Quarantine Book Club – Batman: Nightwalker

And we’re back with today’s second title for the Batman News Quarantine Book Club, Batman: Nightwalker. Originally published as a novel by Marie Lu, this is the graphic novel adaptation by Stuart Moore and Chris Wildgoose – a name you might recognize due to his work on Batgirl. Unlike Batman: Overdrive, Batman: Nightwalker contains more mature themes and plots that are targeted towards young adults/ teens. The story follows an eighteen-year-old Bruce Wayne as he steps into adulthood and begins a life investigating and solving crimes. 

Josh: Alright, we all know the drill. What were your thoughts on selecting Batman: Nightwalker? 

Casper: I was just open to checking this out and seeing what’s what, but I had no idea what the story is about.

Josh: I didn’t either. Has anyone read the novel by Marie Lu?

Casper: Nope.

Michael: I didn’t read the novel but I was very interested to see if this comic felt rushed since it was adapted from a longer piece of prose.

Matina: I’m going to be honest, there are so many Batman graphic novels for young readers that at one point I had this book mixed up with the recently released Gotham High graphic novel and I was not excited. Then I realized it wasn’t the same and still was hesitant to jump in from the summary, and ended up enjoying it so much I want to find the novel to read! Haha!

Josh: So, is this a bad time to tell you that we’re actually swapping out Shadow of the Batgirl for Gotham High?… I’m kidding! 

Uh, yeah, I’m right there with you Matina. I didn’t have much expectation for this book, and kind of expected it to be super angsty since it is targeted for teens, but, man… I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t love this book! It’s kind of everything I want to see from an eighteen year old Bruce Wayne! And yes, I also want to find and read the novel now. 

Let’s go ahead and start with Bruce. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on his depiction here. 

Matina: Like with Overdrive I enjoyed seeing a younger Bruce here and I really wanted more from the story about him inheriting the fortune and Wayne Enterprises because I think that particular time period is really interesting, especially if the story is going to have Bruce in town and active. I really liked the opening scene where he’s still not quite used to dealing with Gotham’s elite or the buzz of the press, and escapes to be with friends. I would have loved to see more of him dealing with all that, especially since he’s kind of thrown in the media spotlight after he chases down the Nightwalker. 

Michael: Once again I found myself more interested in the smaller-scale story at play here. I agree, Matina, that I thought the scenes with Bruce navigating his newfound status as a young adult with elite status were very interesting. I do like that his impulsive nature gets him into trouble even though he does successfully stop the Nightwalker.

Josh: Yeah, there’s just something that feels inherently right here. His depiction, his maturity mixed with his youthful impulsiveness. I love all of it. And I agree, some of the best elements of this book are the moments where he steps into adulthood. I think it’s fair to say that Bruce isn’t an ordinary human, and in the same respect, he isn’t an ordinary teenager. Despite that, I’m not sure any teen would be prepared to step into the shoes he is forced to step into at such a young age. All things considered though, he manages to do it with quite a bit of grace. 

This is a testament to Lu, Moore, and Wildgoose! You can tell they thought carefully about all of this, and it shows. There’s so much background and nuance here. I seriously can’t stress how surprised I was. 

Casper: I also liked seeing him dealing with being in the spotlight and how uncomfortable he was with all that, as it made him relatable. That’s all well and good. I just wonder why Wayne Enterprises has developed a mobile app to control the drones. That seems really dangerous to me, and immediately offering that app to an eighteen-year-old seems like a bad idea. Lucius Fox is lucky that that eighteen-year-old is Bruce Wayne. The drones themselves I also found questionable: everything that goes wrong with the drones seems so obvious from the start! Seriously, who designed these things and who gave the green light?

Josh: Haha! I knew you would ponder on this! I don’t know if it’s true, but I heard it was Tony Stark… Just saying… Haha! 

Casper: I mean, yeah! Also, now I’m having flashbacks to this weird old comic, Bruce Wayne: Agent of SHIELD — haha!

Josh: Yeah, the moment the drones are introduced, I knew the story would take a certain direction. It didn’t bother me much though because I found so many other elements intriguing and interesting. And the drones weren’t the main threat – which also helps. They were just a tool for the Nightwalkers to utilize. 

