So at Grandcon, as I previously mentioned, I got to meet legendary fantasy author Tracy Hickman and his wife, Laura. Well, there was also a table selling some of his books. I neglected buying any of the Dragonlance ones, mostly because I didn’t know what was what. So instead, I plunked down $17 for a copy of his original Batman novel from last year, Wayne of Gotham.
Before I dive into my review, let’s all note that cover, shall we? That’s by the great artist Ryan Sook, who doesn’t work often enough as he should, and it is just gorgeous. I would so buy this as a print.
Anyway, this story gives us an isolationist Batman ala The Dark Knight Returns. Bruce Wayne is rather old and is fighting crime all by himself with only Alfred’s help. There’s no Robin, Nightwing or Catwoman to be found. With his advanced age, Bruce has had to rely more and more on amping up his technology; the Batsuit he wears in this novel is essentially an Iron Man suit, amplifying his natural strength by tenfold and with all sorts of tricks.
Besides operating completely alone, it seems, Bruce also has cultivated a public reputation as a Howard Hughes-ian recluse ala The Dark Knight Rises; this is all in the service of Batman, naturally. If no one’s bothering Bruce Wayne, they won’t pick up on Batman.
Into this status quo comes a new arrival in the form of a mysterious woman named Amanda who claims to know things about his parents, things that Bruce has never heard about. What he learns is shocking, disturbing and ultimately changes the way Bruce thinks about his past.
An interesting part of this story is that we get a somewhat definite timeline for Batman, as we have flashbacks with Thomas Wayne in the 1950s as a young medical school graduate who gets in over his head all for the sake of Martha Kane, the girl next door. This is an interesting story which is given equal time parallel to the main story. And in both stories, Gotham is made a fully fleshed out character in its own right, which is always welcome.
As I said, this is an isolationist Batman. We really get no established villains other than the Joker and a couple others. Continuity-wise, this is its own thing, but it largely seems to be following the post-1986 timeline for Batman, with a brief mention to Scott Snyder’s current Batman run dropped at the end. It’s an interesting choice to make and while I wish there were more people to bounce off of, we see just how haunted Bruce is.
This book is not without its problems, alas. The dialogue drops the ball quite a few times–one scene in particular where Bruce confronts Alfred over a secret he’s been hiding contains the especially ludicrous line, “No Alfred! Master Bruce doesn’t want his cookies and his milk!”–and the descriptive passages describing how the Batmobile or another piece of technology works is annoying and more confusing than helpful. The ending is also pretty controversial, with at least one other reviewer I know actively disavowing this book.
But overall, if you’re lucky for a Batman story that’s different from what we get, this fits the bill. I’ve thought lately that Batman’s unique psyche is best explored in a novel and this book reinforces that thought. Check it out if you like.