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Review: Fine addition to Dark Knight myth

By L.D. Meagher

"Batman: Child of Dreams"
By Kia Asamiya
English Adaptation by Max Allen Collins
DC Comics
Graphic novel
352 pages

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• DC Comics: 'Batman: Child of Dreams' external link

(CNN) -- What do you get when a master of the Japanese style of comic books known as manga turns his talents to an iconic figure of American comics?


Actually, you get "Batman: Child of Dreams," a graphic novel by Kia Asamiya that brings a refreshing sensibility to one of the most familiar characters in pop culture. The result is both eye-popping and eye-opening.

Asamiya observes many of the conventions of American comic-book storytelling. There's an intriguing puzzle to solve: Someone, it seems, has developed a drug that turns otherwise ordinary people into their personal heroes. In this case, the "heroes" are super-villains -- Two Face, Riddler, Catwoman and the Joker. Batman must dispatch each of his faux nemeses while trying to figure out who they truly are and what happened to them.

Much of the story is told from the viewpoint of Yuko, a reporter for a Japanese TV program. She arrives in Gotham City hoping to get an interview with the reclusive hero and finds herself in the middle of his case. By giving her a central role in his storytelling, Asamiya heightens the air of mystery that has always been integral to the Batman mythos.

New look

The plot also gives the Japanese artist license to depict the familiar Rogues Gallery in a new light.

Asamiya's drawings are stark, stylish and cinematic. Rendered in exquisitely detailed black-and-white, they set an appropriate visual tone for the dark twists of the story.

Some of the action sequences are simply extraordinary -- a single, two-page panel depicting Batman fighting his own doppelganger under the light of a full moon, for example, brilliantly displays the power of Asamiya's art.

Some of the images are jarring (Bruce Wayne sporting an improbably large nose and narrow chin apparently conforms to the manga convention for depicting Americans), but they are universally compelling. The dust jacket painting alone is almost worth the cover price.

The original Japanese text was adapted to English by Max Allen Collins, whose credits include "The Road to Perdition," the graphic novel that inspired the movie. Collins manages to give each character a distinctive voice, but his adaptation retains echoes of the original Japanese text.

The cultures of American and Japanese comic books are markedly different and sometimes collide. "Batman: Child of Dreams" is proof they can be merged successfully, drawing on the strengths of each culture to complement the other.

Asamiya has produced a graphic novel that is true to each tradition. More importantly, the book is true to the traditions of Batman. It is a unique and valuable contribution to the literature of the Dark Knight.

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