Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu
From Goodreads: Before he was Batman, he was Bruce Wayne. A reckless boy willing to break the rules for a girl who may be his worst enemy.
The Nightwalkers are terrorizing Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne is next on their list.
One by one, the city’s elites are being executed as their mansions’ security systems turn against them, trapping them like prey. Meanwhile, Bruce is turning eighteen and about to inherit his family’s fortune, not to mention the keys to Wayne Enterprises and all the tech gadgetry his heart could ever desire. But after a run-in with the police, he’s forced to do community service at Arkham Asylum, the infamous prison that holds the city’s most brutal criminals.
Madeleine Wallace is a brilliant killer . . . and Bruce’s only hope.
In Arkham, Bruce meets Madeleine, a brilliant girl with ties to the Nightwalkers. What is she hiding? And why will she speak only to Bruce? Madeleine is the mystery Bruce must unravel. But is he getting her to divulge her secrets, or is he feeding her the information she needs to bring Gotham City to its knees? Bruce will walk the dark line between trust and betrayal as the Nightwalkers circle closer.
Marie Lu is one of my favourite authors, hands down. Ever since I first read The Young Elites a few years back, I’ve loved her skill at bringing characters to life and then throwing them off Plot-Twist Mountain. And yes, there was always some ugly crying involved, but you sort of knew what you’d signed up for. On your own head be it.
So, given my fangirling, I was super excited to hear about the DC Icons series. For those of you who haven’t yet discovered this fabulous series, they are four separate books, each centred around a well-known DC icon, and written by one of the biggest names in YA fiction. Last year we had Wonderwoman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo [and if you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to shut down whatever device you’re reading this review on and GO BUY IT] who wrote the Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows duology. Marie Lu’s Batman: Nightwalker is the second instalment, with Sarah J Mass of Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses fame covering the next one, based on Catwoman [under the title Catwoman: Soul Stealer], being released later in the year. Matt de la Pena, who I haven’t heard much about, is set to release the final book, based on Superman, probably sometime in 2019. I actually played it safe with my bank account this month and decided to wait until the three books I wanted [Batman, Hero of the Fall and Shadowsong] came onto a deal, so by the time I received my copy, I was fairly impatient.
Batman: Nightwalker is a pretty good book. As to be expected in a novel about a superhero, there’s lots of action, and it starts early on. The book packs quite a punch, especially considering it is a short one [just shy of 300 pages]. Lu weaves in some epic car chases, fight scenes and arrests. The tech is great to read about too, even if I do always struggle to picture these kinds of things. And then of course, there’s the twist to the origins story. Unfortunately, I’m not the biggest fan of comic books, but I have seen most of the movies [Christian Bale and Michael Keaton] as well as the Gotham tv series, so it was nice to see what Marie Lu kept and what she reworked. The book keeps the vital and tragic murders of his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, and he’s looked after by his guardian, Alfred. However, it also places him as a high school student with two best friends: Diane and Harvey Dent, as well as a friend turned frenemy, Richard, who happens to be the mayor’s son. And after Bruce recklessly steps into the role of vigilante to help the police catch one of the notorious Nightwalkers, he’s sentenced to community service in Arkham Asylum. Admittedly, this is a decision which requires some kind of reader knowledge about how messed up Gotham City is, if they’re willing to send a barely-adult boy into an asylum for criminals. But hey, I guess it could happen.
Batman is a pretty good read. The character of Madeline, the mysterious girl locked away in Arkham who will only speak to Bruce, is well-written, at least in the beginning. She comes across as a complex villain, vastly intelligent and teasing, flirting and always making the reader question her true intentions. IMO, this doesn’t hold out towards the end of the novel, when she became so slippery I couldn’t figure out what was actually going on. Maybe that’s because I was reading so fast, since the action was so tense and riveting, but I think it was also a bit of an issue. Bruce is perhaps the most underdeveloped character of the lot, though, which really disappointed me. Yes, he seems well-adjusted, given his orphan status, but he’s not so much a person as a kind of empty shell, waiting to react to what other people do. He’s a bit vulnerable with Madeline, but again, that’s because she’s doing all the work in their conversations. He tries to protect her and use her at the same time, which is a definite Batman trait later on in the DC universe, but he basically spends the whole novel doing what he thinks is right. Which I suppose is noble, but since Marie Lu also created Adelina Amouteru, I feel a bit underwhelmed.
And that’s what holds Batman: Nightwalker back. It isn’t a bad book– I enjoyed reading it. It kept me hooked. And I’m sure if someone else had written it, it would have been fine. But Marie Lu’s talent doesn’t quite shine through here as much as it has in her other novels. The action and the plot are good and gripping, but her characters are a little bland and not quite up to scratch. I get this is a difficult thing with these types of books, and it must be hard to balance the YA readership with the comic-book fans. Both groups demand something from the DC Icons series, but I’m just not sure either group quite gets what they’re looking for here.
So I’m awarding Batman: Nightwalker a mediocre 6/10 stars. It’s a pity, but there you go.