After nearly two years, two excruciating years, the long-awaited conclusion to Batman: Creature of the Night is here. Kurt Busiek and John Paul Leon’s iteration of Batman in the real world as a horror monster was set back significantly due to the creator’s health, but this final issue has proven that it was worth the wait. This issue concludes the story of a boy who was never able to grow up, who finally has to confront the world he’s created for himself.
The conclusion to this story is far less kind to Batman than its sister series Superman: Secret Identity was to its own titular character. Batman is a result of Bruce’s paranoia and insecurity, and Bruce can only be free of this by seeking therapy and medication. This issue focuses on Bruce’s struggle to accept his own mental illnesses and seek help, and the struggle of the people closest to him to get him to see what his actions are doing. It’s a brutal book to read if you’ve had to deal with these kinds of problems in the past, but it really feels like an honest depiction of these hardships. At the same time this is a take on Batman that feels fairly trite and tired at the moment. The idea that Batman would be better if Bruce stuck to using his wealth to help people is an overdone concept, explored in books like Batman: White Knight and plenty of other series of varying quality. Busiek and Leon do a stellar job telling this story, and this may be the best actual iteration of the concept, but at the end of the day it feels like it’s saying far less than its sister series did. The core message aside, however, the issue is really well-crafted.
Busiek chooses to add Robin’s voice as one of the narrators for this issue, taking over for Alfred’s narration in the previous ones. This change really sells the nature of this issue – it’s about Bruce growing up and dealing with his legacy rather than his past. Robin is the most visible part of his legacy, as proof that Bruce Wayne can do good in the world without Batman. Robin serves to be Bruce’s moral compass in this issue in the same way Alfred tried to be in the past – still detached from Bruce’s actual actions, but with an incredibly different perspective – she’s not tied to Bruce’s tragedy or upbringing and doesn’t give him the same leeway that his uncle does. Her support at the end of the story means something. It’s not a father figure taking care of his son, it’s a child caring for the man who gave her an opportunity at a better life. Busiek makes it clear that the best thing Bruce ever did was give a traumatized child a home and a life – for all the good Batman does, this always remains the case.
As has remained constant with each issue of this book, the story is brought to life in a brilliant fashion through the work of John Paul Leon. From the very first page of a shredded comic book evoking the previous issues’ openings with different scenes in classic Batman comics, Leon infuses this entire book with a dark, almost horrific style that does wonders to establish a tone and atmosphere for the book and characters. Bruce is scary. When he becomes the Batman, he’s outright terrifying. His psychosis and paranoia are frightful to behold, and when his mind turns against him it’s even darker. Todd Klein’s letters are also a major part of this atmosphere – the different captions for Bruce and Robin alongside the stylized word balloons for Batman and Bruce’s visions all serve to show how far into his own madness Bruce is falling, especially when the word balloons are juxtaposed with Robin’s narration. As a whole, the visual aspects of the comic book are executed to perfection.
This issue is an excellently made conclusion to its miniseries, providing a conclusion that rings true to the story that began 2 years ago. Busiek and John Paul Leon have ensured that this finale was worth the wait, keeping it thematically consistent and emotionally satisfying. While the book’s core take on Batman may not be enjoyable for all readers, the skill and love put into the book speak for themselves, making it completely worth the read.