Bruce Wainwright has a problem. The Batman born of his grief has crossed lines that the Batman from the comic books never would, and Bruce is caught up in something that seems increasingly dangerous and unstable. Who is the mysterious Batman, and why has he come to Bruce’s aid? Answers begin to come out in Batman: Creature of the Night #3. SPOILERS AHEAD
The thrill is gone
It was bound to happen: this book, which I once described as seeming being above criticism, has come down to Earth. The delay is a factor—we’re getting Book Three almost four months after the previous installment—but I think there’s more to it than lost momentum. While the technical excellence that wowed me in the first two books persists, the story has transitioned from one of questions to one of answers. Whereas in prior episodes we could imagine the possibilities, or ignore them entirely and revel in the mystery (this latter approach being the one I took more often than not), Book Three begins to solidify things as Busiek and Leon steer this tale toward completion.
This sort of transition can take the wind out of a book’s sails all by itself, whether or not readers like the answers to the questions. A book that has been sustained by its lack of information may appear to stumble when it has to flip the script and wrap things up. If you don’t like the answers to the questions, that stumble can follow through into a fall. And I think that’s where I’m at with Creature of the Night.
Flawed from the start?
So what’s the problem? It’s Batman’s identity, and maybe even the very fact that he has an identity at all. Before we knew Batman’s identity, this was a story about Bruce’s grief. That grief took on a fantastical mode of expression, but it was still at the center. I feel a fundamental shift with Book Three. Adding a heretofore-unknown brother to the mix, and making that brother Batman just feels a bit weird, and needlessly complex. Put simply, Bruce’s grief has shifted from the center to the periphery, and the story isn’t as gripping as it was. I’m hoping Busiek proves me wrong in the final installment, but this seems like a structural failure, and it doesn’t add anything beyond the sizzle of a shocking revelation.
But there’s already another shocking revelation in this issue, one that works much more effectively in the prior, grief-centric framework. Bruce discovers that his “Detective Gordon” is on the take, as corrupt as the comic book Gordon is clean. This shattering of Bruce’s illusions has lots of dramatic weight, a twist that goes deeper than its surface sizzle. Grief has gotten him caught up in this whole Batman thing, to the point that he tries to find parallels between his life and that of the mythic Batman. His Gordon failing to live up to expectations is pretty much the perfect way to dash all of that to pieces.
Still an engaging read
I suspect Creature of the Night #3 would have fared better if it had come sooner on the heels of the last one. There’s definitely something to be said for momentum. But even so—and even with the unnecessary twist of Batman’s identity—the book is still gorgeous to look at and incredibly readable. The quality of writing and visual storytelling is still top-notch, and worth experiencing simply on the basis of those merits alone. And let me be clear—my problems with this one don’t wreck the whole series. I’m still interested in finding out what happens, and I’m even willing to have my mind changed on this issue by what we find out in the final installment. Here’s hoping that’s exactly what happens.
I will say, in closing, that the delay is an unfortunate stain on this book—what was arguably one of the best things DC published last year. If DC expects folks to buy monthly comics instead of waiting for trades, then they should deliver books on time, and certainly without a four-month delay. And if it’s the creators who can’t meet the deadlines, then they should pool minis like this and release them as a single graphic novel. Or wait until all issues are complete before releasing the first. Or something. Yes, Creature is a premium format, with long installments, but this has happened plenty with standard-length books, too. Readers shouldn’t be expected to read prior issues more than once just to make sense of whatever just came out.
- You’re already invested in this story. To that end, you may want to break out the earlier chapters first to get up to speed.
- You enjoy John Paul Leon’s artwork (it’s great!). This would be worth the cover price for that alone.
Creature of the Night has lots some of its punch with the third chapter. A long delay and unnecessary complexity have somewhat detached the story from what made it compelling in the first place. Still, it reads and looks as good as anything else on the stands, and if you’ve enjoyed the series so far and want to see it through to the end, you should absolutely buy this book.
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