Gotham City is under attack. The city’s wealthiest and most powerful are being slaughtered in the cover of night while in the safety of their own homes. Their accounts have been drained as single message is burned in the darkness: an image of the a coin set aflame. The Nightwalkers are coming for them all.
This message is both literal and figurative. The 99% is tired of the oppression by the corrupt upper class. People are being held down from reaching their potential because of the lack of opportunities given to them, the poor are unable to afford life saving medicine, food, housing and basic necessities while billionaires like are throwing parties for each other.
And one of those billionaires is Bruce Wayne, who at the age of eighteen just inherited Wayne Corp.
Life at 18-years old is often a confusing time; barely out of adolescence and fresh into adulthood, it can be slightly overwhelming. The pressures of wanting to please your parents and finding your own path of happiness can be stressful but for Bruce Wayne. Not only is he expected to take over his family’s billion-dollar business but he’s also dealing with fake friends who are there for a handout instead of hanging out.
When his birthday party goes awry, he makes an impulsive choice and is sentenced to community service at Arkham Asylum; the infamous prison that holds the city’s most nefarious criminals including the brilliant killer, Madeleine Wallace.
She’s a woman of no words, and Wayne is drawn to her and her connection to the Nightwalkers. He has an inner struggle with wanting to help her. However, the secrets she carries are enough to bring down all of Gotham City; including the boy who would be The Dark Knight.
Fresh off her first installment of the Warcross series, Marie Lu has managed to breathe life into a franchise that dates back to 1939. Improving on well established characters like Lucius Fox, Alfred and Harvey Dent she has also introduced readers to new characters that feel part of the DC brand. While these new additions are a pleasant surprise to a reader familiar to Wayne, the expansion and relationships they have with our teenage hero is where the story finds its own voice, bringing realism and heart to the characters.
Before Two-Face became a terror in Gotham City and a pain in Wayne’s side, he was simply Harvey Dent; a adolescent kid trying to please his often abusive and alcoholic father. Daily beatings and night’s spent trying to protect his mother he developed a nervous tic (flipping coins as a distraction) to help him cope. But no matter how photogenic his smile was, he couldn’t hide his troubles from Wayne whose friendship often pulled him out of the darkness. Forming a bond with each other and his other best friend Dianne, they form support system; and without their help, I’m sure Wayne would have been the mopey kid we would have expected. Instead of still crying for his parents, Wayne is a well-adjusted young normal young man who just has to weed those who want to use him for his money and connections (a plot that plays heavily in the story).
Then there’s Madeleine Wallace, one of Wayne’s first villains who is a psychological delight to read. While serving community service for committing a very Batman-like crime, Wayne takes an interest in the mysterious girl locked away with Gotham’s hardest criminals. Quite, mysterious and creative, it’s hard to forget she’s a murderer directly involved with the Nightwalkers as Wayne seems enamored by her presence.
Despite the numerous foes Wayne faced across in his cannon, Madeleine is one of the few who can confuse and outmatch Wayne. Part villain/part foe, she has the ability to draw sympathy from anyone, gain their trust and use it against you before you’re even aware of what she’s doing. She’s able to suck Wayne in by pulling at his heartstrings and making him believe that she’s on his side, but confuses Wayne so much he doesn’t know what he’s fact or fiction. Watching her character unfold is a masterclass in psychology. Her ability to read body language, analysis conversations, and vast knowledge in tech has clearly inspired Wayne in his future detective lifestyle.
Much like Warcross, Lu’s rich technological knowledge helps drives the story. Wayne goes through a series of training techniques in a virtual reality simulation that mirrors much of the tech in the real world. There’s a heavy usage of police-driven drones and the ever popular frequency scrambles that’s made its way into may Batman video games. Despite being only 18 years old, the novel is full of action sequences, fight scenes, gun fights and car chases.
What makes Batman Nightwalker so enjoyable is Wayne’s sense of uncertainty and inner conflict. He sees the good and bad in people; either with Madeleine or with one of his classmates who hates him for his wealth. Instead of seeing the world in black and white, he wants to understand why someone decided on their actions. While he’s a well-adjusted for someone who lost his parents years ago, their deaths still drives him into wanting justice for all but he’s also aware that justice comes at a cost for some.
Batman Nightwalker is one of the most enjoyable iteration of the franchise. Full of fresh ideas and a page-turning story. It’ll keep you guessing until the very end. Even if you’ve never heard of Batman, this story is a great introduction to the franchise while also embracing die-hard fans.