Let’s be honest with each other, shall we? Batman isn’t exactly an unexplored character. The guy’s been the focus of ten live action movies and over two dozen animated ones. He’s had TV shows, books, videogames and hundreds of thousands of comics. He’s one of the most widely known fictional characters across the globe. By now, everyone knows about the boy whose parents were murdered one tragic night that grew up to become a dark-cowled crimefighter.
But far fewer people know what happened in between those two crucial moments, and as books like Batman: Nightwalker remind us, quite a lot took place during those formative years as young Bruce Wayne grew into the man—the Batman—he would become. Based on the bestselling Young Adult novel by Marie Lu, Batman: Nightwalker is set firmly in Bruce’s teenage years, when the rawness and unbridled anger over his parents’ death has subsided but his nights fighting Gotham City criminals are still years away. Adapted from Lu’s book by comic writer Stuart Moore and illustrated by artist Chris Wildgoose, Batman: Nightwalker is the latest original graphic novel to be released in DC’s YA line.
So, it’s a Batman book, and you’re a Batman fan. But does that mean this firmly out-of-continuity tale is for you? Let’s break it down and find out, shall we?
Despite the title, this is a pre-Batman Bruce Wayne tale, meaning the iconic cape and cowl are nowhere to been seen within the book or on its cover. Instead, Wildgoose and colorist Laura Trinder rely on Gotham’s familiar shadows, night sky and color pallet to make it instantly clear which DC hero we’re dealing with—and that’s without the aid of the iconic Batman logo in the center of it all. Character-wise, the cover features Bruce and new character Madeleine Wallace, positioned opposite each other. Considering all the similarities they share, it’s an appropriate contrast. And let’s not overlook the colony of bats taking flight against the full moon. It’s the perfect finishing touch for this moody, intriguing cover illustration.
Tell Me a Story:
Bruce really has a thing for bad girls, doesn’t he?
When the teenage hero-to-be runs afoul of the GCPD, he’s assigned to Arkham Asylum for his public service where he sweeps and mops the floors while trying to avoid the stares of Gotham’s criminally insane. In the process, he meets Madeleine, a mysterious young woman accused—possibly wrongly—of murder. Madeleine runs with the Nightwalkers, a newly emerged terrorist organization that’s targeting Gotham’s wealthy and elite. Bruce is convinced that Madeleine is key to taking down the Nightwalkers, but is he playing her, or is she playing him? Or maybe they’re not playing each other at all and are just making everything really complicated and messy by falling in love. I mean, we all know Bruce would never do anything silly like that, right?
Let’s Talk Art:
Why Chris Wildgoose isn’t one of the most popular artists in comics is beyond me. He proves to be absolutely perfect for a YA Batman book, giving Bruce Wayne’s world an accessible, appealing look that still maintains its danger and grittiness. Lines are clean, bold and confident, and Trinder’s use of grey tones, with bold yellows during pivotal moments, proves to be both fitting and fun. But where Wildgoose really excels is in his character moments. Much of Nightwalker’s plot hinges on face-to-face discussions between Bruce and Madeleine, with control of the conversation and relationship frequently passing from one to the other. Wildgoose brings this complicated dynamic to life through subtle, yet powerful facial indicators—a pair of oh-so-slightly widened eyes here, a mischievous, knowing smirk there. The chemistry between Bruce and Madeleine is palpable, and Wildgoose is a major reason why.
Of course, the other reason for the on-page chemistry is the tense, perfectly paced dialog that drives those scenes between the book’s two main characters. I have to admit, I haven’t read Lu’s Batman: Nightwalker novel, so I don’t know how much of the dialog is hers and how much is of Moore’s creation, but regardless, it crackles and sings.
I can’t tell you how much I love the moments between Madeleine and Bruce in Arkham. Theirs is a verbal game of give and take—sometimes gentle, sometimes sharp and sometimes very, very flirty. We know Bruce Wayne is a complex character, but Lu and Moore make sure Madeleine Wallace is every bit his equal.
One final point worth mentioning here, Batman: Nightwalker keeps its use of text boxes and internal monologues to an absolute minimum, which is unusual for a comic adapted from a prose novel. It’s the dialog that drives the action. Honestly, when it’s this well written, that’s as it should be.
Perfect Food Pairing:
Batman: Nightwalker would go extremely well with a huge tub of buttered popcorn, a too-large cup of Sprite and a box of Junior Mints (which are totally the best theater candy—don’t @ me!). This is an extremely cinematic book. Quite possibly the most cinematic to come out of DC’s YA line. The plot has everything you want from a great thriller—mystery, romance, suspense, action and emotion—and it never gets too bogged down in silliness or esoteric thoughts. Just make sure you take care with the pages. You wouldn’t want to smudge up Wildgoose’s amazing art with popcorn grease.
Favorite Teen Titan:
Bruce and Madeleine are such a compelling pair because they represent two sides of the same coin. They both lost their family in a tragic incident when they were young, and their subsequent lives have largely been shaped by this loss. However, while Bruce ultimately channels his anger and grief into something positive, Madeleine deals with it destructively. It’s a yin-and-yang, light-and-dark sort of dichotomy, so of course Batman: Nightwalker’s favorite Teen Titan would be Raven, who faces this same internal struggle every single day.
What Would You Most Like to Ask?
Okay, I realize this book is out of continuity, so this isn’t really a fair question. It’s also a SPOILER, so you might want to skip this last section if you haven’t read Nightwalker. But Bruce, why haven’t you tried finding Madeleine now that you know she’s still alive?!? Seriously, dude, you guys had some real chemistry, and she’s obviously not evil. Maybe a bit confused and misguided in places, but not evil. And should this relationship have some legs, I’ll bet she wouldn’t leave you standing alone at the altar like some people. Just sayin’.
Tim Beedle may work and live on Earth, but he prefers to spend his free time in the worlds created by Philip Pullman, Garth Nix and Philip Reeve. His favorite superhero is Batman, which he knows is everyone else’s favorite too, so he’s really trying hard to get into a slightly less popular one. Keep tabs on how it's going by following him on Twitter at @Tim_Beedle.
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