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Batman: Child of Dreams By Matt Martin
DC Comics – Kia Asamiya (w/a); Max Allan Collins (trans.); Hardcover - $24.95
The key to a good Batman story, in my opinion, lies in the use of imagery. The notion that criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot is what originally motivated Bruce Wayne’s choice of attire; the idea that the sight of a man draped in black, emerging from the darkness as if the shadows themselves were part of his garb, could single-handedly strike fear into the hearts of those who would seek to harm innocents. By the same token, comic book fans are a sentimental and temperamental lot, so the image of Batman swooping down from a rooftop or crashing through a skylight often fills their hearts with the warm glow of nostalgia.
The point of that paragraph being that an understanding of how best to use Batman’s legendary figure, his iconic profile, is essential to anyone attempting to properly write the character. And if you can’t get that down, you shouldn’t even bother, really. Luckily, Asamiya doesn’t have any deficiencies in that department and he shouldn’t, considering his primary sources of inspiration regarding the character: Frank Miller’s Batman work, The Killing Joke and the original Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman film. And as a result, his book is filled with plenty of shots of Batman brooding over his city or lurking about the Cave, though they’re tastefully spread apart, so that the story is never overshadowed by the atmosphere.
And speaking of, the story itself is rather entertaining. Initially, the story deals with a crime wave of dramatic proportions, as a legion of impostors descends on Gotham City for the sole purpose of impersonating Batman’s greatest foes. As he brings them down, one by one, Batman worries to himself that even though the personalities of the knock-off rogues are second-rate, his upstart opponents’ physical abilities seem to be greatly increased in comparison to those of the residents of Arkham Asylum that they are mimicking. Throughout it all, he is shadowed at every turn by a visiting Japanese investigative reporting team, led by green reporter Yuko Yagi. However, an encounter with his own doppelganger convinces him that a deeper investigation of the matter is needed; an investigation which leads him to Japan, the nation of origin for what he believes is a designer drug with criminal applications, the ability to become any one person for a period (albeit fatally short) of time.
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The story takes on a different tone after the halfway point, focusing less on Batman and fistfights and more on Bruce Wayne and his infatuation with Yuko. As Batman, however, Bruce uncovers a disturbing connection between the crime spree and the corporation owned by Yuko’s uncle, Tomioka Pharmaceuticals.
The pages leading up the climactic ending battle were very reminiscent, at least to me, of Alan Moore’s Superman story, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow,” wherein Superman disposes of all of his greatest foes once and for all. At the same time, however, all of Superman’s allies have a sense of impending doom, the idea that there is little left for him to do except die in battle. The latter half of Child of Dreams has that same feel, as if Batman has finally trumped the most dangerous versions of his arch-nemeses, leaving him with nothing left to fight for. Hence, he spends a good deal of time brooding over the nature and identity of his antagonist, wondering if he is good enough to survive the fight.
If I had any complaint with the book, it’s that the dialogue in the final battle is just a tad bit overdone. Simply put, the villain spends just a little too much time grandstanding for my taste. I’m not saying that I want a fight where the bad guy is entirely silent and doesn’t gloat at all; that would be almost antithetical to the whole superhero genre. At the same time though, there’s a point where it’s become redundant and I think Asamiya oversteps that point, though not enough to ruin the book or even the fight.
At the end of the day, it’s really rather interesting to see someone from outside of DC’s core demographic give their take on what is arguably the company’s most recognizable hero. And given the fact that much has been made of this project for quite some time, it’s nice to see it live up to expectations.