Casper: Fair enough, but to me that’s no excuse. I want this stuff to make sense, even if they’re just a tool for the Nightwalkers. But maybe that’s just me!

Josh: Speaking of Nightwalkers. Did anyone else love them as the antagonists?

Matina: There were a number of things about the Nightwalkers I found to be a little typical to YA, but then there were some turns to the story that surprised me. I feel like the story of a group (young, old, any age really) who’s out to strip the wealthy of their money and redistribute it is par for the course in YA, and I’d say Batman stories too. So, that aspect really didn’t surprise me. And as a group, they are threatening yes, but they really fall into the background since so few get dialogue or facetime. 

Josh: See, I actually like that they didn’t get much facetime because it made it feel more like a movement, and as a result, more threatening. Sometimes I think the most challenging force to overcome is a united belief from a group. 

Matina: Something that did bother me about the Nightwalkers in this book is how they’re all young, and a lot of what they do isn’t necessarily something I see a bunch of young people capable of, even if they’re in their late teens and have a tech genius helping run the show. Their threat and skills just seem improbable to me when I step back, but I also have to look at this through the light of a YA story where this kind of thing happens often.

Michael: I agree that the age thing was a little weird. I think it might be because this story is extremely by-the-book YA stuff, but a lot of the time those YA books take place in a dystopian future of some sort. Here, we have Gotham which is, for the most part, a functioning city, so having a bunch of teen terrorists feels just a tad…off.

Josh: I get what each of you are saying. I guess my stance is that – and this is general for YA stories as well – youth, especially teenagers, tend to not see or understand the complexity of situations. They always identify the opportunities in life, but are only looking at them from one perspective, and tend to have a rebellious or revolutionary drive because of it. That’s what I gathered here, and it made sense to make them teenagers as well because of it. I mean, it’s the target audience, so of course, that’s who will be featured. 

Michael: I guess if there’s a major complaint I have against the storyline is that it sort of felt like a typical YA plot that was palette-swapped to become a Batman story.  

Casper: A YA story that was palette-swapped to become a Batman story — well said, Michael. I don’t have a lot of experience with YA stuff, but that makes sense. I didn’t really care for the Nightwalkers, though. Reading the book, I didn’t particularly see them as typical YA villains yet, but I did see them as a generic group of bad guys that just didn’t stand out to me.

Josh: Ok, you guys are starting to sound like me. I can’t believe I loved the Nightwalkers and you all didn’t. One more thing before we move on, but I can’t help but feel much of the idea behind the Nightwalkers were influenced by elements of Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. I know we mentioned that the idea of the movement isn’t new to Batman or YA, but it specifically seemed reminiscent of elements in that film. 

Let’s move on to Bruce, his impulsive nature – as Michael put it – and how that drives him to begin his life as a vigilante. 

Casper: Reading this version of Bruce Wayne does make me feel like this is the boy that will grow up to become Batman one day. 

Josh: I completely agree! And I can’t stress how much of a feat that is in and of itself!

Casper: Yeah, he is a little bit naive at times, makes mistakes, and isn’t as focused as his future self, but that all makes sense given that he’s eighteen, and still has so much to learn. But the drive to protect others is definitely there.

Matina: I agree, the Bruce in Nightwalker is a much more believable Bruce Wayne than the one in Overdrive. I definitely got that feeling that this is Bruce when reading the story. Starting with the inciting scene where he knows his car is faster and can catch the Nightwalker and just guns it after them. I thought ‘oh okay we have the makings of Batman’. And so many elements through the story felt that way.

Michael: Yeah this definitely feels much more like the Bruce we’ve all come to know, just a more naive version. Even when he does stupid things it’s because he’s trying to right some sort of wrong, he just goes about it the wrong way.

Casper: Yeah, exactly! The creative team did a good job there.

Josh: Definitely! That, and this book really put an emphasis on him investigating the truth. This is one of the key elements we often discuss that is missing from modern Batman stories, so much in the way that we see the foundation of his drive, I love seeing this foundation of this skillset as well. 

