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.

cover to 'Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight', with text: '32 Pages of Action!' 'Written & Illustrated by Ralph Cosentino' / Batman swinging above rooftops on rope that trails off top right corner of book cover

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.

page depicting small figure of Batman at large old-fashioned computer in the enormous Batcave, adorned with objects including giant dinosaur replica, Batmobile, Batplane, giant penny, suits of armor from throughout world history under glass, and spare costumes / 'Beneath Wayne Manor is where I really live in my secret hideaway, the Batcave!' 'Here, all alone, I study clues to solve crimes.'

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.

panels from 'The Story of the Dark Knight' above the panels from 'Detective Comics' #33, as reprinted in 'Batman' #1, which inspired them: (1) Bruce Wayne in lab coat, goggles, and gloves holding up a test tube under a spotlight in front of an array of beakers and vials (2) Bruce Wayne in trunks and belt flexing muscles and holding large barbell overhead with starburst design in background / Top captions: 'I educated myself by studying math, politics, law, and science to help me outsmart criminals.  I exercised to make my body strong. I had to be more powerful than any foes I would face'. Bottom captions: 'As the years pass, Bruce Wayne prepares himself for his career. He becomes a master scientist. Trains his body to physical perfection until he is able to perform amazing athletic feats.

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.

sequence of panels showing Batman punching a man whose hat goes flying 'Pow!', swinging on a rope away from a flaming building with a woman in his arms, battling a humanoid crocodile, and speeding down a city street in the Batmobile / 'There will always be a criminal to stop... a victim to save... a monster to fight... and a crook to catch.'

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.

Batman posed dramatically on a rooftop similarly to a nearby gargoyle, with stylized art-deco buildings behind him, Bat-Signal shining in the night sky, flurry of bats flying over the full moon / 'Gotham City need not fear, but its villains should be very afraid, for I am out to get them. I am the protector of the weak and helpless, the guardian of Gotham, the Dark Knight. I am... Batman!'

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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