Batman, Child of Dreams
by Kia Asamiya
(DC, 2003)

The first thing you notice about Kia Asamiya's cover for Batman: Child of Dreams is how incredibly well-done it is. The second thing you notice is the striking resemblance between Asamiya's Batman and the Michael Keaton Batman of Tim Burton's movie. This is more than coincidence, as lovers of the original Burton/Keaton movies will quickly discover, as the Japanese perception of Batman is heavily influenced by those films. It's an effect that's present throughout the book, which is a much a tribute to the film version of the Dark Knight as it is a love letter from a very devoted fan.

The cultural difference is one of the most interesting features of the book. While Batman is certainly being run through a different filter, the result is something very fine and quite close to the core of the character. In fact, Asamiya's Batman may be the most accurate version on the shelves since Batman: Black & White.

Asamiya also gives us a black-and-white Batman. The author of Silent Moebius, Steam Detectives and Uncanny X-men presents his version of Batman in stunning black-and-white format, with impressively detailed work and excellent panel layout from beginning to end. While the paper quality leaves much to be desired, Asamiya's drawing does not disappoint, and many fans of manga and just plain good art will want to acquaint themselves with it on that level alone.

Fortunately, Child of Dreams, although a massive read at 352 pages, is well worth the effort. First serialized in manga Magazine Z in Japan over the course of a year, CoD is now available to American audiences after a long delay. The exacting Japanese-to-English translation by Road to Perdition author Max Allan Collins is the icing on the international crossover cake, resulting in a dialogue whose style, not normally seen in American comics, is unusual enough to be fascinating and lends a whole new context to the story.

The concept of Batman being engaged in a nonstop battle with nearly every member of his Rogues Gallery is so overused by now that it's become rather hackneyed, but Asamiya puts an interesting new spin on it: all of the so-called villains are impostors, as every one of the real villains is safely tucked away in Arkham Asylum. What's behind the wave of villainous posers is a new enhancement drug called Fanatic -- definitely a play on iconic word use, as well as an important clue -- which has the ability to transform its users into anyone they want to be. And what most of these would-be criminals want to be, is the one who beats the Batman.

Tracking the trail of the drug from the streets of Gotham to Japan, Batman finds help from TV news reporter Yuko Yagi, who's got a nose for news that's worthy of a certain female reporter in Metropolis. While the plucky Yuko is an obvious touchstone created to engage Japanese readers, Yuko's characterization works very well within the story and with the hero, who rather quickly becomes obsessed with this intelligent young woman, as it seems he must with anyone who comes close to guessing his secret. There again Asamiya shows how deeply he understands the nature of the Batman and the way he is affected by others. He manages to create a rather plausible love story between two solidly written characters, each with their own weaknesses -- Yuko and her catlike curiosity, hint, hint -- and strengths, which play well off one another.

The high-tech gizmos and gadgets of the Batman have never been treated with such loving attention. Asamiya has drawn what may be the definitive version of the Batmobile (popular enough to be sold separately as a scale model by DC) and is a breathtaking master of the splash page. Everything is dark and erotic without being demeaning to any of the characters. The action, while sometimes difficult to make out due to overly darkened backgrounds, is very well paced, especially the martial arts sequences.

The dialogue can be a bit clunky and a bit too heavy in terms of exposition. This is not merely due to an unfamiliarity with Japanese phrasing and verb usage. That by itself is not a problem, though it might take a bit of getting used to. It's the somewhat overused metaphors and unnecessary exposition that give the dialogue a stilted feel, such as Batman declaring Joker to be his "greatest enemy and other half" in the middle of a rather set-up fight scene.

Those who never warmed up to Tim Burton's version of Batman may not find the obvious, rather kitschy film references very appealing. Additionally, the length of the story is somewhat off-putting. There are definitely times when it felt as though the story, which feels a bit stretched at some points, could have been cut down by about a third and still be quite effective.

Asamiya's characterization of Bruce Wayne is interesting. He sticks to the traditional interpretation of a double-sided hero whose mask is his personal metaphor for existence, but, in Asamiya's take, the character of Wayne is as engaging as Batman, who tends to overshadow Wayne in the hands of most writers of the series.

Asamiya's Batman is an old-fashioned romantic hero in every sense of the word, and is more of a sleuth here than the sometimes grim, hardened warrior so popular with those who write for the Batman series.

Ultimately the story is a send-up of fandom, as well as a homage to the "fanatic" fan base Batman has on both sides of the ocean. While not a true manga comic in the exact definition of the term -- certain elements of magical realism, so vital to the concept of manga, are definitely missing, which is explained well enough by Asamiya in the interview in the back of the book -- it's pure camp that happen to be well done, highly engaging and a lot of fun. A worthy addition to any collection, and a great introduction for those wanting a better-than-average view of the world of the Dark Knight as written and drawn by one of his greatest fans.

- Rambles
written by Mary Harvey
published 2 August 2003

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