In general, if Batman: Nightwalker succeeds with anything, it’s that I think they have the perfect depiction of Bruce at this age. He’s kind of already determined the direction of his life, he’s prepared himself with a basic skill set, and now he’s putting those skills to use – an event that will push him to take his training even further. I love it!

Uh, we’ve mentioned how his impulsive nature pushed him to go after the Nightwalker, so let’s focus on how the cause and effect of that scene results in Bruce getting community service at Arkham Asylum. 

Michael: This was the one location that never really clicked for me in the book, which is a bit of a shame since it’s basically the main setting. 

Josh: What!?!? Ok… Go ahead. I have rebuttals. I don’t even know why you feel this way, but I have rebuttals! Haha!

Michael: It just felt watered down to me, despite some pretty graphic stuff going on elsewhere in the story, and there were some pretty far leaps in logic to get the plot to work.

Matina: I agree. The setting almost feels chosen just for the sake of having Arkham in the book, and for the shock value it gives the plot “Bruce Wayne in Arkham!”.  I don’t really feel like it did a lot for me as a location.

Michael: Also I didn’t exactly buy that this detective thinks Bruce doesn’t appreciate hard work so she sends him to Arkham Asylum. There’s also this odd moment where she implies that volunteering at a soup kitchen isn’t “menial” work even though I’d imagine time spent there is more of a net good than sweeping floors at Arkham. This was the most contrived plot point in the entire story, which is saying something since some of the later revelations are plucked straight out of a soap opera.

Josh: Oi… Ok, Casper, do you have anything before I jump in?

Casper: I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand, I totally agree with you guys. It is pretty silly. Sending an eighteen-year-old to freaking Arkham, of all places, is just overkill. Especially knowing that this particular eighteen-year-old has lost both his parents about eight years ago, so this is incredibly insensitive and extremely harsh if you think about it that way. But on the other hand, I actually enjoyed the Arkham scenes quite a bit once I got past those objections. I wasn’t expecting Bruce to end up there, and when he started interrogating Madeleine, I could, for a moment, see him as Batman there…that is, until the forced romance stuff started happening. Yikes.

Josh: Ok, I’m stopping you. We’ll get to Madeleine and the romance in a bit. But Arkham. I understand the point that each of you are making, but I have counterpoints that deal heavily with context. First, I’ll agree. Is it absurd that someone will serve community service in a mental institution? Yes. There’s a well known mental prison/ hospital just south of my hometown, and I’ve never heard of anyone doing community service there. Maybe it happens, but whatever. 

Anyway, the context I think we have to consider is the outlook that society will have on Bruce Wayne just because he’s rich. I mean, let’s be honest. Look at the general outlook and commentary on the rich these days. How often do we hear about the top 1% of the top 1%. The stance and viewpoints feel realistic. As for volunteering in a soup kitchen being “menial,” think about how often the elite or famous do charitable work just for the press or public relations. There is a good chance we can assume Bruce has had his fair share of visits to these shelters, especially since many of these places will most likely have the Wayne name on them. 

Casper: I see what you mean, but I still think that sending Bruce into this place filled with creepy murderers is a bit much. Like I said, his parents got murdered before his very eyes! That, specifically, is what I’m criticizing. I really think that they went a little bit overboard there if you want to take a realistic approach. But if you look at this as a prequel to a Batman comic, I don’t necessarily think that it has to be strictly realistic all the time. What Arkham brings to the table, at the very least, is a sense of intrigue and adventure, which works all right in this YA book. This is why I’m kind of struggling with Arkham here: I can look at it from both perspectives, and I think both are just as valid. It really just depends on your personal preferences, I suppose.

Josh: Now, the one major takeaway I had with Arkham, was that this establishes Bruce’s familiarity with the asylum in a realistic way. How does Batman know so much about the ins and outs of Arkham? He was forced to serve his community service there as a janitor during his impulsive years. So, yes, while I do agree that the idea is a bit of a stretch, I like the foundation that it provides for Bruce. 

Casper: Yeah. I agree! That in itself is pretty cool.

