Unidentified Assailant in Black

NightwalkerBruce Wayne was a senior in high school at the beginning of Batman: Nightwalker. In his spare time he liked to read mystery novels and listen to the police scanner. All things considered, he was just a normal everyday teenage billionaire. Nobody knew what the future held for him.

Don’t be fooled, however. Somewhere buried deep inside his batling brain, Bruce was already working out the logistics of becoming a caped crusader. There was no doubt about it, the road to Detective Comics #27 was indelibly etched in stone the moment he witnessed his parents being murdered in Crime Alley.

Author Marie Lu begins her novel on the night of Bruce Wayne’s eighteenth birthday. Driving home after the party he witnesses a crime in progress and gets involved in a high-speed car chase. Naturally, things don’t go well for the nascent crimefighter. He’s busted for interfering with a crime scene, disobeying a police officer’s orders, and obstruction of justice. His sentence: community service at Arkham Asylum cleaning toilets and mopping floors.

During his time at Arkham, Bruce starts talking to a young and cute internee named Madeleine Wallace (her nickname was “Mads,” so you know she belonged in a mental institution). She was accused of three recent murders and was the youngest inmate in the history of Arkham Asylum. Like Catwoman, Madeleine was “a girl who seemed to exist in a realm between black and white, who seemed like a force of evil, then of good, and then everything in between.”

While Bruce was falling in love with her (“God, she was frighteningly pretty,” he swooned), Madeleine was ensnaring him in her deadly web. She was working with a terrorist group called the Nightwalkers that were waging a war against the super elite. And in Gotham City, nobody was more “super elite” than Bruce Wayne.

This was Bruce’s first tour of Arkham Asylum. In years to come, his connection to the institution would become more familiar and further complicated. Author Lu makes a case that Bruce found common ground with the asylum’s lunatics immediately. He was one of them, she says. In fact, her description of Arkham could easily substitute as a description of Batman during his twilight years. “Like a creature come alive in the night, Arkham Asylum was all gnarled limbs and sharp shadows, an illusion around every corner.”

Even beyond all the Arkham stuff, there was a lot of foreshadowing in this book. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. All Batman prequels were loaded with knowing winks and nods. Writers had fun with it, and readers unquestionably liked it too. We especially enjoyed the moments involving the first Batmobile (an Aston Martin) and all the scenes featuring Bruce wearing his beta version of the Batsuit.

Built by Lucius Fox, the experimental exosuit was meant to boost physical prowess. Although it was an impressive piece of tech, it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. There wasn’t a utility belt for instance. Bruce had to stash all his gadgets in his school backpack. In addition, the suit didn’t mimic any proprietary design. During Bruce’s first nighttime vigil, the police simply described him as an “unidentified assailant in black.”

By donning the Batsuit for the first time, Bruce finally caught a glimpse of his crimefighting future. The world was full of liars, traitors, thieves, and terror organizations like the Nightwalkers, but there were good people in the world too. “Gotham City was a place worth protecting,” he said at the end of the novel. Like it or not, it was his home.

[Batman: Nightwalker / By Marie Lu / First Printing: January 2018 / ISBN: 9780399549786]

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