Robert Kirkman Langstrom (Man-Bat)

man-batfilmThe premiere for Gotham‘s new season has been quite an eventful one, and we have someone new to speak about. Let’s start with a controversial identification: in Better to Reign in Hell…, we meet Jim Gordon as a bounty hunter going after the monsters released from Indian Hill. Most of the mutants have been hired by Fish Mooney in her new gang, and one of these freaks is quite a peculiar guy: with unnaturally long fingers, pointy ears and sensitivity to light, he ends up sporting a pair of bat wings the moment Gordon throws him out of a window. That’s most likely a proto-version of Man-Bat, one of the most bizarre villains in Batman‘s rogue gallery. This is the first live action appearance (sort of) for the unwilling monster, who’s never found space in movies or tv series so far. Waiting to see what he and the other freaks will be up to, let’s take a look at the original.

Robert Kirkman Langstrom, or simply Kirk, was born in Gotham City; when he was but a kid, during a country trip with his parents he fell into a deep cavern, and got lost underground. The researches for the child went on for six weeks, and everybody believed him to be dead already…but eventually, just as when even his mother was about to lose hope, Kirk was found by the police, and brought back home. Oddly enough, at first young Kirk refused to leave the cavern, claiming that his “friends” were still inside. The cops believed the kid to be delirious for the loneliness and the starvation, and took him away…but in the following days, Kirk kept telling stories about giant bats who took care of him while he was in the cave. Whether this was just an allucination, a fantasy to protect himself from the trauma or something alarmingly real, in the following years Kirk seemed to give up the idea of meeting his friends again (much to his parents’ relief), but he never abandoned his fascination for bats. When he entered Gotham University he studied zoology, and obviously specialised in chiropterology. The more he studied bats, the more he believed mankind could learn from these animals, and he even dreamed of a hybdridation to perfect humans with bat DNA. Most of his peers and colleagues mocked him man-batcomics1because of his obsession, but one woman grew fascinated by Kirk’s determination and passion, Francine Lee: the two started hanging out together, fell in love, and eventually got married. During his first years of marriage, Langstrom found out he was becoming deaf due to a genetic disease: this only hastened his researches, and he became so obsessed with his work that he grew distant even from Francine. Eventually, however, his effort was rewarded as he managed to synthesize a serum that, allegedly, isolated the genes that in bats caused the increased hearing, a potential genetic therapy for deafness. Eager to see if his serum worked, Kirk tested it on himself. The results were exactly the ones he had hoped for…well, at least at first.

Not only the serum gave Kirk Langstrom his hearing back, it also granted him echolocation, increasing his senses far beyond a regular human. It also turned his fingers into claws and deformed his nose, but this were side-effects that the doctor didn’t consider. Fascinated by Gotham’s hero, Batman (obviously), Langstrom decided to follow his footsteps and became a vigilante using the moniker Man-Bat, since he was now a man/bat hybrid. First, he repelled the “invasion” of the Blackout Gang in his place of work, Gotham Natural History Museum, and he even teamed up with Batman for that. When the hero complimented him for his “disguise”, however, Langstrom escaped, not wanting him to realise he wasn’t wearing a costume at all. A short time later, Kirk found out that the “side effects” weren’t over, and that his mutation continued: a pair of leather wings started growing under his arms, and he became able to glide in the wind soon…but he also started suffering from blackouts, and everytime he woke up, he was in a different place from the one he had been before. Eventually, the mutation was complete, and Langstrom’s mind was completely overrun by pure instinct: he was now more animal than man, and his appearance was the one of a monstrous anthropomorphic bat. Completely bent on instinct, the Man-Bat flew over Gotham, seldomly attacking people everytime he felt threated; eventually, following man-batcomics2the other bats, he arrived in a huge cave to have some rest. That, however, was no ordinary cave: it was the Batcave, Batman’s hideout and headquarters. While he was sleeping upside down, Man-Bat was found by Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s friend and butler: feeling menaced, the monster attacked Alfred, who despite his military training was easily overpowered by the creature. Luckily enough, Batman had just come back from his patrol, and saved Alfred subduing the monster. Examining the creature, Batman found out it was actually human, and developed a cure for Langstrom’s state. When he reawakaned, however, Man-Bat had retained enough intelligence to speak, and to refuse Batman’s help: nothing would have prevented him from being the perfect creature he had always dreamed of, and if he had to sacrifice his humanity to achieve it, it was a small price to pay…

Kirk Langstrom is a brilliant man, a devoted scientist with a remarkable intellect…and a crippling monomania: only the love for his wife Francine manages to distract him from his obsession with bats, and only for a while. As Man-Bat, he transforms into a human/bat hybrid with enhanced strength, speed, agility and durability; he can fly with his leather wings, and possesses an ecolocation that makes his hearing formidable; he also has sharp fangs and claws. Langstrom is able to partially retain his intellect while in his Man-Bat form, but it’s rare that he remains fully himself as a hybrid: when this happens, he’s a formidable force for good, using his powers to fight criminality as a hero. Otherwise, he’s a mindless and dangerous beast, ready and able to kill anyone he perceives as a threat. Or as food.

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