Josh: Ok, I’ve said my peace. I think all of you were in a bad mood when you read this book. Haha! I’m kidding. Let’s go ahead and move on to Madeleine since Casper mentioned her. 

Casper: Sorry! Haha!

Michael: So, the “will they won’t they” between Madeleine and Bruce was maybe the most YA thing in the book that ranged from moderately compelling to near groan inducing. It’s fun nonetheless, but this tragic romance between the two is where the book exposes its aim at younger readers the most. 

Matina: Yeah, I totally agree that it was the most YA thing. 

Josh: I mean… Is it though? Looking at the entire history of Batman, so much of his story has been a “Will they? Won’t they?” And it’s predominantly been with women who are/ were considered antagonists (Catwoman and Talia). You can’t tell me this is just a YA thing. This is straight-up Batman, and a foundation of his taste in women… As well as the belief that there’s good in them. This is Bruce Wayne. We just need to accept it. Haha!

Matina: I mean, I never hated it and I liked the conflict it causes Madeleine, but I could have done without all the random kissing in the middle of the climax. 

Josh: Ok, I’ll give you that. 

Casper: I could have done without the entire romance, to be honest. It really bogged things down for me as it felt really forced. Maybe it’s done a little bit better in the novel, where there’s more room to develop this stuff. The most compelling thing about Madeleine was that she kept lying to Bruce about her identity; I wish there was more of that intrigue, and that the romance came from that intrigue more naturally.

Josh: Yeah, I would’ve enjoyed more of that as well. In general, though, I wouldn’t say that this was so much of a romance as it was a connection that the two shared. I mean, I think they thought it was a potential romance, but we often confuse the complexity of emotions at that age, so I went with it. 

Casper: Yeah, that’s a fair point. It wasn’t really a romance or relationship because they never had the time to actually develop that. But they had a connection for sure! Or maybe it was just the hormones.

Josh: Speaking of connections, Bruce’s friends. 

Matina: So I don’t know much about Harvey’s past, but I did enjoy that he was included in this book. I feel like it added to the world a little bit in that the two of them were always close friends before he became Two Face. 

Josh: I agree. I like that the two share a history, and I know some writers have played into this. Scott Snyder played with this idea in All Star Batman, but I didn’t like it as much there as I do here. For me, this supports the idea that Bruce would believe in Harvey so much when he becomes District Attorney for Gotham, and also establish why he’d push so hard for Harvey’s rehabilitation. I think this set-up also plays incredibly well into some of the threads in Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Batman & Robin story from the New 52 that features Two Face.

Casper: So, Two-Face is my favorite Batman villain. I liked seeing Harvey here as a teenager, he’s my boy — haha! But at the same time I think he was kind of underused. I get what you are saying Josh, how this is a nice foundation for Two-Face stories, all of that is true. But I’m just looking at the character within the context of this particular story, and I just wish that there was more room to develop Harvey as a character.

Michael: I didn’t mind Harvey being in the book but we do get another instance of a side character having his big moment “off screen”.

Casper: That’s exactly what I was going to say, Michael. If only we had actually seen that stuff play out. Now it’s just this thing that’s being mentioned, but it’s hard to connect to it because we are never shown what really happened. I wonder if the novel expands on this.

Josh: Yeah, the entire abusive father bit felt a little shoe-horned in. I wish they would’ve explored this a little more because it would’ve fleshed Harvey out as a character, while also playing to the triumph and tragedy of his future. 

Casper: Yeah, it would have given him an actual, complete arc, which is what this character deserves!

Josh: Any thoughts on Dianne?

Matina: Dianne, while she helped push the story forward in some places, didn’t feel like much more than a placeholder, and that nice friend Bruce could bounce ideas off. 

Michael: I completely agree that Dianne felt like a placeholder that existed merely just so Bruce could talk out loud. It’s a shame. Maybe there were better character moments for her and Harvey in the novel that were lost in the adaptation. 

Josh: Yeah, I agree. That being said, I do think Dianne was incredibly likable despite her lack of depth. There was something genuinely charismatic about her, and that endeared me to her. Clearly, I can’t say the same for Richard. 

