BATMAN – DARK MOON RISING
STORY & ART – MATT WAGNER
Back in 2006, Matt Wagner released Dark Moon Rising, a series which consisted of two linked 6-part series: Batman and the Monster Men and Batman and the Mad Monk. Both series fit into the Batman timeline between Year One and The Man Who Laughs.
The most interesting thing about these stories is that Wagner has taken two ‘golden-age’ Batman stories and given them a modern spin while setting them in the then current DC/Batman continuity.
Batman and the Monster Men was originally Dr. Hugo Strange and the Mutant Monsters, a story that appeared in Batman #1, back in 1940. In the modern retelling, Hugo Strange, in a quest to reach genetic perfection, creates the Monster Men of the title, which he unleashes, mostly on Gotham’s criminals, for financial gain. At this point in Batman’s career he has faced only common criminals – the monster men are his first encounter with something more sci-fi. This story ends with Strange’s escape and positions him closer to the character we will next see (continuity-wise at least!) in ‘Prey’.
Batman and the Mad Monk introduces Batman’s first supernatural enemy, the titular Mad Monk. First appearing in Detective Comics #31 & 32 back in 1939 as Batman Versus the Vampire, the original has Batman facing off against a full-on vampire. The update is a little more ambiguous (is the Mad Monk an ancient vampire or psychotic billionaire recluse?) but the basic story beats remain – the Mad Monk takes an interest in Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend, Julie Madison, who is introduced to the modern timeline here.
By the end of the series, Batman has been introduced to more fantastic and supernatural villains and future costumed characters have been hinted at, as well as the idea that Batman’s very existence may be what has brought them into being. Also by story’s end Bruce has begun to realise that his quest will not be quickly or easily completed. Madison also leaves him, leading him to the conclusion that he should remain alone and unattached to best carry out his war on crime.
I’m a fan of Wagner’s other Batman work (‘Faces’) and while the story here is as good (though I’m sure they could have both been a little shorter without losing anything) the art isn’t quite as good as the earlier stories, but that could simply be the result of producing a dozen issues rather than three.
These are two really enjoyable series which help expand the early Year One era of Batman, and importantly for me, portray Bruce Wayne and Batman as equally important aspects of the same character, without neglecting either character. Both stories are recommended (I should note that plot points run through both so it’s best to read them together as one extended story) though I will say if you only have time for one early Batman encounter with the supernatural, I’d maybe go for ‘Gothic’.