For me, with this second entry in the Dark Moon Rising series of Batman novels, Matt Wagner joins my list of the best Batman writers in the past 5-10 years or so alongside Miller, Dini, and Loeb. Not only can he write the character well, his art is quickly becoming what I imagine when I think of Batman. I think other writers/editors agree too, as more and more of Wagner's Batman illustrations appear on covers.
The Mad Monk picks up where The Monster Men leaves off, the first book in this series. A new villain is introduced, but Batman and the rest of his relationships are developing. It's still early in the dark detective's career and he's having to deal with keeping his identity secret from his girlfriend, and sovling cases with Gordon for the first time. Wagner weaves a simple tale, inspired and reinterpreted from one of Batman's earliest adventures where he encounters a Monk cloaked in red who may or may not be a vampire. Batman is investigating the recent murders while trying to balance out time with his girlfriend Julie, who was introduced in Monster Men. Julie's father Norman returns, as well as crime boss Sal Moroni.
What I'm really enjoying about these books, are how they intertwine story and art elements from both Year One as well as Loeb and Sale's Bat books. It's beginning to bridge the gap and fill in the time between Year One and The Long Halloween in Batman's continuity. It's making Bruce's early years of crime fighting that much more enjoyable to relive for me.
It's hard to say if I enjoyed this more than Monster Men or not. They fit so nicely together that I like to think of them as an ongoing storyline. Julie's character is getting more interesting and less annoying in this book as she deals with being the neglected flame in Bruce's life as well as her father's downward spiral into alcoholism and paranoia. Batman's partnership with Gordon is in full swing by this point, although it's clear that Gordon struggles with his affiliation with a man that dresses like a bat and how that might affect his career and his family. Overall some good solid development all around. The inner monologue and dream sequences contribute greatly.
Not quite as much action in this one as Monster Men, but still some excitement in every chapter. The way the story is told visually is really fluid and helps the flow of each scene. I hope Wagner is in the process of writing another installment, because currently he's creating some of the best recent additions to the Batman canon.