I discovered Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen’s Superman: Secret Identity, it solidified my idea of what Superman represented. A regular guy who happens to be named Clark Kent, wakes up with powers and becomes the embodiment of the fictional hero he grew up resenting because of their shared name. The idea of what Superman was shaped that character and that book, making it a newer classic Superman story. This time around, Kurt Busiek teams up with John Paul Leon to bring a very different hero to life. It’s Batman’s turn to get the Earth Prime treatment and as expected, it’s a lot darker than its predecessor.
I don’t know what I expected going into this. Considering the many, many iterations of Batman’s origins, it’s not easy to bring a refreshing take. I have to say though that Busiek managed to surprise me. In this world, the so-called “real world,” our Batman character appears as a young Bruce Wainwright. While he’s not a billionaire, other aspects of his origin are similar. Bruce is an avid comic book fan and with his similar name, it’s easy to see why his favourite hero is Batman. With his hobby bordering on obsession (we’ve all been there), it becomes his saving grace when life starts to imitate the art he’s grown to love. This first instalment completely focuses on his childhood and I for one am grateful for this. Half told from the perspective of his great uncle “Alfred” with the other half told by Bruce himself, this first book really captures dark emotional trauma from the perspective of a young boy. Although it is something we've seen in previous incarnations, the "real world" setting gives this story an extra emotional punch because we believe there's no superhero there to save the day.
The interior art shows a wonderful balance between the terrors of reality and the comfort of escapism. Like with Secret Identity, the style shifts to incorporate both and Leon does it marvelously, and the two styles do well to magnify the other. Although this is an all around great read, my one gripe about it is the heavy handed narration from the "Alfred" character's point of view. The captions are written in a hand-writing style that can be difficult to read but is interesting enough that you muddle through it anyways.
While Secret Identity dealt with inspiration, Creature of the Night tackles how Batman as a fictional character is both a saving grace in the face of trauma and a descent into obsession. The Superman in Secret Identity looks to his comic book counterpart for inspiration because he has the power to make a difference, Bruce Wainwright finds power in his counterpart when he is faced with utter powerlessness. It’s hard not to look at these two works as an answer to the other because it feels like Batman and Superman are truly two haves of the same coin. Still, Creature of the Night can definitely stand on its own as a captivating read.