffering the effects of a the Psycho-Pirate's Medusa Mask, so Batman and Duke would both prefer she just hang out in the Batcave, rather than fly off to fight giant monsters.
Batwoman, still fighting Monster #2 atop a motorcycle, checks in with everyone via radio, so that during the course of a five-panel sequence we can be reminded of who is doing what where (and also see incoming artist Andy MacDonald's renditions of all the characters right off the, um, bat). Batman continues to try to talk Gotham Girl out of flying to confront Monster #3 at Blackgate, saying Nightwing will be there soon, and she talks a bit of smack: "Whoever Nightwing is he isn't fast enough or strong enough."
Much of the action in this issue is divided between two battlegrounds: The caves outside Gotham where Spoiler, Orphan and the GCPD have corralled the evacuating citizens, and Blackgate prison.
The people in the caves have gradually started questioning authority and fighting one another and, thanks to the red goop, begin to act with a sort of hive mind, turning on the heroes and law enforcement.
At Blackgate, Gotham Girl lands in a superhero pose that shatters the cement beneath her, accompanied by the sound effect GA-THOOM. That is the sound of Gotham Girl smash-landing on cement: "GA-THOOM." What does she find there? Dog-sized creatures that look a bit like giant toads crossed with superman villain Doomsday, attaching themselves to the shoulders and heads of inmates and snaking their long, gross Venom tongues down around them. These are the things apparently hatching out of the huge, gross egg-sack that Monster #3 drags behind it. Nightwing arrives and tries to talk Gotham Girl down a bit, suggesting that maybe tearing the monster to pieces isn't the best course of action, but she basically goes into berserker mode and tearing through the monster's egg sac and then just ripping and ripping and ripping in one of the grossest sequences I've seen in a long time: She and Nightwing are just covered in dead monster gore by the time she's done.
The five-headed, building-sized Monster #2 has taken flight, and Batman is still crouched atop his motorcycle, which is attached to the monster by a grappling hook. That's right, he and Batwoman are still fighting the five-headed, blade-horned furry pteradon-esque creature. Surely at this point a call to Superman wouldn't be out of the question, right? He could be in Gotham knocking that thing out and back in Metropolis in less than a minute. I'm sure it would be no trouble at all!
After another quick recap of who is where, the increasingly eager to join the fight Duke reveals to Batman that he and Alfred have discovered what it was that created the monsters: A super-steroid with notable similarities to Venom, the super-steroid that Bane used to take to get super-jacked (and Batman was briefly addicted to, pre-reboot).
Nightwing and Gotham Girl, both mutated into monsters--albeit human-sized ones--by the viscera of Monster #3, both arrive on the scene for some more fighting. Batwoman keeps them busy while Batman finishes off the kaiju via a judicious application of electricity, and joins Batwoman by popping a wheelie and slapping Gotham Girl across the face with it. Oh, that Batman!
It's not enough though, and the day isn't saved until Duke Thomas arrives on the scene with a monster cure in a giant syringe, which he pokes G.G. with. Meanwhile, Batwoman and the monster-ized Nightwing fight in the sky and, outside of town, Spoiler's gambit with all the road flares worked, and the red goop making the Gothamites act all crazy melts off them, forms a river of black goop, and streams out of the cave, where it transforms into Monster #4, the biggest, scariest of the monsters so far.
Again, Paquette's cover really rather sells the monster short. With giant monsters, it's all about scale guys...although I suppose it's understandable that the artist might want to focus on the human-sized hero whose name is on the book in the cover image rather than on his titanic opponents.
Batwoman and the de-monsterized Gotham Girl manage to administer Duke's de-monstrification serum to Nightwing by the former essentially roping and riding the mutated Nightwing into the syringe the latter was holding up. Nightwing pukes up a bunch of monster juice, and is back to his old self, only missing his mask and a few small pieces of his shirt. Really, he could have stood to lose his entire shirt. I mean, don't you guys want to sell comics, DC? Then lets get Dick Grayson more shirtless more often!
Monster #4, the last of the Monster
Spoiler and Orphan arrive in a station wagon (?) to join the rest of the Bat-squad, just in time to dodge the train engine the latest monster chucks at them. Nightwing takes Spoiler to the top of a Wayne Tower, where she plugs her...super-computer staff?...into the floor and she and Nightwing start reviewing various clues regarding Hugo Strange's whereabouts on the Iron Man: The Movie like hard-light computers it projects...?