Matina: I was solidly convinced that Richard was working with the Nightwalkers much sooner than he’s revealed to have been, if not the leader. So, the reveal of the leader was a surprise for me. I felt like it was a nice misdirect for my theories while reading. 

Michael: Richard working with the Nightwalkers was the worst kept secret, but I do agree that the reveal of the actual leader was the best surprise in the book.

Casper: The minute that Richard was introduced, I thought to myself, He’s with the Nightwalkers and he might be their leader. When they revealed the leader’s identity, I was surprised that it wasn’t Richard, but when I think about it, the character’s actual identity doesn’t surprise me that much. It’s one of those instances where it seems so obvious in hindsight. I’m not sure what else the creative team could’ve done, though, because at least now the leader has a connection to Madeleine and it’s not just some random person.

Josh: So… I kind of feel like an idiot because I didn’t suspect that Richard was going to be involved with the Nightwalkers simply because he came from money. I fully expected that he was just going to have a tiff with Bruce, but that the Nightwalkers would target Richards family, ultimately leading to the two mending their friendship. And while that did happen, it’s also what led me to be surprised for the reveal he was working with them. 

Now, as for the actual leader of the Nightwalkers, I figured that out super early. I noticed the metal joints of a guy early on, and when the story came up about Madeleine’s brother, I was like, “Yep. He’s alive. He’s the leader and she’s protecting him.” 

Matina: So, this is completely changing the subject, but is anyone else constantly thrown off by Alfred with a full head of dark hair? I knew we were reading stories featuring younger Bruce, but in my mind’s eye Alfred is always grey haired haha. 

Josh: Hahaha! I’m dying! I actually thought that at one point. I love it. 

Michael: Alfred should always be balding or grey haired, I didn’t make the rules.

Matina: I did enjoy him in this though. I think his relationship with Bruce here is a lot closer to what we see in comics. I enjoyed his moments of being done with Bruce’s antics early on, as well as how supportive he is through this. 

Michael: Nothing too special with Alfred here, but I did like his and Bruce’s momentary action team up when Bruce rescues him from the Nightwalkers. 

Casper: I’m not sure what to add to this. I like Bruce and Alfred’s dynamic a lot too. I also like his haircut in this. I mean, it’s really hard to get Alfred wrong, even if he does have a full head of hair.

Josh: Yeah, he didn’t have a large role here, but the creative team did a good job of making his moments count. And while I think the script did quite of a bit of the legwork, I also think Wildgoose’s art did some heavy lifting as well. There’s so much silent storytelling between Bruce and Alfred – well, from everyone really – that really helps round this book out and elevate. Let’s actually go ahead and talk about the art. I’m a huge fan of Wildgoose, and wish he’d get more consistent work on a regular title. The guy is golden!

Matina: I really liked the use of color in this graphic novel, because it’s so limited in its use. When it does show up, it draws the eye and really helps to add emphasis to certain moments and scenes, but it never feels overused. In fact, I almost wish there would have been a little more of it spread through the story. 

Josh: Agreed! The pops of yellow were perfect and incredibly impactful. 

Michael: I thought the book was absolutely gorgeous even with its limited color palette. I do think it could have used its brief moments of color (the yellow of the Nightwalkers) more frequently. It’s a tough line to walk, but generally, the aesthetics and storytelling of the book are really great. I’ve been a fan of Wildgoose’s art ever since I saw it first in Batgirl’s rebirth run and he didn’t disappoint here. His characters emote extraordinarily well and the action sequences are crisp and easy to follow.

Josh: Definitely. If there’s ever an area where I think the art fails to deliver, it’s in the emotional beats. But Wildgoose excels in that field. I never wonder what his characters or feeling or thinking, and I never feel like the emotion of the art is disconnected with the tone of the script. Everything blends and works together perfectly. 

And yes, the action sequences are all great! I know I just said it, but DC needs to give this guy more work! 

Casper: To be honest, I never really noticed Wildgoose before. I mean, I’ve seen his work in other titles, but it never really jumped out to me. But seeing it here, man, this is something else. It looks really good! There are some incredible layouts and perspectives here, and I really like how, even though there is minimal use of color, there is so much depth to this. The book really comes to life, especially in the sequential storytelling and the rendition of the characters. This is by far the best I’ve seen from Wildgoose. I’d like to see some creator-owned stuff by him, if he’s ever done some of that.

