Before proceeding any further, you should head over to Newsarama and read their interview with John Paul Leon. It sheds light on this book’s long delays.
It’s finally here. After a long delay, and then one much longer delay, Batman: Creature of the Night comes to a close with its fourth issue. But should we care? Should we reinvest in something that has been disappointingly absent for over a year now? SPOILERS AHEAD
The story so far
For the uninitiated among you, Creature of the Night follows the story of Bruce Wainright, a boy who lost his parents to a home invasion gone wrong. A Batman fan, Bruce inexplicably manifests the Dark Knight in response, launching a crusade against crime that often leaves him feeling more impotent and confused than triumphant. He has his own Alfred and Robin, and while they do not assist him in his crimefighting efforts, they fulfill the spiritual roles of their comic book counterparts rather effectively.
I enjoyed the first two issues of Creature of the Night thoroughly, but the third took a dip. While Busiek, Leon, and Klein remained at the technical tops of their respective crafts, the four-month delay and the dissipation of mystery took much of the air out of the whole affair—at least for me. A book that had, to that point, seemed centered on a broken little boy, who became a broken young man, had now been muddied by actual supernatural power. With a real, Jekyll-and-Hyde Batman-creature flying through the corridors of Boston, I felt as though the book had fundamentally changed, and I wasn’t pleased with the shift.
The dark night returns
Thankfully, Creature of the Night #4 manages to draw things to a close in a satisfying manner. My hopes were low that Busiek could recover from where he left the story at the end of #3, but he has. Bruce still transforms into a vengeful Batman-man, but his civilian life is a mess. He more frequently uses his powers to trivial and petty ends. He is a man who should be at the prime of his life, but he is still just a broken little boy, caught in the delusion that covering himself with power and purpose will be enough to fix him.
With the help of his faithful Alfred and Robin, Bruce eventually sees the vanity of this life, and begins to move on. His life is not made, miraculously, unbroken, but no longer does he bury the sorrow beneath those inadequate protectors he did before. He does not recover what the killers took from him all those years ago—how could he?—but with his years of trying to fill that void behind him, Bruce is finally able to appreciate and work with what he has left.
Still just about above criticism
Creature of the Night’s final installment benefits from the same capable craftsmen responsible for the rest of the series. Busiek’s dialogue is entirely above reproach, and, more than that, finds its emotional targets with near-perfect accuracy. An unwelcome kiss—an element that, in nearly any other book, would presage pages of ham-fisted preaching—instead creates the sort of awkwardness and relational distance that it would in real life.
Leon’s layouts continue to favor fewer, larger panels. His economical storytelling emphasizes key moments in a scene, rather than animating it for us. Make no mistake: these moments still flow effectively from one to the next; but, our minds do not need path so much as trajectory, and Leon’s approach is a lesson in the latter.
Todd Klein’s letters complement Leon’s work wonderfully. In general, lettering requires quite a bit more craft than the average reader understands, but there are those whose particular skills distinguish them from their peers. Here, Klein produces very readable balloon placement, and his largely-understated aesthetic approach to balloons and narration boxes works just fine. If we look closer, however, we can see his skills and experience brought to bear in subtler—perhaps even more subjective—ways. The fonts used for dialogue and for Bruce’s narration, for example, seem a perfect aesthetic fit for Leon’s work:
Can’t see it? Imagine if Klein had instead used something like Steve Wands’ font in Supergirl #1:
That was the perfect choice to accompany Brian Ching’s whimsical character designs, but it would have been all wrong here. What about Tom Napolitano’s dialogue font in a recent issue of Justice League?
Again, great choice for that book, but still not quite right for Creature of the Night.
What does it matter, you might ask. Like almost everything a letterer does, it’s easy for these things to fly under the radar. But if you changed all of the fonts in Creature of the Night, the book would feel completely different, and that difference would, I argue, be for the worse. Klein’s sensibilities lead to choices that produce a more cohesive work of art, and for that, I am most grateful.
A fitting conclusion
We have waited a long time for this, but in the end, Batman: Creature of the Night finds a fitting end in its final installment. With the same skill and care that made us want to invest in this story in the first place, Busiek, Leon, and Klein bring Bruce Wainright to a place we can all understand: not rid of his grief, yet no longer distorted by it; learning to live again.
- You love seeing elements of the Batman mythos applied to a real-life story
- You enjoy economical comic storytelling
- You lean towards books that inspire as much as—or more than—they entertain
Batman: Creature of the Night #4 is a long time coming, but it is worth the wait. Bruce Wainright’s tale comes to an emotionally-resonant, satisfying end, courtesy of master-class storytelling from three of the greatest comic book creators who have ever lived.
DISCLAIMER: Batman News received an advance copy of this book for the purpose of review.