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The Origins of Man-Bat, a formidable friend… or foe of the Batman

In 1964, the Batman titles got a “New Look,” but as 1969 ended, it already faded and change was again needed as both Batman and Detective Comics didn’t sell that much anymore. Artist Neal Adams was motivated to bring the Caped Crusader back onto a darker gothic path and worked with writer Frank Robbins—and occasionally Denny O’Neil—toward this goal.

One of the creative highlights of the Adams and Robbins collaboration in 1970 was in the pages of Detective Comics #400 with the introduction of Man-Bat.

Who’s The Man-Bat?

Man-Bat’s origin story sounds familiar to those who know Spider-Man’s Lizard. Dr. Kirk Langstrom, a scientist specializing in chiropterology, developed a serum derived from bats to cure his own deafness. However, he inadvertently turned himself into a bat-like creature with heightened senses and abilities.

As Man-Bat, Langstrom has superhuman strength, agility, and echolocation abilities similar to those of a bat. Even if Batman managed to reverse the effects, Langstrom would irremediably return as the Man-Bat again and again.

 Langstrom is not necessarily a villain, as he would sometimes retain enough sanity to use his powers for good—he even worked alongside private-eye Jason Bard. But he is also not a hero as he often struggles with controlling his bestial instincts.

Detective Comics #400 – The Introduction of Man Bat

With the New 52 reboot of the DC Comics line, Man-Bat’s story was retooled. This time, Dr. Kirk Langstrom used his expertise to find a cure for deafness and created the Langstrom Atavistic Gene Recall Serum, but his test subjects mutated into bat-like creatures.

Kirk’s serum was stolen and released in Gotham City which quickly became overrun by Man-Bats. Langstrom created an anti-virus and tested it on himself. The antidote cured the infected but turned Kirk into Man-Bat. After that, he briefly gained control over his transformations and worked as a science teacher at Gotham Academy and for S.H.A.D.E.

He didn’t stay the only one Man-Bat in Gotham though as his wife, Francine, became a Bat-Queen, and his father, Abraham, turned himself into a villainous Man-Bat.

After perfecting his formula, Langstrom gained the ability to control his transformations, varying from a flying monster to a partially altered state. He joined the Justice League Dark and studied magic, which strained his sanity. Media reports suggested his origins were part of a disinformation strategy, linking his powers to a secret government project known as the Superman Project.

The Man-Bat Comics

A few years after his introduction, in 1976, Man-Bat got his first series. It was going to be an ongoing, but sales were so bad that the title was canceled after two issues.

Through the years though, Man-Bat became the star of his own stories in Batman Family and Detective Comics and of multiple miniseries—a three-issue series in 1995, a five-issue series in 2005, and a five-issue series in 2021. He also became a member of the Justice League Dark in 2018.


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