You have to admire Matt Wagner’s chutzpah, to write and draw his own comics. Sadly, the comic as a whole hasn’t made much of an impression. Mad Monk owes a lot to the Gothic tradition, with its subject of vampirism, and the title itself hearkens to the land of Matthew Lewis and Charles Maturin. The story has all the suitably Gothic trappings—a nemesis named Niccolai Tepes, a Brotherhood straight from “Masque of the Mandragora,” silver batarangs, Goth/punk clubbers who are easily related to my own tragic Luc, wolves, Iron Maidens straight from Madame Tussaud’s—but it feels off-balance somehow. Neither the bloodsucking Mad Monk, nor his henchwoman Dala, nor Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend Julie Madison, nor her tycoon father, exhibit any signs of compelling character.
This seems to be set roughly between Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween, though keeping track of chronology is a losing battle for me. The opening—a brilliant and seductive visit from Catwoman—is only the second time the two have met. The Joker has yet to materialize, as such, though Batman expresses regret over “that poor wretch in the red cape and hood.” He also wonders, “Have I inadvertedly given license to every crook with a flair for the dramatic?” Though Wagner has a good sense of composition and light and dark, his close-ups of figures are a bit like mine—serviceable, but not superb. I actually thought Julie Madison was a washed up hooker from the way she was drawn. Gordon is still rising to the top of the crooked Gotham police force—his cigarette habit winds him—and they haven’t even invented the Bat Signal yet. Harvey Dent still fights the good fight. In some ways it certainly feels a post-Batman Begins story—the Mad Monk’s lair looks a bit like the Nolan Batcave.
I found the narrative confusing on a few points, like Julie and Bruce’s first meeting. Batman has a suitably action-packed run in with wolves—to his credit, he tries not to kill the blood-maddened animals—ending in an escape from an Indiana Jones-like trap of spirited walls. I was disappointed that, though the Monk’s “demise” by lightning was suitably open-ended, we didn’t learn what possible biological explanation could be given for an ordinary human being able to suck blood. I know there have been historical cases of serial killers who chewed and bit people’s necks—Elisabeth Bathory was my time-traveling vampire villainess in the original version of Doctor Who and the Pen Store Adventure—but not to the extent that they’re “as empty as a flat tire.”
Julie discovers Bruce’s real identity but conveniently goes away to Africa. Her father runs afoul of the Mob—his whole character seemed wholly unmotivated to me, but maybe I needed to read Batman and the Monster Men to get it. Anyway, the Graysons feature in the last panel . . .