It’s not often one can be surprised by a character who’s been in circulation over seventy five years, but strange things can happen. Nearly fourteen years ago now: Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen created Superman: Secret Identity; a story which explored what would happen if Superman came to exist in a world where Superman is a fictional character. The book was a fairly unique take on the mythos with Superman somewhat in effect taking inspiration from the character to become him, and had a story that benefited immensely from someone with a big love of the Superman character being at the helm. Batman: Creature of the Night would at first blush be a similar story, but it ends up diverging very quickly from its spiritual predecessor by exploring just what happens when someone has to endure a comic book origin story in the real world.
Part of this divergence is thanks to Busiek establishing an extremely different context for the world of Bruce Wainwright. While it does start as something of a dark mirror to Secret Identity, it opts to start its story at the peak of “Batmania” resulting from the Adam West TV show. All of this makes for a very dark world which Busiek brings to the forefront when Bruce Wainwright – a Batman fan – undergoes the same trauma as his hero. Contrary to Bruce Wayne’s experience, however, young Wainright is displayed as a child who suffers unbearable pain and loss and is driven into isolation after his unbearable pain and loss. It’s in that isolation where he gains a supernatural ally to punish the people who’ve wronged him. The book takes a dark turn pretty quickly, and it’s to Busiek’s credit that it establishes a very different set of bonafides from Secret Identity.
The other major star of Creature of the Night is most definitely John Paul Leon’s artwork. It’s very distinctive from any other comic – Batman or otherwise – being published by DC at the moment. Creature of the Night is a pretty clever mix of homages to actual period Batman comics, as well as the pop culture hyperreality of the TV show, all mixed into the more drab and realistic world which Bruce Wainwright occupies. It’s a textured world that clashes violently with the supernatural underpinnings of the book, and it works. If you’re looking for a new entry into Batman, you definitely won’t be disappointed…even if that $5.99 price tag is a bit difficult to swallow.
4 Giant Bat Creatures out of 5