NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for "Batman" #7 & "Nightwing" #5
It's bad enough that Batman: Rebirth has pitted Bruce Wayne against one of the most powerful (and painful) adversaries in his career, let alone the loss of another member of the Batman Family. But for the first crossover event in the "Batman" series of books, writers Tom King and Steve Orlando have cooked up something right out of a classic horror movie. It's not quite Halloween, but Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Kate Kane and their allies are getting the fright of their lives in the "Night of the Monster Men."
If that sounds like a conflict coming right out of left field, you're not completely wrong (massive monsters tearing Gotham apart is always a bit of a shock), but King has been hinting at the coming threat since the very start of his first "Rebirth" arc. So to catch readers up on the hints, the monsters, and the villain behind it all, we're offering the following breakdown - since we've got the time that Batman is sorely lacking.
Rebirth's First Hints of 'Monster Men'
The term "Monster Men" will ring a few bells for comic readers, especially those dedicated to the early fictional career of the Dark Knight. The title was also used for a 2006 series by Matt Wagner, exploring Bruce Wayne's first run in with Hugo Strange, the brilliant psychiatrist turned supervillain. But in "Rebirth," the term was being thrown around long before readers had any idea exactly what it meant. As Batman was trying to groom the new superhero Gotham to be the city's new protector, the pair found themselves stepping into an ongoing mystery: one causing those involved to commit suicide not long after their part had been played. Their last words uttered all warned of the same thing: that "the monster men are coming."
The idea should be familiar to fans of Scott Snyder's New 52 "Batman" run, since monstrosities were always on the way to the city, but this was clearly something different. And as the villains pressuring these victims began to reveal themselves, the scenario only got more and more... strange.
It should come as no surprise that Hugo Strange is, once again, the villain at the heart of the "Monster Men" arc as he was the first time around. Except he isn't the only person responsible for the coming catastrophe, as Batman learns when facing down Amanda Waller (of Suicide Squad fame). After seeing Gotham torn apart by crisis after crisis, Waller explains, she was tasked with putting an end to it. Obviously, her brain drifted to the villains capable of the job - and colossally misjudged the situation.
Her answer was the unforgettably named Psycho Pirate, able to manipulate human emotions in those he encounters (rage, sadness, joy, etc.) and therefore defuse any building problems. But to control the Psycho Pirate, Waller needed a skilled psychiatrist who wasn't afraid of getting his hands dirty - Dr. Hugo Strange. Little did Waller know that Strange was turning his intellect to delivering an even larger blow to Gotham, with only his name - and that of his "monster men" - escaping on the lips of those he and the Pirate manipulated.
The Night of the Monster Men Begins
Those hoping for a reasonable explanation for human corpses erupting into building-sized kaiju (specifically, grotesque cyclopic babies and winged Hydras) will want to check such expectations at the door. The first glimpse of the "Monster Men" in the title begins with just four corpses in Gotham's morgue... melting(?) and bubbling into their new identities. As the resulting abominations make it into the city, Batman and Alfred's early tests show that while they're active and moving, their brain functions and thermals imply that they're not "alive," in the traditional sense.
So, hulking mutated undead monsters. Check. Unfortunately for Batman, even mentally deficient or zombified Monster Men are formidable opponents, putting his new gadgets and vehicles to the test throughout the first two chapters in the "Monster Men" crossover. Most of the story is focused on the surrounding characters evacuating the city, including the formerly villainous Clayface transforming himself into dozens of police officers to assist the plan. But if just ONE Monster can force Batman to think on his feet and destroy a vehicle just to knock it unconscious, then he's in for an even worse time ahead.
The Action Spreads to Nightwing
That's right, the carnage of the "Monster Men" can't be contained in just one book, and sadly for Dick Grayson, it's "Nightwing" #5 that has to share in the horror. With his mission against the Parliament of Owls brought to a close, Dick has returned to Gotham to assist Bruce and Kate's team - soon finding that Bruce's loss of another ally has him pushing other friends out of danger, taking it all on himself. Fortunately for Dick, there's enough terror and danger to go around, meaning he, Kate, and Bruce are able to collectively battle a multiple head-sprouting, winged Hydra of sorts.
But as we mentioned before, there are a total of four creatures to account for, and with a Hydra and overgrown baby accounted for, the main priority becomes tracking and assessing their colleagues. While the "Nightwing" issue hints that one monster may be attacking the citizens of Gotham in a more subtle way, the final monster is one pulled directly out of a nightmare. The spider-like beast has its sights set on Blackgate Penitentiary - and when Bruce's team discovers the corpse it was grown from had ties to Blackgate (and Strange, obviously), another piece of the mystery takes shape.
Now, what is Strange's endgame? Is it simply carnage he seeks, or is this merely another step in his larger Psycho Pirat-ic plan? Those questions will have to wait until "Night of the Monster Men" continues in "Detective Comics" #941, followed by one more round of the three titles.
Batman #7 & Nightwing #5 are available now.
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