If you have young Batman fans in your family, or are one yourself of any age, the Viking/Penguin Young Readers Group release Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight [ISBN 978-0-67006-255-3] is a perfect gift.
At $15.99 it's rather a slight read for the price — the length of a single issue at the cost
of a graphic novel in comics terms — but that's par for the course in the wider market of children's books. I think you'll find it worth the splurge whether you want to display it as a handsome collectible or read it over and over to your kids.
The lovely package is written and illustrated by Ralph Cosentino with obvious affection for his source material. It's a storybook that deftly uses the comics form by alternating full-page illustrations with panel sequences and by employing comics-style captions with a few word balloons thrown in for good measure. You can see for yourself by clicking over to view excerpts on the author's website.
A digression to personal experience:
My nieces are superhero nuts who come by it honestly but mysteriously since, due
to the violence inherent in fighting bad guys, I promised their mom that I'd hold off on introducing the comics and cartoons of our own childhood until the girls were older — only to have, through osmosis or genetics, their mania manifest as young as mine did. And they have their uncle's attention to detail, too. Every comics fan should know the pride and bewilderment of hearing a 3-year-old complain that the cape to her Batman pajamas doesn't end in pointy things or a 5-year-old press for additional details of a Super Friends episode that she has committed to memory.
When I did bring out the comics the difficulty in narrating them soon became clear. Traditional storybooks have one picture to a page, and while nothing will stop curious kids from asking questions as you try to patiently read the text, the enterprise becomes exponentially more difficult when there are multiple panels to a page to be seen and so many captions, balloons, and sound effects to be read; it's like trying to describe the contents of a toy-store window while holding your audience back from smashing in the glass. This book is a perfect transition piece.
Any Batman historian of the mildest order will recognize the book's cover as an
homage to Detective Comics #27, the character's debut as drawn by creator Bob Kane, and the scenes of his backstory are lifted directly from their very first depictions in 1939 at the hands of Kane and writer Bill Finger. Cosentino's art is more influenced by longtime Kane ghosts Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff, particularly in his depiction of Batman's rogues' gallery, although the author curiously keeps the short gloves that the Dark Knight only wore during his earliest adventures. The thick brushwork and round chin of young Bruce Wayne remind me of Charles Burns, some poses echo Bruce Timm's neo-classic animated Batman, and the overall design work pleases in a clean pop fashion.
One minor quibble is that the only females in the book are a damsel in distress,
Bruce Wayne's mother, and the villainous Catwoman; then again, it's hard to fault Batgirl's absence when even Robin isn't there, and every supporting male figure in the book is either a criminal or a familiar character such as Alfred the butler and Police Commissioner Gordon. Another caveat is the perhaps unavoidable problem of how or whether to explain the death of young Bruce's parents, although the book refrains from any display of gunfire and only says that a thief took their lives.
You can certainly find the origin and other adventures of Gotham's guardian for ten bucks cheaper, tied in to recent movies and cartoon series. Every time I'm prompted to pick up and linger over The Story of the Dark Knight, however, which is often, it's a visual delight.
Cover to and images from Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight © 2008 DC Comics. Panels from remastered Batman #1 © 1940 DC Comics. Character and related elements TM/® DC Comics.
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