Writer: Matt Wagner
Artist: Matt Wagner (p & i), Dave Stewart (colors)
Publisher: DC Comics
When I heard that Matt Wagner was going to do a retelling of a classic Batman story like he did with Batman and the Monster Men, I was stoked. I never read his previous story, but I did like that DC was not forgetting about Batman's past. This miniseries had me particularly excited. Thanks to some research I learned that in one of Batman's earliest adventures, he faced off against the Monk, a vampire preying on Gotham. It was apparently the first multi-issue Batman story and ended with quite a shocker: Batman killing the Monk with a silver bullet (yes, a terrible American addition to the vampire-mythos). So, I figured this story was going to be awesome.
I was wrong.
Well, I should first point out some of the things I liked about The Mad Monk before I elaborate my criticisms. Wagner does a good job in placing this story in Batman's early days. From the framework, the story takes place after "Year One" and before "The Long Halloween." From Batman's concern about Catwoman's appearance, to a throwaway reference to the original Red Hood, Wagner manages to tell us that this is a time when Batman's wacky enemies were just starting to come out of the woodworks. Wagner also knows his characters. Gordon is the breakout star of this issue, with a great bit of inner dialogue, his questioning of his freshly formed alliance with Batman, and a fight scene with some rogue cops that prove that he's not slouch in combat. That really made me smile. For all my complaints about Year One, I am happy that Gordon got some actual toughness out of it, and Wagner certainly seems to agree. With the exception of James Robinson's recent "Face the Face" arc in the Batman comics, Gordon has often been relegated to the sidelines, or easily used by the bad guys. It's nice to see him step up.
However, that's mostly it for my praise of this issue.
While I knew this story was going to be a sequel to The Monster Men, I didn't expect it to be that necessary to have read the previous story. Oh, I was familiar with a brief summary of Wagner's past miniseries, but there is little to none exposition on who some of these characters are that were carried over from The Monster Men, why Batman was going after Hugo Strange, or why Bruce Wayne' current love interest has a crazy dad obsessed with Batman. New readers would most certainly be confused. Not only that, the "Mad Monk" of the title never shows up even once in this issue. I'm guessing there's a reference to his real name, "Niccolai", but the closest thing we get is a rather annoying female vampire working for some "Brotherhood." I picked this issue up for the Monk, not a lackey. This was a major disapointment in my opinion.
Yet you may be asking yourself, "what about the art"? Now, like I stated, I'm a fan of Wagner. His covers on Green Arrow were amazing, but the cover to The Mad Monk blew those away. It's an homage to Batman #227, "The Demon of Gothos Mansion," in which an eerie castle loomed in the background while a man in a blue cloak was gripping two wolves and chasing a woman in pink, all while an image of Batman loomed in the background. However, with this comic, there's no woman, and instead of running with the wolves, the Monk holds his pets at bay. In fact, when I got to my comic store and saw the cover on the shelf, I was ecstatic. However, the interior pencils fail to match the sheer coolness of the cover. While Wagner's skills at closeups and sihoulettes are great, his figures at the middle or background are undetailed, sloppy, and in all honesty not that appealing. There is a nice sequence at the end of the book from the perspective of a woman who has been drugged by our female vampire, but aside from that, the art doesn't really offer much.
I really feel kind of bad. When I was at the store buying this, I recommended it to a fellow reader, based simply on the plot outline and cover. I now wish I could apologize to the guy. While the first issue of Batman and the Mad Monk offers an amazing cover and a great Gordon fight scenes, the dependence on The Monster Men and no appearance of the titular Monk, along with not-so-adequate art makes this one a let down. Oh, I'm going to read the next issue, I want to see the Monk and all, but for casual readers, this might not be the best bet.
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