Batman: Hong Kong
by Doug Moench, Tony Wong
(DC/Titan, 2003)

This classic -- and classy -- East-meets-West story starts with an innocent computer hacker accidentally landing on a live stream website that broadcasts what appear to be live snuff films. An attempt to report the incident to Commissioner Gordon is met with a weary dismissal: there is little that Gordon can or will do about what might be a hoax.

When the hacker turns up dead -- via a live satellite feed, of course -- and Gordon finds a connection between this murder and similar murders in Hong Kong, it's time for Batman to enter the scene. The Darknight Detective finds himself traveling across the ocean to a land where his methods and techniques might not go over so well. Fortunately, he receives invaluable help from one of the locals, a costumed hero named Night Dragon, who has modeled himself after the mysterious Batman. From there they chop, kick and punch their way, manga-action style, through a hail of gunfire and bombs and bad guys to get the head of this nasty little snake, and from there to a morally satisfying conclusion.

That's about it. The plot is interesting but lightweight, more focused on splashy fight scenes than a smoothly functioning plot. The most fascinating aspect of this latest attempt to manga-ize Batman by revered manga artist Tony Wong is the uniting of two different cultures, both of which are grounded in secrecy and a bizarre, twisted sort of hero worship of gangsters and heroes with dark aspects to them.

The downside is the usual tendency of manga comics to glorify the underworld of the Triad, giving it far more credit than it deserves. The upside is the artwork, which is full color throughout and painted in several places. It would have been nice if the entire story had been painted instead of just under half, with pen-and-ink doing the rest of the job. Wong creates a scary enough Batman, and Night Dragon as a character is plausible, as is his hero worship of the Bat.

But the real point of the story is to create an almost musical arrangement between two very different cultures, and on that end I have to say that the story doesn't really go far enough. It would have been a more convincing juxtaposition if the story had come full circle and ended in Gotham with Night Dragon experiencing the same sort of culture shock that Batman did in Hong Kong. Such a plot development might have helped flesh out a rather thin and weak story that's more of a reason for colorfully rendered fight scenes. Batman seems to be an excuse for the creation of Night Dragon, and while that is certainly believable as a plot point, it seems to be more the point of the entire story as opposed to part of what could have been a much richer, more detailed introspection about culture clash.

Personal note to Doug Moench: sometimes it's better to leave the sexism out of the story. Batman has plenty of female followers, too.

Batman: Hong Kong is more about action scenes and the culture of the East than it is a true detective story. It's not the most essential Batman story ever written, but anyone who is addicted to Jet Li or Jackie Chan movies should enjoy it.

- Rambles
written by Mary Harvey
published 28 February 2004

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