Superheroes permeate nearly every facet of pop-culture these days, and someone at Penguin Books found a way to capitalize on that popularity: round up some successful YA authors and have them write original stories about the most famous DC superheroes while still in their adolescence (the heroes, not the authors).
Therefore the DC ICONS COLLECTION gives us new stories about Wonder Woman, Batman, Catwoman and Superman before they adopt their later personas, most of them no more than seventeen or eighteen years old at the time these tales are set.
Batman: Nightwalker (2018) tackles Bruce Wayne, fast-approaching his eighteenth birthday but still grappling with the loss of his parents. It’s not an easy life despite his wealth, and he prefers to avoid the spotlight in order to focus on the high-tech inventions being developed at Wayne Enterprises.
However, when he uses one of these inventions (specifically, an armoured car with all the requisite gadgets) to assist the police in preventing a criminal from evading justice, he ends up sentenced to community service at Arkham Asylum. There he learns about a mysterious network of killers known as the Nightwalkers, and begins to converse with one of their number: a young woman his own age called Madeleine Wallace.
She’s certainly not to be trusted, and yet Bruce can’t help but feel drawn to her beauty and intensity. And with the rest of the Nightwalkers still on the loose in Gotham City, it might just be that their rapport is the only thing that can stop any further chaos.
As a prequel, Nightwalker doesn’t delve too deeply into the genesis or psychology of Bruce Wayne (this ground has already been covered extensively in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins). Rather, it’s a straightforward story that — sans a few familiar names such as Harvey Dent and Alfred Pennyworth — could really be about anyone. Though there are plenty of witty call-forwards, and a central relationship that’s highly reminiscent of what Batman will one day share with a certain feline-themed criminal — it’s more of a novelty read than an essential piece of Batman lore.
But it’s fast-paced and well-written, with a few surprising twists and a rare look at a character who is usually depicted in his mid-thirties. Bruce Wayne as an adolescence is still struggling with who he is and what he wants to be in life, but the first strains of his vigilante calling are definitely there.
Marie Lu also scales down a bit in terms of the stakes — these days a superhero isn’t worth his/her salt unless they’re at least saving the world from imminent destruction, but this is a more personal adventure, one that focuses on what’s important to Bruce at this particular time in his life.