When considering the quality of a single issue comic, scope is something I always come back to; how much story does a single issue tell within the natural confines of the medium & format. Single issue comics have natural limitations in terms of size, anything approaching one hundred pages or more is probably a graphic novel at that point, while a single comics page itself can probably handle nine to twelve panels at most per page. Furthermore, a sizable portion of comics are created using pre-existing intellectual property, which in itself creates it’s own form of constraints on story telling based on the framework of the concept, to say nothing of the editorial guidelines of the corporate IP holders. But all these limitations are a big part of what I like about comics, seeing how creative talent can work within those guidelines and still tell an amazing story in a way that no other medium can. And that starts with scope, how much story a creative team leverages out of those limitations. Batman: Creature of The Night #1, by Kurt Busiek & Jean Paul Leon, is a comic that fully realizes its scope, and mines out its limitations for an incredibly creative and profound single issue, with a technical proficiency & synthesis in the art & writing that makes for a purely excellent single issue comics.
Batman Creature of The Night is a brilliant comic about Batman that isn’t actually about Batman. It follows a young child named Bruce Wainwright obsession with Batman comics in late 1960’s Boston, whose familial tragedy mirrors that of Batman with the sudden and brutal death of his patents. The story focuses on Bruce struggling to comprehend his sadness & post traumatic stress, while he begins to see visions that mirror that of a mysterious supernatural bat like being that violently hunts the cities criminal underworld.
Conceptually, Creature of The Night is comparable with writer Kurt Busiek’s Superman: Secret Identity, it takes someone that exist in our world with those characters as iconography, and then has them experience a life in weird parallel to the superheroes, with the protagonist being self aware of those similarities. Yet in Secret Identity, it’s focus is on the realization of those powers, it’s protagonist decision to use them for the greater good, and reconciling that with his life as a civilian. Creature of The Night is of a different focus & thematics, one that explores the real life implications of Batman’s origin in the death of protagonist Bruce’s parents. Writer Kurt Busiek is at his best when he can establish a voice within the story as narration, like in Secret Identity or his long running Astro City. He does well at fleshing out and building characters by using one primary perspective as a guiding narrative, as if your reading a first person account of the comic as you proccess it visually. Creature of The Night works in that way too, but it’s more of a dynamic between the perspective of the eight year old Bruce, and his much older only living relative, uncle Albert Fredrick. It makes for a compelling contrast, one that allows the reader to relate to the child like raw emotion, and the more sobered regret & world weariness of adulthood. It’s a sharp and expansive metaphor, one that allows the writer to explore the Batman metaphor from dueling and equally valid view points, while making each real for the reader for the rich detail Busiek write’s his prose in. It becomes as much about how Bruce & Albert discern what’s happening to them as the events of the comic itself. While that’s a common narrative device in prose writing, it’s a more delicate balance in comics because so much of it is about what’s happening on the page. Busiek is one of a very few comics writer that can fully utilize it in the comic without having any parts feel redundant, because he is so skilled at exploring perspective. For a book like Creature of The Night, where so much of the plot is presented through the lens of it’s emotional weight, it gives the story another fully realized dimension.
Artist Jean Paul Leon is one of comics most technically adept and dynamic illustrators, and Creature of The Night represents one his strongest most recent comics work. Leon is a comics artist with a significant body of work on Batman, dating back to a guest spot on the main line series in the mid nineties to an arc with the characters Young Animal analog on Mother Panic earlier this year. He’s an artist whose technical gift for realism, sharp line work, and engaging layouts make for an ideal draftsman for the dark gothic architecture of Gotham City. As the sole artist credited on Creature of The Night, Leon’s washed out coloring with his gift for maximalism of detail makes the visual storytelling feel akin to Mazzuchhelli’s brilliant work on Year One and it’s awe inspiring urban realism. Leon has a gift not just for detail, but for leveraging where he chooses to emphasize detail and contrast it with negative space. There’s an obvious advantage to that in drawing Batman, a character synonymous with night and the shadows. With Leon doing his own colors, he takes total control of the visual narration. He drafts and colors in a way that feels cinematic in it’s graphical specificity and intimacy with it’s protagonist, and consistently purposeful. His style and design makes Creature of The Night’s setting feel like a near perfect approximation of both late sixties Boston, & the fictional Gotham City; which circles back to the books focus on perspective for a child who grows up reading about one city from the viewpoint of the one he lives in. Leon’s art is in sync with Creature of The Nights thematic concept, & it fully realizes the world and perspectives it inhabits.
Creature of The Night’s absorbing narration, comprehensive visuals, & thrilling storyline is a fully actualized single issue, with the depth and brevity to feel as complete and fulfilling as a short novel in a series. It leverages the readers knowledge of the character and structure of the medium to create a comic that is equal parts unique in it’s space, but familiar in all the right ways. For the first of four parts, it bodes well to leave readers wanting more, while feeling totally satisfying as a singular experience. Creature of The Night is a comic that succeeds in ways only a comic can, while utilizing concepts from prose and cinema, and constantly upending readers expectations of both a Batman story, and the medium in itself.