Spoilers for Man-Bat #1 by Dave Wielgosz, Sumit Kumar, Romulo Fajardo Jr., and Tom Napolitano which is available now from DC Comics.
Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery is full of some of the grandest tragedies imaginable. Take Mr. Freeze for example. A formidable foe that at his core is suffering deeply from the loss of the one he loves. Even with one of the greatest minds around, there was nothing he could to do save his beloved Nora other than freezing her. So many of these famous characters have a human element that so many can empathize with. We see something in these characters that we understand their pain through personal experience or something we have seen others go through.
I cannot tell you that I gave Dr. Robert Kirkland “Kirk” Langstrom much thought before reading Man-Bat #1. It took a single page to move me to tears as it all became clear.
Kirk Langstrom AKA Man-Bat is an addict.
The opening scene is a fight between Kirk and his wife Francine after she seemingly found his vial of Man-Bat serum. The thing is though, she found the vial over a week ago. She had been moving all of her things out of their home before she even told him. This isn’t the first time she’s left but it seems to be the last. Francine tells him that “I never said it would kill you…this will kill everything around you…” and those words have stuck since I finished reading the issue.
Addiction is something that roots itself so deeply in your mind that you cannot truly ever stop it. It’s a constant struggle for your own humanity. In Kirk, it’s the Man-Bat. A state of heightened being where he feels in control. He is riding the high of the power it gives him. A destructive power that hurts everyone in its wake even though sometimes it’s hard for the one suffering to realize it.
As someone who has struggled with addictions of my own and lost too many people to it, this story demonstrates something that I think is extremely important. Your addiction doesn’t make you a villain. Addiction is a disorder where one uses something that can ultimately kill them for its desired effect. It’s a sickness that sometimes brings out the nastiest parts of us. In those moments, we lose ourselves to the monster and do things we could never imagine or say things that we’d never normally even think of.
Kirk is struggling with his addiction, he believes that this serum makes him better or can fix him. The high that comes with the power of Man-Bat has intoxicated him for so long because he feels powerless to it and the world around him.
Becoming Man-Bat has destroyed his life. The person he loves the most has left him. He has lost his entire reason for starting this project, to help his deaf sister. Sometimes realizing you’ve alienated everything that made you who you are is when you have to make the toughest choices. Kirk has struggled with his addiction and often given into the “fix” that Man-Bat provides.
Even if he gives up the serum, that gnawing addiction is always present in the back of his mind. The Man-Bat doesn’t go away. Addiction doesn’t go away but those who suffer can fight back. They can strive to make choices to try to live the best life that they can.
Now Kirk has to make that choice himself to save his own life. All he can do is find a balance with the monster inside. All that he can do now is try to make things right and keep his addiction under control. To save his own life, to live for a tomorrow where he doesn’t need a serum to feel okay.