Josh: Alright, I want to look at this the way we looked at Batman: Overdrive. How did you guys feel about this book as a representation of Batman and his universe?

Matina: This graphic novel felt to me more like a Batman story I’d expect. 

Josh: Agreed. 

Matina: The world feels like Gotham, and the details/characters/places don’t feel like ornamentation put on to make this world look like Gotham. It all feels natural. I think this would work well to introduce new readers to Bruce Wayne and provides enough of a foundation they wouldn’t have too much trouble jumping into a different story featuring him, in fact it might leave unfamiliar readers curious to see what else is out there. 

Michael: If you removed some of the teeny romance scenes this storyline could’ve easily worked in a traditional Batman book. It’s definitely a little edgier than most YA books as the story doesn’t shy away from murder, but does a good job of implementing some teen angst into the plot without completely derailing it. Parts of the romance reminded me a bit of the recent Harleen by Stjepan Sejic, just through a more teen point-of-view.

Josh: Yeah, I’m right there with you. I feel this story could have easily worked in a traditional Batman story, and I’ve even cataloged it as such in my brain. If I think of an eighteen-year-old Bruce, I’m going to think of this. I can’t stress how much of a compliment that is coming from me. 

Casper: I agree with you, Josh, that this is a solid take on an eighteen-year-old Bruce. That’s definitely the thing that impresses me the most here.

Josh: Let’s go ahead and wrap this up with our final thoughts. 

Matina: I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I was going to. I enjoyed reading about Bruce investigating the mystery of the Nightwalkers and trying to figure out the truth behind Madeline. Going through it on a first read there wasn’t anything really that made me stop and pause because I was making huge leaps, instead I took it all in stride with the story. I think as a book for teens it’s got a little of everything, action, drama, and even forbidden romance, but it didn’t do it in a way that felt overly cliched or groan inducing. Instead it really did feel like an inexperienced Bruce on his first case. This is one I’d happily sit down and read again. 

Michael: I was very worried about reading this book for a few reasons. One is YA has never really been my thing, I didn’t like the cover (yes I know covers aren’t everything but this one is particularly uninspiring), and it was adapted from a novel so I thought the plot would be noticeably truncated.  However, I was extremely surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I agree with Matina in that I never really slowed down too much to think about how many leaps of logic I was making to keep along with the book. However, I have to give the book credit for keeping the pace at a fast clip to keep me from dwelling in any one place for too long. Maybe I have a soft spot for teen romance, but I groaned a lot less than I was expecting once the relationship subplot gained more traction. It’s a very fun, gorgeous book that I think ticks pretty much every box in the YA genre and even serves as a more than decent Batman story. 

Casper: This isn’t really my thing, but I still enjoyed some parts of this story. I like the dynamic between Bruce and Alfred. I like how Bruce is written here. I like the artwork a lot, it just looks really pretty. And the interrogation of Madeleine was compelling (until it got bogged down by the needless romance, that is). I just wish that the story itself was stronger and that the villains in this weren’t so generic and forgettable. But, while there’s no actual Batman in this, we do see a young man that will grow up to become Batman, and in that regard it’s successful.

Josh: Batman: Nightwalker really surprised me! I expected to read an angsty, melodramatic story since this book is targeted to teenagers, but instead found a well-thought exploration of Bruce Wayne that felt like a believable depiction of him at this age. There are so many elements to him as a character – as well as the story itself – that resonate with me because they feel true to the Batman mythos. While there are some stretches as far as the plot is concerned, this is easily a book I’d recommend – not just for teens, but for anyone who is a fan of Batman. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, I look forward to reading the novel, and I hope we can see this creative team continue to expand on Bruce at this age in the future.

Thanks for joining us this week! We’d love to hear your thoughts on Batman: Nightwalker. Do you agree with our assessment? Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments! Check out our previous discussion about Batman: Dark Knight, Dark City and be sure to join us next week as we read Batman and the Monster Men.