- Batman’s Dark Secret
- written by Kelley Puckett
- illustrated by Jon J. Muth
- published by Scholastic (2016)
- Roar Score: 5/5
In 2016, another retelling of Batman’s origin story wasn’t high on the list of things I thought I needed to see…even in a children’s book. But Batman’s Dark Secret came out of nowhere and showed me how wrong I was.
This gorgeous hardcover picture book is a new edition of a book that was originally published in 1999 as a leveled reader. That book is not in my library (so I’m not familiar with it), but I think it’s safe to say that this is the preferred version. The oversized pages let the story breathe and do right by the art — watercolor illustrations that deserve a bit more of a “deluxe” treatment.
Clearly, the major selling point of this title is that Jon J. Muth did the illustrations. Muth is perhaps most well known for his breathtaking picture books featuring Stillwater the panda: Zen Shorts, Zen Socks, Zen Ties, and Hi, Koo! (which actually features Stillwater’s nephew).
His art made the biggest impression on me, however, when I was much younger and picked up a copy of Moonshadow. My life was forever changed.
His illustrations here, in Batman’s Dark Secret, are nothing short of phenomenal and are really the reason why you’ll buy this book. Interestingly, only his name appears on the cover, despite the book being written by veteran Batman scribe Kelley Puckett.
Puckett’s name should be familiar to anyone who read The Batman Adventures, the all-ages comic tie-in to the greatest animated show ever created: Batman: The Animated Series. Puckett has also written dozens of other comics set in the DC universe, so it’s a bit odd to me that his name is completely absent from the cover.
The story is relatively straightforward. It’s a retelling of Batman’s origin with very little alteration (i.e., young Bruce witnesses his parents’ murder, falls down a hole and encounters a swarm of bats, becomes Batman). The “dark secret” from the title refers to young Bruce’s fear of the dark after his parents’ death.
The prose is memorable, though, in that it’s actually quite poetic. Perhaps it’s because the book was originally written to be a leveled reader, so the sentences are short and the vocabulary is simple by necessity, but the pages have a rhythm and poetic depth that add an unexpected layer to the book. It also makes the story particularly good to read aloud.
There is a takeaway message for young readers, but it’s mostly couched in a superhero frame. Despite the overly familiar story, I strongly recommend this book on the strength of Muth’s art alone. If you’re a fan, you won’t be disappointed.
(Disclosure: Scholastic provided me with a review copy of this book. All opinions remain my own.)