By Brendan Hodgdon. I have an embarrassing confession to make: I have never read Superman: Secret Identity. For all the hype surrounding it, and despite the undeniable romanticism of its premise, it’s never quite made it to the top of my reading pile, I think because historically I’ve never been as big a Superman fan. Batman has always been my jam, and so when I heard that Kurt Busiek was applying the same conceptual framework of Secret Identity to the Caped Crusader (with John Paul Leon on art to boot!) I knew that I had to get in on the ground floor of this one. And boy, am I glad that I have.
Busiek smartly keeps the thematic connection between Creature of the Night and Secret Identity a vague one: what if a kid in the real world, with a similar name and backstory to a classic superhero, was suddenly endowed with that hero’s powers? Of course, in the case of Batman, he doesn’t have any powers; he’s just a man in a costume who learns how to fight. So how do you tell the “real world” version of that story without basically just making a Batman version of Kick-Ass? Busiek’s solution is to add in a dash of the horrific and the supernatural, a very fitting choice that is made all the better by the honest emotions underneath it all.
Busiek’s depiction of young Bruce Wainwright gives us a broken kid, who is left feeling isolated after his tragic loss. In broad strokes, he’s not all that different from his namesake. But the ways that his tale contrasts with Bruce Wayne’s highlights the loneliness inherent in Batman that the glamour of the Waynes can sometimes mask. And so when this apparition of a bat-like figure appears, and begins hunting down answers about the death of the Wainwrights, it drives home what Batman really is at his core: a coping mechanism for an angry boy who wants to make the world make sense. Busiek’s script realizes, in a very direct way, the visceral wish-fulfillment of Batman as well as any Batman story I’ve seen, and brings out both the aspirational and heartbreaking elements of the Dark Knight beautifully.
And speaking of beautiful, John Paul Leon’s art — in a word, wow. It’s no secret that Leon is a top-tier sequential artist, and Creature of the Night is yet more proof of that. His work gives the story its very grounded, naturalistic feel, which is a great boon to the story that Busiek has written. Leon really sells the emotions of Bruce Wainwright, and often stages his panels specifically to highlight his isolation and subliminally suggest the circumstances that eventually birth our Batman. And when the titular creature arrives, Leon imbues it with otherworldly power and presence, suggesting danger while still, in one particular instance, letting it be a comforting presence to young Bruce. Let’s not forget the work of letterer Todd Klein either, who handles both quiet dialogue and demonic demands for the truth with a deft hand.
Perhaps the one “bad” thing you could say about Creature of the Night is that, as a retelling of sorts of Batman’s origin, it’s working with a very, very familiar framework in this first issue. But when the detail work is this good, who cares what the foundation is? Truly, it’s the details that really lift this book up, and the honest emotions that make it sing. Those things combined promise a Batman story like no other. I can’t wait to devour each and every chapter over and over again, as I already have with this one.
Written by Kurt Busiek.
Art by John Paul Leon.
Letters by Todd Klein.
9 out of 10
Enjoy this twelve-page preview of ‘Batman: Creature of the Night’, courtesy of DC Comics!