BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN is a trade paperback reprinting a six-issue miniseries published by DC a couple of years ago, but the chapters flow together so well it might as well be a true graphic novel. The story is an updated retelling and expansion of a story from very early in Batman’s career, originally published in the early Forties before Robin came along. As such, it recaptures the grim, hardboiled feeling of those first Batman yarns and does a fine job of it.
This is the story that introduces Professor Hugo Strange, one of the first master villains to cross paths with Batman. Obsessed with his research into genetic manipulation, Strange resorts to crime to finance his experiments. Having transformed mental patients into hulking monsters by altering their DNA, he uses them to carry out robberies. Also weaving through this story is Bruce Wayne’s romance with Julie Madison, his first girlfriend in the comics, and subplots involving organized crime in Gotham City, in which characters who were created later are retconned into the original Hugo Strange story. This is the sort of revisionist history I don’t really mind, since it expands on what went before more than really changing it.
This series was written and drawn by Matt Wagner, who was also the author of the long-running SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE comic book, one of the very best in the past twenty years. I don’t know if the various story arcs from that series have been collected in trade paperbacks (I suspect they have), but they’re well worth hunting up and reading. So is BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN, which I enjoyed a lot.
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