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We are back with my canon run of the Batman graphic novels. I’m trying to follow the timeline and what’s considered canon as much as possible (and some stuff that I consider canon but others don’t…they’re not here…they won’t mind…and if they do…ill break their legs).
“Must Be Something Big In The Works”
Matt Wagner is back with his brilliant book the Mad Monk. This graphic novel picks up moments after Batman And The Monster Men, so if you haven’t read that before going into this I highly suggest you do, otherwise the plot will make about as much sense as casting George Clooney as Batman and adding bat nipples to his costume.
The art follows Wagner’s signature style and the palette with the costume design fitting the dark knight’s history perfectly. It’s more of the art style Wagner used in Monster Men, so if you liked that, you’ll LOVE this.
The New Old
The book itself is a retelling of one of batman’s earliest stories (pages can be seen in our lovely graphic). This is now modernised and worked into canon because we need more reboots DAMN IT. We demand a Citizen Kane REBOOT NOW!!!!
Anyway the story follows a lot of the older character previous designs whilst updating them for new audiences, a sort of “Gritty Reboot” (last time I mention a Reboot I promise). The chapters all open with a close up of a certain character and this gives impact to the pages as soon as you begin a new section. It would’ve been great if Wagner’s books had’ve been printed in one run as they are completely seamless in both storytelling and art depiction.
Inspired By Justine Bieber?
The tone is still completely grounded and though it delves into the supernatural it still leaves a bit of breathing room for skeptics. Though the Batman books from this point on start to really get a lot more twisted from the real world I appreciate that Wagner has still left it so that people who don’t believe in (spoilers) vampires can be like “he’s just a crazy, rich guy who thinks he’s a vampire in the same way Justin Bieber thinks Anne Frank was his biggest fan.” Cue hate from Beliebers.
Originally I think the Mad Monk plot was to do with Werewolves (don’t worry I haven’t done the research), with the count being a vampire, so the modern version being solely vampiric means that this arc doesn’t feel overstuffed with monsters or too ‘twilighty.’
I once again love Wagners use of the page, every panel is there for a reason and it all adds into what becomes a great, personal, batman story.
Bruce’s Love Life
I view this book like a dark mirror, whether it’s in the way that the panels are laid out, the close up shots to begin the book or just the positioning of characters in scenes, we really get a poetic sense to the entire thing that elevates it. We see characters mimic each other, Julie stalks Bruce early on to see what he’s up to and after a few plot points we see Batman do the same to her. It is truly beautiful in it’s subtle symmetry. If Monster Men was a focus on Bruce Wayne, then this is a dark reflection of the caped crusader.
Due to this we rarely see Bruce, his focus is on stopping the mob and because of this, the connection that he built with Julie in the last book really strains….which leads us into the story.
“Animals Like This Understand One Language Only”
With Bruce’s attention being elsewhere Julie focuses more on her father…who by the way…after the last book…is a broken man. I’m not talking broken as in a four day bender in Magaluf, i’m talking psychologically. The man can not even have a light on in his house, he sits in the dark terrified that Batman will come back. With both support structures in her life gone, Julie now strays unbeknownst into the arms of a cult of are they/aren’t they Vampires. Whilst they have been sacrificing people left, right and centre they realise that Julie’s father is richer than Michael Jackson was in the 80s and decide to use this to further their evil ways.
The constant bodies turning up ofcourse catches the eyes of Jim (not yet comissioner) Gordon and Batman. With stress from the rest of the police force, Gordon covertly works with Batman to try and get to the bottom of it all. There is a brilliant scene where some Police officers, who don’t take too kindly to a batman in these part, go to assault Gordon on the roof before having the crap kicked out of them by Batman. Gordon at this point had been contacting Batman by radio and this attack really cements the roof of the GCPD as being their meeting place with a nice little hint at the bat signal coming further down the line.
