DC's Night of the Monster Men
By Ethan McIntyre
DC Comics recently executed its first crossover event of the Rebirth era: Night of the Monster Men, a Batman-centric story which focused on giant monsters running amok in Gotham City.
Crossover events can be very tricky. On the one hand, it’s fun to utilize the shared universe of comics to bring several heroes together, and the threats that precipitate these events are often epic and exciting. On the other hand, large crossovers result in the individual story arcs of the involved books grinding to a halt, and an overabundance of tie-in series can really hurt a reader’s wallet. Often, with larger events, fans have to decide between spending an exorbitant amount of money to get the full story, or saving some cash and missing out on some of the narrative.
However, Night of the Monster Men is a fairly small-scale, self-contained crossover that only really concerns itself with Batman and his numerous allies (collectively referred to as the ‘Bat-Family’ by long-time fans). The threat here is large enough that it takes nearly every vigilante in Gotham to handle, but not so large as to require heroes from outside of Batman’s home turf, so it’s not a huge line-wide event for DC (unlike, say, Marvel’s current Civil War II story, which has taken over most of that company’s content for months).
This allows the book to avoid that pitfall of crossovers that I mentioned earlier - copious tie-ins to keep readers updated on exactly how the event is affecting every hero on the planet. To use Civil War II as an example again, that series has a main book and a bunch of tie-in miniseries, such as Choosing Sides, Kingpin, X-Men, Ulysses, Gods of War, and Spider-Man, on top of taking over the storylines of many already-running books (All-New, All-Different Avengers, Captain Marvel, Mockingbird, etc.). Reading everything related to the event would be extremely costly.
By contrast, Night of the Monster Men is a total of six issues, and it’s not even its own separate title - the story is split between two issues of Detective Comics, two issues of Batman, and two issues of Nightwing. If you’re the kind of person who would be interested in the event (i.e., a Batman fan), you’re probably already going to be buying one or two of those series already, if not all three. That means you barely have to shell out any extra money to get the full story.
The crossover automatically scored points with me for that reason alone, and being a big fan of Godzilla, the idea of superheroes fighting giant monsters was pretty appealing to me as well. Once I started actually reading the event, I was happy to see the narrative worked, too.
Monster Men deftly ties together the plot threads of the three series involved. Batman, still reeling from the ‘death’ (actually capture, but Bats doesn’t know that) of his former sidekick Tim Drake in the pages of Detective Comics, is suddenly faced with a terrible challenge. A deadly storm is brewing in Gotham, and on top of that, several enormous monsters are attacking the city, having been created by the mad doctor Hugo Strange (a plot that has been slowly developing in the main Batman series). Batman utilizes his Detective Comics team (Batwoman, Spoiler, Orphan, and Clayface) to stop the monsters, calling in Nightwing (who has just returned to the city after taking down the Parliament of Owls in his own solo series) to assist.
It feels organic for everyone to be there - nothing about this crossover feels forced. Characterization is on point, too - Batman and Spoiler are still noticeably mourning Drake’s apparent death, Batwoman is the highly competent commander she has been in Detective, Nightwing is... well, Nightwing; it all feels right.
Admittedly, fighting giant monsters is not the kind of situation one would expect from a Batman story. The Dark Knight usually handles more street-level crime and leaves the crazier stuff to people with actual superpowers. However, I think that’s one of the things I liked about this event - it took Batman outside of his comfort zone just a bit. It was something unexpected, something that hadn’t been done before (or at least had only been done rarely).
It also utilized all of the characters well. It always felt like everyone had something to do. A few - like Orphan and Clayface - didn’t get quite as much attention as the others, but even they got to have at least one big heroic moment apiece.
The character that really shines, though, is Batwoman. Batwoman takes charge of the situation, formulates the plan to defeat the monsters, and keeps the team focused. She also has some impossibly cool action scenes and just generally remains calm and collected despite the madness going on around her. This felt much more like a Batwoman story than a Batman one - and I think that’s a good thing.
Monster Men also helps set the scene for the next phase of Bat-Family stories. By the end, Batman is prepared to go to Santa Prisca to face down Bane (who had a hand in the event, albeit indirectly), which is what the next arc of the Batman comic will focus on. Batwoman has shown the Detective Comics team that Tim’s death hasn’t broken them, and they’ve proven themselves in the crucible of the Monster Men attack. Nightwing has decided that he needs to get out of Gotham for awhile, which will lead him back to Bludhaven in his solo title. And, perhaps most interestingly, a portion of Gotham City surrounding one of the dead Monster Men has been cordoned off by the government, a story thread that it seems will be picked up in Batwoman’s upcoming solo series.
Overall, Night of the Monster Men was an extremely competent crossover that maintained a tight narrative focus. It wasn’t as big or epic as a line-wide event, but it didn’t need to be; it set out to establish a new direction for its characters, and that’s what it did. It may not have been particularly flashy, but it was a fun read that only cost me a few extra bucks. I hope that future DC crossovers adopt a similar model.