Man-Bat #1 (January, 1976) “Beware the Eyes of Baron Tyme” written by Gerry Conway, art by Steve Ditko (penciller) and Al Milgrom (inker), cover art by Jim Aparo
Synopsis: Clement Tyme, a professor of Medieval history at Antioke University and learned master of sorcery, now calls himself Baron Tyme and uses his powers remotely to change Francine Langstrom into a “She-Bat,” overpower her husband saying she’s under Tyme’s control, and hypnotically controls her to kill a former colleague. Kirk Langstrom changes into Man-Bat and goes after her only to be hampered by monstrous illusions from Tyme. Man-Bat manages to catch up to Francine, subdues her before she can carry out her mission and administers a cure. Batman catches up with Man-Bat (and after an obligatory fight) who explains what has happened. Batman wants to go after Tyme, but Man-Bat, seeing the condition that Francine is in, insists he go after him alone. After a battle in tower on the Antioke University campus, Tyme seemingly perishes in a fire.
Thoughts/opinion: Obviously, what makes the issue special and the most notable/historical aspect of the book is seeing the legendary Steve Ditko depicting Batman in his guest-appearance role. This would be Ditko’s only work on the book. The Man-Bat title would only last one more issue; the text piece in issue #2 announced it would be the last. (However, this is not Ditko’s only work on Gotham City characters and other Batman villains as we’ll explore in future Retro Review column.) Ditko would go on to create and work on DC’s Shade, the Changing Man. Around the same time, Batman characters were getting their own spotlight with the then recent launch of the Batman Family title (where Man-Bat would later find a home) and the Joker getting is own series. Ditko’s take on Batman has the fluidity that he had with his art on Spider-Man. Aside from a few panels, Ditko has Batman’s face always shrouded in darkness; almost to an exaggerated extent. I love that.
Man-Bat already had a handful of appearances and been around for five years at this point (first appearing in Detective Comics #400) before getting his own title. I’m more inclined to favor how Francine Langstrom is depicted in this era as opposed to the New 52. Her recent appearances in comics are a part of why I chose this issue to examine. Francine had already become a “She-Bat” twice before (one of which was adapted into the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Terror in the Skies”) and had to be cured with an antidote. Baron Tyme is the sorcerer-type villain that I could see opposing Marvel’s Doctor Strange.
The story itself was a bit choppy. I wasn’t clear on how Tyme knew of the Langstroms and why he chose Francine over Kirk (or anyone else for that matter) to do his bidding. Ditko’s art on Batman and sorcery elements are a delight. There is a nice text piece bringing the reader up to speed with all of Man-Bat’s prior appearances to this point.
Reviewed by Chris Karnes