Batman is synonymous with graphic novels; thousands of the Dark Knight’s stories have been told over the decades covering all forms of media. It would be easy to assume that over the years creators have tapped into all the tales Batman has to offer, but that presumption couldn’t be more erroneous. The appeal of Batman is his ability to fit into nearly any narrative conceivable. He could be battling cosmic foes shoulder to shoulder with demi-gods like Superman and Wonder Woman one moment, then canvassing the streets of Gotham for clues steeped in pulp-noir the next.
Batman Secret Files #1 is a collection of stories exploring the many sides of Batman and the city of Gotham. Throughout five tales, the respective creative teams place the microscope over the world of Batman, Bruce Wayne, and the people who occupy Gotham. With limited space, most of the writers/artists manage to infuse a full story arc into a few pages; in some cases, the authors leave readers with cliffhangers to contemplate. The art varies from story to story, and for the most part, the visual qualities match the narrative tones. However, whenever a collection of work is strewn together, there is bound to be an assortment of positives and negatives.
Writer Tom King opens the issue with a four-page tale that asks the question: What if Batman could be more? Superman presents Batman with a rare form of Kryptonite that can imbue anyone who touches it with powers equal to “the Man of Tomorrow.” Through omniscient third-person narration and a flashback, King and artist Mikel Janin humanize the often-vaunted legends surrounding Batman. With less space than any of the other stories, King leaves readers with a curious notion.
The Nature of Fear
Officer Henry Fielding takes center stage in a story by Ram V. The ongoing turmoil among Batman and his rogues gallery is bound to have casualties. Officer Fielding recounts the incident that leads to his present condition to a mental practitioner. After being exposed to Scare Crow’s fear toxin, Fielding — while in a hallucinogenic state — is saved by Batman. The account is an examination of fear from a less prepared mind than Batman’s. Fear is often a recurring theme in the world of Batman, but usually from the vantage point of Bruce himself. Jorge Porne’s art is characterized by heavy lines and thick shadows, a solid foundation for the story woven within The Nature of Fear.
Cheryll Lynn Eaton’s One taps into the dual personalities of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Wayne’s corporate undertakings crash into Batman’s world when Wayne Tech drones are involved in a crime. The premise is the high mark of One — the case itself is an allegory for Batman/Bruce’s internal struggle; it isn’t possible to compartmentalize one from the other. Unfortunately, the story struggles with pacing; much of the mystery is easily unraveled by a witness that is a human exposition machine. However, Elena Casagrande’s art is a saving grace, and I would like to see her work on future issues of Batman.
Of every tale in the issue, Enough feels the most out of place. The idea here was commendable, but poorly executed. Alone in the wilderness to find a shadowy beast, Batman is left to look within himself. Batman’s characterization is simply… unbecoming. Jordie Bellaire portrays Batman as a man afraid to be alone. Batman, the character known for brooding ominously by himself. Batman, the man who struggles to work in a team unless he is in charge. Jill Thompson’s art only detracts from any immersion the story may have allowed. Specific panels depict Batman’s body as disproportionate. In other cases, the facial art completely took me by surprise with its inconsistency.
The World’s Greatest Detective
Artist Brad Walker and Writer Tom Taylor present a story in complete contrast to every story that came before it, and it works like a charm. Batman teams with Bobo, DC’s resident Detective Chimp, to find a young boy flirting with the world of crime. In an ironic twist, Bobo extends more humanity to the boy than Batman, a revelation for both heroes. The story is short but concise. Over seven pages Bobo’s and Batman’s rapport is exposed just enough for readers to glean an understanding of their relationship.
Batman Secret Files #1 works well enough for what it is at its very nature: a collection of work. The quality varies greatly from poor to excellent. Two of the stories fail to hit their mark, two stories are solid outings, and one is highly successful. Despite the various quality of work, the issue is worth a read, serving as a litmus test of creative combinations that could be commissioned for future Batman outings.