Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artwork: John Paul Leon
Release Date: 29th November 2017
Batman: Creature of the Night is a Batman story with a difference. The difference being that Batman himself doesn’t actually appear anywhere in this story. Or rather he does, but only as a fictional character in this new series which is set outside of the existing DC continuity.
Very much a spiritual successor to Kurt Busiek’s stellar work on Superman: Secret Identity, a story which saw a man named Clark Kent who suddenly gains the powers of Superman, Creature of the Night introduces us to a young boy called Bruce Wainwright, a die-hard Batman fan who continually tries to draw parallels between his own life and that of his beloved Caped Crusader.
However, with an almost frightening inevitability, young Bruce’s obsession with Batman ends up hitting a little too close to home as his parents are murdered in random act of criminal violence, leaving him with a crippling sense of emptiness and grief, along with – as should probably be expected – a burning desire bring his parents’ killer to justice. It’s a fascinating, beautifully structured opening issue with a lot of genuine emotion poured out onto the pages.
In an interesting choice, Busiek opts to alternate narrators throughout the course of this opening chapter, switching back and forth between Bruce’s great uncle Alton Frederick (who Bruce calls “Alfred”) and Bruce himself to help match the pace of the story. It’s a fantastic narrative device that really helps to hammer home the emotional impact of certain moments by giving us Bruce’s first-person account of them, while also managing to keep things distant and enigmatic during the sections where “Alfred” takes over.
Visually, John Paul Leon feels like the perfect fit for a book like this, with a slightly old-school, toned-down aesthetic that bears more than a passing resemblance to David Mazzucchelli’s iconic work on Batman: Year One. His gritty and realistic style works wonders in making sure this feels like anything but a superhero comic, while also serving to hammer home the impact of the shocking events that gradually start to unfold on the streets of Boston.
It’s tonally a little ambiguous, with more than a passing nod to the likes of ‘I Kill Giants’ or ‘A Monster Calls’ as Bruce retreats further and further into his own Bat-obsession to cope with his grief. At the same time, it’s also abundantly clear that the mysterious events which are befalling the criminal underworld of Boston are actually happening, a fact which nudges the series more into the realm of ‘dark superhero origin story’ than ‘moving analysis of dealing with grief’.
Either way, it’s an utterly mesmerising read, and even in spite of the increased page count, I still found myself clamouring for more by the time the end of this chapter came. Less a Batman story and more a thoughtful meditation on the impact of Batman as a character, this flawless new series comes highly recommended by virtue of its stellar artwork and truly innovative premise.
Superman: Secret Identity is one of my favourite superhero stories. Touching, uplifting and powerful, it represents everything I love about Superman and the hope he brings, so effortlessly captured by the master of classic superhero writing Kurt Busiek.
This week, Busiek returns alongside artist John Paul Leon to tackle the Caped Crusader, weaving a tale of loss, darkness and somehow finding the light again.
In this Elseworld tale, where the heroes of the DC only exist in the pages of the comics, a young Bruce Wainwright, only son of middle-class Henry and Carole Wainwright, is in love with Batman. Possibly just because of his name, he lives and breathes Batman as any young fan would. He insists that he’s called “Master Bruce”, begs to see the bats at the local Zoo, refers to his uncle as “Alfred” and dresses up as the Dark Knight for Halloween.
But it is on one fateful Halloween that Bruce’s world comes crashing down around him as his parents are murdered by a group of home invaders on their way back from trick or treating. Admitted to a boarding school as an orphan, with no one left to trust or turn to and his parent’s killers left unapprehended, Bruce is all alone. But in the bat enclosure of the zoo and the dark streets nearby, something in the shadows may just lead Bruce on the path to closure…
It’s an incredible issue, and flawless in every way. Shocking, heartbreaking and the start of something bigger, this first chapter of Creature Of The Night is an emotional trip that resonates so powerfully. What makes it such a resonating story however, comes from how personal it is.
Letting the story begin with painting the idyllic life of Bruce, before crushing it all before the audience’s eyes in a harrowing murder in the opening pages sets the expectations of what a book like this will discuss. But it’s following their murder and Bruce’s life after, that the journal entries he writes take the form of narration for the issue’s events.
It’s in this narration that we see the loss, the confusion and the anguish of a young child faced with the death of his parents with no closure. It becomes so personal as we see through the eyes of Bruce. Every word reverberates off the page as you feel Bruce’s pain.
And as the comicbook scenario begins to come more and more to life in the latter half of the issue, we see how it forms Bruce’s path to dealing with his loss. Bruce’s way of seeing the world and what he writes change again, with the issue ending on a whole new way of life for Bruce as the book continues next month.
It truly is incredible and I don’t want to say more in fear of spoiling, as this really is an issue that must be experienced.
And there is no end to the praise that can be heaped upon John Paul Leon’s artistry and colours. His linework so effortlessly captures the emotions and atmosphere of every scenario, and the colours blend to perfectly to encapsulate the mood.
But also the versatility of his work here is to be praised. A story that blends the lines of a comic world and the real world means his art is constantly changing. Changing from the more rigid paneling and work of real world scenarios to the more crazed and unconventional work when it takes on board that “Creature of the Night” title.
A two-page spread involving bats around midway through the issue will show all that will be needed to say about Leon’s work. Plus, the actual in-story comics that Leon renders are awesome and you can tell the fun he had with them!
My only minor complaint may actually be that there is some narration by the “Alfred” character of the book which is lettered in a really fancy style that I found pretty difficult to read. I get why they did it but didn’t make it any easier to read for a novice like me.
Even as a fan of Secret Identity, I wasn’t expecting the quality that Creature Of The Night would bring. Personal and powerful in every way, with Leon’s finest work, Creature Of The Night #1 blew me away. And there’s nothing more exciting this is only the first part in a larger story. As I said before, this really is an issue that needs to be experienced.
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