You’d Have To Be MAD To Fight This Monk………..sorry……
Eventually we see our villain, the Mad Monk. Though he’s not the best foe since the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, he has some good moments but you can see why he was never used again. Wagner does a great job of telling his story through the eyes of his henchman or in this case henchwoman. She is fascinated by the Monk and it’s great to see how a cult leader is viewed through the eyes of the cutltists. She really bigs up the Mad Monk in a grand way and you appreciate why he has so many loyal fantatics, even if he doesn’t quite deliver on it by the end.
“Easy Does It Bruce…He’s No Good To Me With A Concussion”
There are again human sacrifices (second one in four books, bloody hell man DC, what’s with all the totem poles) however, they are carried out a lot better in this chapter than they were in Shaman. Obviously you can’t keep murdering people in Gotham and then brain wash his girlfriend without Batman noticing and he soon picks up the trail.
It’s a shame that the villain is so weak in this book as it really could’ve elevated it to the level of Monster Men, however, the superstition doesn’t really come across as believable, he’s not very scary AND he’s probably not even a real vampire. Batman is tested more by the Monks allies and pets than he ever is by the Maddest Of The Mad, The Monk.
There’s a great scene where the dark knight takes on two wolves and we get to see some brilliant images of batman beaten to a pulp.
It makes this scene even better if you imagine that in the Grey, Liam Neeson was Ra’s Al Ghul…and he later trained Batman to fight wolves. Anyway, I Digress.
When Batman barely makes it out of a closing wall, star wars-esque trap, we really get the sense that he could be in over his head. In contrast, his fight with the monk is brief and not that testing and it’s a shame as this villain had the build up and potential to be his biggest threat so far. The fight at the end is a very Beauty and The Beast type finale and the way the Mad Monk goes out is kinda quick and disappointing. Batman isn’t really pushed to his limits by him and he probably could’ve taken out The Monk without the Deus Ex Machina ending. So yeah, don’t show your face around here again Mad Monk. You scumbag.
Wagner’s Work Is The Best So Far
It’s much appreciated that Wagner likes to show Batman beaten and bloody as this was absent from the last few books and we really get the sense that he isn’t a superhero just yet. He’s still learning and perfecting his fight on crime. There’s no Bat God here, he’s just a man in a cape.
There’s two kind of Batman fans, ones who like the grounded take of Nolan’s universe and ones who like Clayface and think Batmite is ok. This book has something for both. I really like how the supernatural elements are handled as they could’ve come off as really corny but you can easily explain away the vampirism as a load of bull if you want. You could say that they are all vampires and Batmite is the goddamn hero this book needs.
MORE ALFRED PLEASE!!!!
Alfred get’s the best lines again and it’s hilarious when Batman is making silver batarangs and he drops ‘i’m guessing this is what happened to the expensive candlesticks?’
He’s not in it enough though and it’s a shame he wasn’t as well utilised here as he was in the Monster Men as he is a shining character.
Madison’s Mad Monk
Finally, Julie’s father Norman, his arc comes full circle in this book and we really get more of a down to earth take on someone with mental health problems instead of the usual “send him to arkham” that these books are accustomed to. I won’t spoil it but it wraps up the book nicely and explains why Julie is no longer in Bruce’s life down the road. We see that Bruce will never be able to lead a normal life whilst he is Batman and the book sets up The Man Who laughs nicely, ending on a lovely shot letting us know that the circus is coming to town.
This is a hard one to rate, whilst it does have very minor problems, mainly with the villain, it isn’t annoying and is paced well enough so that it doesn’t drag. Though it follows a lot of similar plot points to Shaman (even has a cave painting page) it executes them in a much better fashion and the book really builds off of The Monster Men. This chapter still kinda feels like a throw away even though it leads well into the Man Who Laughs and sets up Prey for after that. Honestly it’s just more of the same, whilst that might not be a bad thing it doesn’t feel as ground breaking as monster men and for that reason i’m scoring it a……
If you’ve been following my reviews then you know that i’m ranking the books as I read them in what all the fans of me lovingly call ‘Rank As I Read’ or ‘Rank As You Read’…I don’t know, I can’t remember, you do though as you’re a proper fan.
So here is the leaderboard so far.