By way of explaining how she's able to crack encryptions in a matter of seconds and follow a money trail involving the Monster Venom and the facilities to process it, she tells Nightwing, "I'm The Cluemaster's daughter, Dick." Um, yeah, exactly my point, Steph.
Meanwhile, Dick watches a few seconds of recorded sessions between Strange and the four patients of his that he ended up turning into his Monster People, showing no respect for patient doctor privilege. Those few seconds are enough for Dick to boil each patient's diagnosis down to a single word--Manipulator, Fear, Grief and Child. He's starting to put it together.
The monster knows what they are up to, and starts scaling the tower to get to them, so Batman must activate the Wayne Watchtowers. Is this where one of his buildings transforms into a giant monster-fighting robot? No, sadly nothing that dramatic. The activation does apparently knock all power out of the city and then maybe divert it to the building or something, as it heats up and sets the monster on fire or something with a "SCHWUFF" as Spoiler and Nightwing jump to safety, Strange's location uncovered just in time.
So that's all four monsters down and out, has The Night of The Monster People ended so soon, with a whole issue yet to go?
Ha, Batman and friends wish!
No, the "dead" monsters have all been linking some kind of pink goo that has been gradually sliming its way together, forming an even bigger monster than the biggest of the first four. This final monster isn't too sensational of a design; he looks a little like Spider-Man villain The Rhino, but with a giant Sarlacc Pit mouth for a face.
So Batman does the sensible thing: He calls The Justice League and asks them to come take care of this monster for him while he and his team go beat the crap out of Strange.
No, I'm just playing. He tells his team to use The Watchtowers--special fortified buildings bristling with high-tech weaponry that Batman built after Darkseid's "Year One" invasion--while he goes to fight Strange himself. On the final splash page, we finally see Strange again. He is not nude, but he is wearing a Batman suit. Not the cape and cowl, just the suit from, like, the neck down. Which is really too bad, because I'd love to see what he would look like wearing the cowl. Like, it's hard to imagine a Batman with a beard and glasses, isn't it?
And that's the final page of the penultimate chapter of "Night of The Monster Men"...! Just one more issue to go!
This is page four of this comic book, in its entirety:
That totally looks like they are all jumping into their own individual robot lions or vehicles or Megazords or whatever, and they are totally going to combine them to form a giant robot, right? I mean, everything about that page, right?
I found the third tier the most intriguing, because it shows that each of the four Watchtowers is apparently programmed with a particular symbol for a particular member of Batman's Bat-squad to light up on its side. I have to imagine those symbols change depending on who is in the individual towers' cockpits, as it's really hard to imagine that Batman had a tower all set up for Spoiler and Orphan, neither of whom even really have symbols, but not ones for Robin, Red Robin, Red Hood or Batgirl.
As for the symbols, the girls have some terrible ones. Spoiler's icon is...a pink "O"...? Not even an "S" for Spoiler? Or something, anything, purple? And Orphan, whose name does begin with the letter "O" gets, what, a hashmark indicating five? A symbol representative of the stitching over the mouth of her current, dumb mask? That's kinda dumb.
A friend of mine pointed out to me that Orphan's symbol looks a little like a crudely drawn, hobo version of the bat-symbol--imagine the little lines in the middle as its ears and two of the lower points on the serrated bottom of the traditional bat-symbol, and the two larger lines on the edges as the largest points of the wings--which kind of works for Cassandra Cain.
Damn I wish she'd hurry up and re-adopt the name Black Bat and a better, more bat-like costume...
Batman arrives in Hugo Strange's penthouse hideout to confront him, and Strange is an all-around amazing decorator! The walls have all these weird, Batman-specific medical charts. Like, there will be a profile of Batman's head, with the mask and skull cut away to reveal Batman's brain, and then all these little (unfortunately illegible) scribbled notes and lines, pointing to which part of Batman's brain thinks about what (Justice? Bat-shapes? Vengeance? Black? His mom's pearls?). There's even a Vitruvian Man, only with Batman in it--so, a Vitruvian Batman, I guess. It's like Strange took a bunch of medical textbooks, and then drew Batman costumes on all the figures.
These are plastered everywhere on the walls, while Strange himself sits atop a throne of psychology books (My favorite title? "Crazy People"), some thick, sticky substance along the bottom (I would assume it's that red stuff that Monster #3 leaked to make people crazy.
