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Batman issue number 400 “Challenge of the Man-Bat!”

During the Spring 2023 semester, Special Collections & Archives collaborated with Dr. Colleen Tripp's English 630, "Modern Monsters: Then & Now." Students in the class selected items from our collections of pulps, comics, and horror stories, then authored a series of blog posts in which they examined visual and other representations of the monstrous in the texts they chose. This is the second post of eight in the series.

Cover of Detective Comics: Batman Robin and Batgirl “Challenge of the Man-Bat!” Issue #400Written by Frank Robbins, Batman issue number 400, Challenge of the Man-Bat1, was published in June of 1970 after a paradigmatic shift in U.S. comics censorship history. Challenge of the Man-Bat was published a decade and a half after the creation of The Comics Code Authority in 1954, which regulated or censored comic book content.2 The formation of the Comics Code authority assuaged the anxieties of U.S. parents who believed that “their children would be lured into a life of crime by nothing more than simply reading a comic book.”3 The censorship imposed by the Comics Code Authority changed the dynamic of comic books, and comics’ target audience shifted from adults to pre-teens and young children4. In fact, if you look closely at this issue of Man-Bat, readers can see the comics code seal in the top right corner.

The more terrifying, imposing and monstrous image of Man-Bat on the cover, with his wings outstretched and his grotesque appearance, evokes a sense of awe and terror associated with other famous giant monsters of the horror genre, like Godzilla. The visual similarities of Man-Bat to other larger-than-life monsters in print suggests that the reader is in for an epic story. Man-Bat, not coincidentally, draws heavily on gothic conventions of the sci-fi and gothic genres in 1970s popular culture. The origin story of Man-Bat in the DC Comics universe begins with Dr. Kirk Langstrom, a Chiropterologist that develops a serum to give humans bat-like abilities. Langstrom uses himself as a test subject, which is a common motif in the science fiction and horror genres. His tragic transformation into Man-Bat is reminiscent of classic novels like Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which characters succumb to their own arrogance and suffer the consequences of their scientific experimentations. Later, Dr. Langstrom meets and aids Batman in a takedown of a local gang attempting to rob the museum where the doctor worked. According to DC Comics a Visual History, while Kirk Langstrom helped Batman, Langstrom ambiguously disappears into the night after the episode, leaving Batman to wonder if he had made a companion or an enemy. 5

Detail of the Comics Code Authority seal on the cover of the comicMan-Bat’s motifs of tragedy and ambiguity continue on into future iterations of the DC Universe narrative, including the video game, “Batman: Arkham Knight.” A mission in the game called Creature of the Night6 tasks the player with finding and capturing Kirk Langstrom, but the player is asked only to trap him as opposed to fight him. Upon tracking his whereabouts, the player finds out that through the same gene-splicing experiment that Dr. Langstrom lost control and accidently killed his wife, Francine. This is tragic version of the origin story also evokes the dark side of science. The player captures Dr. Langstrom and places him in an isolation chamber from which he eventually escapes. Judging from the many adaptations of Man-Bat in popular culture, the DC character cannot be contained, both figurately and literally, and blurs the lines between friend, foe, human, and beast.

This and other Detective Comics issues can be found in Special Collections & Archives.

1. Robbins, Frank. Detective Comics. Batman Robin and Batgirl “Challenge of the Man-Bat”, #400., DC Comics, 1970.
2. Michael Walton. The Horror Comic Never Dies : A Grisly History. McFarland, 2019, 67.
3. Walton. The Horror Comic Never Dies : A Grisly History, 67.
4. Walton. The Horror Comic Never Dies : A Grisly History, 67.
5. Cowsill, Alan. DC Comics : a Visual History, 140.
6. Batman: Arkham Knight, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, 2015.

Cover of Detective Comics: Batman Robin and Batgirl “Challenge of the Man-Bat!” Issue #400
Detail from page 7
page 8
page 9
page 11
Conclusion on page 16

Read more Peek in the Stacks blog entries