‘Batman: Death Mask’ Comic Review

I read a lot of Batman graphic novels, but I don’t review them. If I did this wouldn’t be the House of Geekery it would be House of Endless Batman Graphic Novel Reviews. So I only review Batman stories when they are exceptionally brilliant (compared to other Batman books – they’re all brilliant to a degree) or when they do something different.

Batman: Death Mask by Yoshinori Natsume stands out from the crowd as it gives an Eastern perspective to the classic Western superhero. Natsume is a manga writer who here writes his first story for an American publishing house, and he takes it further than applying a Japanese art style but weaves Eastern philosophy and mythology through the usual Batman tropes. When a Japanese businessman arrives in Gotham, Batman finds links between him and a recent spate of gruesome murders around the city. This in turn causes Bruce Wayne to reflect on his younger years training in a dojo in Toyko and the demon who haunted his dreams at the time. The book deftly moves from mythology, psychology and crime with ease, as the best Batman stories do.

The serial killer that is already in play at the beginning of the story has the unpleasant MO of slicing off peoples faces to hang on their way, a more disturbing act than usual in the this comic series that isn’t shown in a gratuitously horrific manner but certainly makes the reader uneasy. It ties well together with Batman’s renewed search for self and the motif of masks that (as the title indicates) is a recurring theme throughout. Natsume keeps the mystery close to the chest until the final confrontation, keeping the story engaging throughout.

As a reader not accustomed to reading manga some of the fight scenes were a tad difficult to follow, with lots of obscuring shadows and motion blur, plus some unfamiliar sound effects (particularly ‘zaa!’) thrown into the mix. Regardless of the cultural barrier it wasn’t to difficult to determine the sequence of events.

The 'whumps' are nice and familiar though.

Although Death Mask doesn’t tread much new ground (not that there’s much new ground left for the long running franchise) but it feels like a fresh look at a familiar character. Batman fans looking for a different stand alone story or manga fans looking to see the style applied to this famous face will find plenty to enjoy here.