Dark Knight Delight

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.

All you need is a desire to stimulate the economy by spending $15.99 for just "32 pages of action" plus endpapers and lovely covers — 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, but 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 a slideshow of 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 have pointy things or a 5-year-old pressing for additional details of a Super Friends episode that she has committed to memory.

When I did bring out the comics, however, 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 past or present comics historian of the mildest order will recognize the book's cover as an homage to Detective Comics #27, The Batman's first appearance, drawn by creator Bob Kane. Inside, Cosentino's art is much more influenced by longtime Kane ghost Dick Sprang, 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 character poses echo animated-Batman maestro Bruce Timm, and the overall clean, classic design work pleases in the manner of Pete Poplaski, interpreter of Golden Age icons on such projects as Batman: The Dailies.

One minor quibble is that the only females in the book are Bruce Wayne's mother, the villainous Catwoman, and a damsel in distress; then again, you can't fault Batgirl's absence when even Robin isn't there, and all the men in the book are either criminals or familiar characters such as Alfred the butler and Commissioner Gordon. Another caveat is the perhaps unavoidable problem of how or whether to explain the death of young Bruce's parents is raised, although the book only says that a thief took their lives, refraining from any display of gunfire.

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, but every time I pick up Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight it's a delight.

If you purchase Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight or any other items placed into your cart by clicking through to Amazon from this blog, Blam may receive a small percentage of the sale. If you can support independent booksellers or neighbors who work at a chain bookstore in your area, however, that's even better; you should be able to special-order items that are in print but not on the shelves. 

Images of Detective Comics #27, Batman: The Dailies and Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight © 1939, 1991, 2008 DC Comics.

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