Review Copy Provided by DC Entertainment via NetGalley
What made the original text-only novel by Marie Lu so enticing to fans was that it was an entirely new and original story, chronicling the early years of Bruce Wayne’s life and his eventual turn to being the Caped Crusader. Indeed, Lu’s novel was seen as a pioneering feat for the character in the literary space, providing one of the very few novels on the character in history. And with such a success, it’s no surprise that DC has taken the initiative to adapt the novel into its own graphic novel by the hands of Stuart Moore (The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence) and the inspired art of Chris Wildgoose. Coupled together, this graphic novel adaptation faithfully recreates everything that Lu did so well with the original novel…and everything that Lu was deficient at. Yes, Batman: Nightwalker in graphic novel form doesn’t add or fix anything in relation to its original source material, causing it to come off a tad underwhelming. Its cartoonish and Alex Rider-like nature lends itself to Moore’s dialogue and even more so to Wildgoose’s anime-esque art. It’s an art style that uses colors sparingly, most of the time relying on a strictly black-and-white color scheme, but its outlandish charm can’t quite save the rest of the novel from devolving into a dull and drab contraption, fiercely bent on delivering mediocrity.
Following Bruce Wayne on the verge of graduating from high school and at the age of eighteen, Lu’s original narrative made smart use on Wayne’s position in adolescence. He regularly deals with teenagers in the traditionally “teenage” way and is quick to develop romantic feelings and crushes on girls he meets. Despite readers being able to see the underlying potential for the character to develop into the Dark Knight, Lu grounded Wayne and the rest of the characters in a spot that no other stories in recent memories tackled. However, due to the book quite literally having the name “Batman” in it, both the original novel and this new graphic novel adaptation are reliant on fan service and pointing out, in possibly the most unsubtle method, how this eighteen-year-old Bruce Wayne will become the Caped Crusader in future years. This means that this version of the character turns into something of a mini version of Batman himself. From dodging flying bullets to fighting off enemies and prisoners to thrusting himself right into the middle of a massive criminal investigation, it’s all ridiculous and unbelievable that he’s able to walk away from it in the end since he is an untrained eighteen-year-old. It’s clear that many of the “action sequences” took inspiration from other Batman stories, but that’s just the problem. This main protagonist isn’t Batman or anywhere close to him, and that’s a statement that Lu’s novel and Moore’s adaptation frequently forgets.
But the outlandishness of the plot aside, there are some redeeming factors here, most of which coming from Wildgoose’s excellent art. While Moore and Lu may not remember it from time to time, Wildgoose certainly recognizes where Bruce Wayne is at in his life, and the art reflects so. In relation to other distinct Batman illustrators like Greg Capullo with Scott Snyder’s expertly told and written The Court of Owls, Wildgoose’s framed illustrations look almost juvenile and underdeveloped and intentionally so. Color is excluded in all of the scenes other than key ones, dawning on the reader the sharp transition the characters make in the fast-paced and snappy 210 pages in length.
Batman: Nightwalker (The Graphic Novel) is very much a faithful recreation of what Lu’s 2018 novel achieved, but that’s often its greatest downfall. The original plot contains so many stray loose ends and unbelievable elements that a faithful adaptation just can’t avoid. There’s will definitely be fans of this new graphic novel adaptation, especially from those who were fans of Lu’s book; I’m just not one of them.