animefringe october 2003 / reviews

Batman: Hong Kong
Format: left-right color graphic novel / 128 pages
Production: DC Comics / Doug Moench / Tony Wong
Comments: A delightful Chinese take on the Caped Crusader.
Animefringe Reviews:
Batman: Hong Kong

In the spirit of Halloween, I've decided to look at yet another Batman import in case anyone needs more ideas for cool costumes this year. The spooky holiday has always been one of my favorites, not only because it takes place five days after my birthday, but because it also is more about getting candy and enjoying the cool fall weather (here, at least) than worrying about finding presents for other people.

And now you know my priorities. Presents for me, candy for me. Two of my life's most important pursuits.

So, back to the Batman book I'm holding here.

As you may have noticed, I also reviewed Kia Asamiya's Japanese take on the Batman mythology, with his Child of Dreams graphic novel. Now we'll take a look at Tony Wong's Batman: Hong Kong, adapted into English by Doug Moench.

Being such a large fan of the Dark Knight, it really doesn't take much to make me happy when it comes to a story about the greatest fictional detective to grace a page since Sherlock Holmes. So long as the key elements of a good Batman yarn are present, I'm sold. These elements, for those who may be wondering, are rather simple: First of all, there must be a good story to ground everything. For this to happen, there must secondly be interesting characters. One trait of Batman's adventures throughout the years is that his battles are as much psychological as they are physical. He's a powerful person, skilled in multiple styles of martial arts, but his greatest villians aren't always brutes, but mentally afflicted individuals. Thus, instead of supernatural abilities being the focus of the story, human frailties are far more common, and the stories tend to be that much more believable.

The final key to telling a good Batman story is the look - everything must be appropriately creepy, dark, and dreary. The Batman is a creature of the night, and the proper visual surroundings are necessary to complete the mood of the piece.

I'm happy to report that everything is as it should be for this particular Batman adventure. The writing is smooth and readable, lacking the sometimes-awkward overabundance of narrative possessed by some of the other adaptations of Chinese comics into English.

The story is equally solid. After an innocent hacker discovers a real-time streaming snuff film and goes to the Gotham City authorities, Police Commissioner Gordon dismisses his tale as wildly unbelievable.

By the time Batman becomes involved, it may be too late for the poor computer user. Soon enough, however, the clues lead our hero to Hong Kong. Unfortunately, Batman is far out of his element in the huge city and has trouble making progress in solving the crime. Luckily, some local help calling himself the Dragon appears in the nick of time to aid him, but can Bat and Dragon stop the killer before he strikes again?

You won't see any familiar criminals here, but getting an original story with new characters is just as nice as having a tale with known elements. It also helps that the characters introduced are just as interesting -- and some are just as twisted -- as any classic villain you'd care to name.

Unlike Kia Asamiya's book, Tony Wong's is in full color, painted in his gorgeous style. While everything is in color, certain panels are given far more attention than others, painted in a way that actually seems more beautiful than real life. Wong uses fine lines in his artwork, lending a very meticulous look to the world he's created for Batman to live in. The more detailed panels are eye-catching enough to warrant hanging on your wall.

Another visual detail Tony Wong excels at is his skill at illustrating battle scenes. There's a reason why these are called Kung-Fu comics, and Batman rarely moves in such a realistic way. This style meshes perfectly with Batman's character, and the entire book feels very natural.

I was a little disappointed that there weren't any extras in this release, but then I wouldn't have expected any if the Asamiya book hadn't included sketches and an interview. This is also a much shorter work for the same cost as Child of Dreams, but then it's also completely in color.

Altogether, this is another fine addition to the ever-expanding Batman universe, and I'd recommend that longtime fans get it, so they can see the Batman from a new point of view. Fans of Tony Wong would also do well to pick this one up, between volumes of The Legendary Couple. It won't let you down.

And, finally, if you've never read or seen Batman in any form...well, you're missing out on something quite extraordinary. That is, except for the Joel Schumacher films. Skip those. I'm not sure who suggested that it'd be a good idea for everything in Batman's reality to have a touch of neon, but that person was horribly horribly wrong.

In any case, have a great Halloween and make yourself a batch of Bat-cookies for the occasion. And then get back to working on that costume!