Why We Need a Man-Bat Movie
by Logan Volkert
Let’s talk Batman. I love the character, and I love his world. Gotham is dark, unwelcoming, dangerous, and its inhabitants are eccentric and grotesque. It’s a city that blends Lovecraftian design with superhero narratives. From its thematic dive into mental illness with characters like the Riddler, or its exploration of twistedly beautiful romances like with Nora and Frieze, the world of Batman delivers punches, tears, and thoughts. However, with all the ill fates and saving graces lurking in Gotham’s shadows, there is one character who I feel deserves to be brought into the light. I’m talking about Robert Langstrom, or as some might know him, Man-Bat.
First appearing in Detective Comics #400 in 1970, Robert Langstrom was a rather normal scientist who was struggling to cope with a gradual loss of hearing due to a genetic disease. To try and prevent this disease from progressing further, Langstrom developed a serum that would provide the user with sonar-facilitated hearing like what is found in bats. As one might expect, however, the serum had adverse side effects, and it transformed Langstrom into the villainous Man-Bat.
Because not too many people are familiar with Man-Bat or his role in the larger Batman universe, here, I provide four reasons for why I believe we need a new, dark, and bold film about Langstrom and his persona.
Man-Bat’s origin story is rivaled only by classic horror character come-ups like The Fly (1986). Robert Langstrom is a scientist with a troubled past. Like that of Bruce Wayne’s childhood trauma, Langstrom fell deep into a cave where he was lost for half a month. In his adulthood, he suffers from a genetic disease that causes hearing loss, so he devotes himself to developing a serum that would enhance his hearing and reverse the effects of the disease. Like that of Dr. Seth Brundle and his transformation into the Fly, Langstrom’s serum has unexpected consequences, and it turns him into the grotesque, half man, half bat: Man-Bat. With this tragic and weird uprising, an origin film on Man-Bat could become a newfound classic.
Man-Bat creates a complex psychological narrative that fits in well with Batman’s other villains and themes. In certain comics, Langstrom struggles to cope with the possibility that, when he blacks out and turns into Man-Bat, he commits a series of murders that he is unaware of when he wakes back up as a human. While this horrific revelation initially frightens him and his monstrous persona, he becomes addicted to the power of the serum and continues using it. Oftentimes, in doing so, he disappears on his wife and children, and he also sometimes fears that he may accidentally kill them one night. This is dark, sad, and it has the potential to create a rich cinematographic discussion of psychological disorders.
Despite the above description painting Man-Bat as a monstrous villain, Man-Bat, or rather the Man-Bat that arises from an evolved, new version of the serum, has a surprising amount of self-control and a ‘do-gooder’ personality. After assuming control over Man-Bat with the refined serum, Langstrom uses his persona to fight crime across Gotham. In past endeavors, Man-Bat has worked with Etrigan the Demon, Batman, and Superman to take down Gotham thugs and an array of planetary villains. Perhaps, then, Man-Bat can do more good than harm, and if so, he can provide us with a quality film that might explore his dichotomous anti-hero personality.
If we wanted to follow the villainous side of Man-Bat, then his character would make for a mighty foe. While one Man-Bat is dangerous enough, how about many Man-Bats, Many-Bats, if you will. As can happen in a city stricken by crime, Talia al Ghul, daughter of the infamous god, Ras al Ghul, once forced Langstrom into giving her his serum. With it, Talia created an army of Man-Bats using members of the League of Assassins. If this didn’t sound disastrous enough, what about a villain that could infiltrate Batman’s most sacred hideouts? Well, Man-Bat, being half bat, once followed a group of bats into a small opening in a mountainside, and out of the other end he emerged into the notoriously hidden Batcave. If Man-Bat’s character has this much chaotic potential, then we could see Batman face some real challenging adversary in a Batman versus Man-Bat film.
Like I said before, I love Batman because his world is full of absolutely wacky and interesting characters. However, Batman films these days often recycle the same old villains and situations, despite there being a huge and diverse line-up of characters to choose from. Hopefully, this encourages some of you to explore all that Gotham City has to offer, and maybe one day we’ll get a new Batman film that is unlike anything we’ve seen before.