Before Batman can strike across the room and punch out Strange, the doctor warns him that he's wearing a "suicide suit," and therefore if Batman strikes him at all, it will kill him, breaking one of Batman's cardinal rules about crime-fighting. They begin their long talk about Batman's psychology, which essentially amounts to Strange's belief that Batman's mental health issues are flaws that make him a weaker crime-fighter, whereas Batman believes they are actually strengths, or at least he's been able to master them and turn them into strengths, which help make him a better crime fighter. Guess who's right?
Meanwhile, the watchtowers prove to not be able to transform into robots. Rather, they are just kitted out with a bunch of laser guns and giant harpoons and stuff like that. These are enough to temporarily stop the monster, but not enough to do so permanently. And this monster's hide is so tough that the giant syringe of monster cure won't pierce its hide. What are they to do? Spoiler alert: Nightwing run across one of the harpoon lines anchoring the monster in place, dives into its open mouth and administers the cure to its softer insides, causing it to vomit him out. And keep vomitting. Re-reading it now, it looks like the monster may actually have vomited itself out through it's mouth, if that makes any sense.
And back to the Batman vs. Strange battle, the latter talks himself into unconsciousness, as Batman secretly brought back-up with him. Clayface blanketed the top few floors of the building with his own malleable body, completely sealing the flow of air into the room. Apparently, Batman can just go without air a lot longer than Strange, who passed out during his speechifying. (It here occurred to me that this particular move was a very Plastic Man-like move, and made me reevaluate Clayface's role on the team. I wondered if at some point Tynion hadn't considered using Plas or Metamorpho or maybe eve Elongated Man in the book, but either changed his mind or had it changed for him by DC; it would explain Clayface's presence, given that as a villain who has pretty much never shown a "good" side before he is a definite odd one out on this Bat-squad team of Tynion's Detective.
And then, after all give giant monsters have been defeated by Clayface, Gotham Girl and a half-dozen physically fit people with masks and capes but no powers, guess who shows up? The Justice League has the gall to arrive to help with clean-up. Yeah Green Lanterns, that's cool you guys can use your power rings--the so called "most powerful weapons in the universe"--to lift and move rubble, but where you a few pages ago? You couldn't have been using those rings to beat up Godzillas with giant boxing gloves!
On the final pages, we see Bruce Wayne and Kate Kane in a cemetery, remarking on the headstones erected for the four victims that Strange used to make his monsters, which an anonymous donor paid for (I bet you five dollars it was Bruce Wayne; no, ten dollars!). They talk to one another in a brief conversation meant to set up future storylines. When Kate asks Bruce if Strange was sent to Arkham, he says no, but "somewhere...better equipped for his mind." (Hm, maybe Bruce Wayne bought Oolong Island?). He also said that Strange's Venom was given to him by Bane, in exchange for the Psycho-Pirate, and that he's "not waiting to find out" why. If you've been reading Tom King's Batman, you already know why, because that storyline, "I Am Suicide," just ended.
Batman further tells Kate that SHIELD ARGUS has "pulled eminent domain" and built a big research facility around the mostly-vomit body of the final monster, and since the monster goop can be weaponized, it "bears...watching." This will apparently be followed up on in Tynion's Detective and the upcoming Batwoman book.
And that is that.
Since DC re-relaunched Batman last year, they have been having Tim Sale providing variant covers for the series. I personally find this kind of ridiculous, as Sale's covers are almost always superior to those of the "regular" artists and, while I continue to not understand the specific economics of variant cover sales, it always seemed more logical to me to pay one artist to draw a single cover for a single issue of a comic, rather than paying two or more to provide multiple covers for the same damn book.
Anyway, as I've stated repeatedly above, Paquette's "regular" covers may have included pretty decent images of Batman, Batwoman and Nightwing, they usually failed to depict the monsters in any way that demonstrated their size and/or scariness. That was definitely not the case with Sale's variants, the first and fourth of those below.
As you can see, he makes the monsters look huge, while also putting Batman at the center of the action, and he does so using some fairly basic visual tricks. The Nightwing variants are penciled by Ivan Reis (the second and fifth of the images below), and Rafael Albuquerque drew the Detective variants (the third and the sixth).
Overall, Albuquerque and Sale do the best job of making the giant monsters look like giant monsters; Reis' images aren't really all that fair to compare to Paquette's on that score, as the monsters he draws are more less human-sized.
Anyway, for comparison's sake, here are what the other artists involved in drawing the Monster People came up with: