Monday, May 2, 2011
Review: 'Murder at Wayne Manor: An Interactive Batman Mystery.' 5 out of 5 stars
I've always found the branding of the Batman franchise fascinating. The original comic books can be read with the knowledge that they are a product of their time, but the sixties Batman TV show has by now descended into unintentional humour. The Warner Bros movies, especially the more recent ones, have done a great job of giving Batman back his credibility ‒ tapping into the psychology behind the mask. This Interactive Mystery from Quirk Books takes the same approach: it's a sleek slice of Gotham City action, featuring everyone's favourite caped crusader.
In this book, a dead body is found in the grounds of Wayne Manor. It is identified as that of Fiona Scott, a former employee of Bruce Wayne's father, Dr. Thomas Wayne. When evidence points to his father's role in the murder, Bruce Wayne / Batman revisits painful memories to clear his family's name.
The mystery is told from the point of view of Bruce Wayne / Batman. His wry narrative gives an insight into this tortured soul. It's his pain and torment that has given this superhero such gravitas; he is not the shining beacon that Spiderman or Superman are.
The back story is nicely woven in; there for those who get it, informative to the uninitiated. I was pleased to see that Black Mask is the main villain in this story, while other, better known adversaries feature briefly towards the end...
Like 'The Crimes of Dr. Watson: An Interactive Sherlock Holmes Mystery,' this is a beautifully produced book; everything from the Art-Deco page numbers to the gloss on the photograph 'clue' shows a stunning attention to detail. The illustrations are dark, highly-stylized and edgy; a perfect fit for Batman's recent ‒ more serious ‒ makeover.
Duane Swierczynski, the author of both this mystery and 'The Crimes of Dr. Watson,' does a fine job of writing a compelling tale for both hardcore fans and newbies alike. What is most striking about this book is how dateless the narrative seems; the mystery could be set any time from the late eighties up until the present day. This is a very difficult, therefore impressive feat to pull off. The mystery itself stretches the story span even further: Batman has to solve a 30 year-old cold case. The narrative is reminiscent of a classic detective novel; a style which doesn't date. This gives the overall effect of managing to deliver Batman's past, present and future into the 80 pages of this book. No simple task, but Swierczynski plays a blinder.
There are some great lines: "Usually a punch is telegraphed in your opponent's eyes," (24) or my favourite: "And then I was off, in my mask and cape and suit, speeding through the dark streets of Gotham; neon melting, stars hidden, my pulse racing, trying hard to avoid the bitter memory traps along the way." (52) The latter conveys the excitement in this book; even though I am very familiar with Batman's story, I was still captivated by this mystery. The writing makes it fresh and thrilling and I'm not sure the films have managed to capture these sentiments in the same way at all.
I loved how this book did not completely sever ties with its sixties TV legacy; when Batman finds himself lassoed to a bad guy who cannot concede the rope tying them together without plunging to his own death, Batman pulls himself up by the said rope and comments: "Thanks for the lift." (67)
The resolved mystery, neatly tucked away at the back of the book, is very satisfying and accomplished, up there with some of the best detective stories I've read. The Batman canon may be vast and varied, but this standalone story makes a fabulous contribution to it.