This Batman: Nightwalker review contains minor spoilers.
Random House Books and DC Entertainment have partnered with established young adult authors to create the DC Icons books that highlight major players in the DC comics verse with their own YA novels.
I previously reviewed Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo. Next up, the Dark Knight himself in Batman: Nightwalker. This story filled a key missing piece to the Batman mythos, undertaken by author Marie Lu, known for her popular Legend series.
In the Batman-verse we know Batman’s origin, we see some of his younger years on the TV show Gotham, and we know that much later on he trains like hell and becomes the avenging caped crusader we know and love. This novel follows a Bruce who is just on the cusp of adulthood, graduating high school and planning for the future.
Things may not be so straightforward when he finds himself in the middle of a case involving a secret organization stealing funds and murdering billionares. He becomes the only person able to get information out of one of their members, currently residing at Arkham Asylum—but the details she leaves out may be more important than what she’s letting on.
You’re introduced to some classic Batman characters, including Alfred and Lucius Fox, as well as some new ones tailored for this story. If there is one noticeable addition to the story? Bruce has friends! This angle not only increases appeal for a YA audience (or readers of any age who care about interpersonal drama), but adds a little realism to the character we know and love.
Bruce could have been (and often is depicted as) a dour teenager sulking in his mansion. Instead, he’s adjusted and worked through enough of his trauma that he can have a somewhat normal adolescence—minus the obscene wealth. He still cares enough about his parents’ murders and the well-being of his city, of course, and it’s not hard to imagine him eventually molding into the hero we all expect him to become.
Lu also introduces a new villain: Madeleine Wallace, an enigmatic character Bruce meets in Arkham Asylum while doing some community service. At first, she’s aloof and mysterious, but, as she takes a liking to Bruce, she involves him intimately in the Nightwalker case, against everyone else’s wishes.
Madeleine is a great intellectual foe/ally for Bruce. She peppers their conversations with hints at the truth, giving him enough information to keep him coming back. You’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s not, so it keeps you, the reader, constantly questioning what Madeleine says.
What’s also fascinating about Madeleine is her vast intelligence, and how that intelligence manifests. The way she analyzes body language, security systems, etc. makes you think Bruce might have been inspired by her deductive reasoning to become his own detective.
There’s a masterful blend of science and science fiction at play here. The book is written in a realistic present or near future where technology like robotic drones to assist police and portable frequency scramblers are believable technologies created by Wayne Tech. There’s also a neat virtual reality element to Bruce’s training regimen—a story concept that’s not that far-fetched in this day and age.
The book is written in a close third person perspective. Bruce, for the most part, is a relatable teenager, though he’s definitely lived a more financially comfortable life than most and is set to take over Wayne Enterprises. This puts him in a precarious position, as the Nightwalkers target rich philanthropists and drain their accounts—sometimes resulting in murder. Bruce becomes interested in the case both through the enigmatic Madeleine and when the attacks strike people he knows personally.
Through his nascent detective work, we see tantalizing hints of the person we know Bruce will become. His sense of justice is strong, but he’s at odds with himself when Madeleine does not appear to be as evil as she’s been made out to be. We discover, along with Bruce, those details that put the pieces of the real story together: why the Nightwalkers do what they do, who their leader and mission is, and whether Madeleine is an ally or a villain.
Batman Nightwalker is a young adult novel that doesn’t need Batman to be good—but add all of those clever Batman references, and you’ve got a great story for any Dark Knight fan.