By now most YA readers are aware of the DC Icons books coming out from Random House. Leigh Bardugo caused waves with her Wonder Woman story, and Sarah J. Maas broke Instagram when she released the cover of her own DC story, Cat Woman (not really but she did garner over 34,000 likes). Warcross received positive reviews (myself included in those reviews) and is still being talked about months after its release. Now Marie Lu is following it up with Batman Nightwalker. What a way to start the year.
Lu had the privilege and the challenge of writing teenage Bruce Wayne, before he becomes Batman. We’ve watched his parents die numerous times and have seen him fully committed as Batman in various mediums, but those middle years have largely been absent. This gave Lu the creative freedom to explore what high school might be like for a billionaire, but I can’t imagine writing a character with an extensive history. We had specific expectations of what we wanted to see because we know the ending. We know exactly who Bruce Wayne will be and there are tropes we expect to see to set that up.
This isn’t an earth shattering book, but Lu fulfills our needs with the Easter eggs we were hoping for. Bruce has just turned 18 and is finally allowed in the experimental room at Wayne Tech where Lucian does most of his work and where we get The Suit smoking gun, which is exciting because we know its one of many suits to come.
A major aspect the movies haven’t used enough of is Batman’s detective tendencies. Batman: The Animated Series did an excellent job of portraying the show as a mystery show, with Batman actively researching other villains before taking to the night. Lu plays with this idea, showcasing Bruce’s interest in what’s happening in Gotham by listening to a police scanner, delving into the internet, and poking around abandoned buildings.
Batman Nightwalker is a fun, quick read. It gives depth to Bruce, Diana, and Harvey, seeing them as teenagers. I haven’t met an Alfred I didn’t like, and Lu’s Alfred is no exception. You won’t regret taking a jaunt through Gotham with young Bruce Wayne.
There isn’t much more that can be said about Joe Hill’s Locke and Key series but I wanted to throw in my own two cents. Joe Hill is a favorite in this household; we’ve met him a couple of times. Gabriel Rodriquez was the co-creator with Hill and they made an incredible duo.
The comics medium relies heavily on dialogue, with little exposition to move the plot forward. This can make it feel as if information is being thrown at you, or one character is simply the “questions” guy or the “answer” girl. The benefits comics have is the artwork to act as exposition and bridge what is unsaid. This doesn’t always work in sync between writer and artist. But when it does, you know. There is magic happening in the first issue between Hill and Rodriquez. They dropped a horrific story in our laps and made it even harder to watch by giving us characters that are immediately human. They made us feel for the characters in the space of a few panels and that’s not as easy as it may seem.
The dynamics of this duo wouldn’t have been quite as explosive with one missing. The series works as a whole because of Hill and Rodriquez collectively. It’s tough to say one is better than the other. If Hill had partnered with a different artist, his writing would have stood out; and if Rodriquez had partnered with a different writer, his art would have stood out. Their collaboration together was the perfect storm.
Locke and Key follows a family after tragedy strikes and changes the family dynamic. Mom moves her kids to her late husband’s family home, Keyhouse, as per his wishes. Not only is the family dealing with their grief, but they now are dealing with the strange goings on Keyhouse has to offer. And it’s not for the faint of heart. This whole series is brutal and gory and heart wrenching. Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode are fighting for their lives, they’re fighting for each other, their friends, and their sanity. It’s survival against supernatural foes who have been waiting decades and centuries for the chance to escape.
Locke and Key is a top notch story from Joe Hill and an artistic masterpiece from Gabriel Rodriquez. It’s a great beginning series for new comics readers. Hill’s writing is easy to follow while still providing complete storytelling and Rodriquez’s art is crisp with details that don’t become cluttered or overwhelming. I’m ashamed it took me so long to read it but I hope you won’t wait much longer to read Locke and Key.
Emma Rios has accumulated a closet full of creative hats she’s been rotating through. In 2015, Rios and Brandon Graham co-created ISLAND MAGAZINE, with the distribution help of IMAGE COMICS. ISLAND MAGAZINE is an oversized comic anthology published monthly. I.D. was published in ISLAND MAGAZINE’s first issue and was published as a standalone trade in June 2016.
Rios used red and white throughout the entire trade. I couldn’t help but think of rust colored dried blood. It gives the story an unsettling quality go to along with the plot. The cover art are interlaced tubes that look like brain synopsis. The artwork is classic Rios style, detailed and busy. Each page is filled with overlapping panels and small, sometimes no gutter space between. She uses body language as much as the dialogue to portray the characters inner turmoil. Rios opens with two beautiful pages in bubble panels. The first bubble shows the three characters sitting at a café table but they are clearly strangers from each other. The next page is a three by five bubble panel spread of individual close ups. She’s biting her nails, he’s adjusting his glasses, Ze is sweating nervously. These two pages raise a lot of questions.
I.D. is about body transplants. Specifically brain transplants into a new body. It’s experimental and scientists and surgeons are taking volunteers. Charlotte, Mike, and Noa are the next round of volunteers to undergo this risky procedure. Each character confesses their reasons for it but it’s clear there is more to it for each of them. Rios shows this with the expert use of body language in relation to the other characters and the continued use of close ups. Each character acts pensive and guarded even after confessing their reasons for volunteering. Like there are more layers to each story. I haven’t heard if Rios has any plans to continue this story but has plenty of material to work with.
It’s hard to say I.D. is great because of its plot or because of its characters. Both are excellent. If you weaken one part or the other, the story would simply be okay. I’m very impressed with this work from Emma Rios. It would be great if she decided to continue this story but I get the feeling she’s done. And I also respect that. These characters are unique in their own right and the story is a big “what if?” It’s a fun “what if?” It’s hard to gush about this story without giving it all away but I want to gush, so please read it so we can gush together.
By Emily Coleman
(This review has been previously published and has been moved to this platform for your convenience.)