I had high hopes for Tracy Hickman’s Wayne of Gotham, but it never grabbed my attention. When I look at everything I was reading, or watching while I was trying to read this book, I don’t think it ever had a chance.
I’ve been a huge fan of Hickman ever since the original Dragonlance Chronicles, so when I heard he wrote a Batman novel, I was looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately, I was also reading Batman: Year One and Batman: Hush, and re-watching The Dark Knight Rises at about the same time. I think Batman works best as a visual story, either with Jim Lee’s beautiful art or Christian Bale’s beautiful, well, everything. Hickman’s writing is clear and concise, and the story has a lot of original ideas and a well thought out plot. But reading a text-only Batman story is just going to drag if you’re comparing it with a graphic novel. A single panel could show Batman diving into the Batmobile under a hail of gunfire from Joker’s henchmen. A written description is going to take a paragraph at least, or half a page if you, like Hickman, are trying to capture every single detail. By the time you finish reading it, a lot of the excitement has worn off.
I liked that Hickman was telling the story of not just Bruce Wayne, but his father Thomas and grandfather Patrick as well. It adds even more depth to the Batman mythology and rounds out our idea of Thomas Wayne, making him more than just a vague figure shot to death outside a theater. I think some of the book’s best sections were the ones about Thomas. A comic book about Bruce Wayne’s father wouldn’t have been very exciting, but a written story about him makes for an interesting read. I just don’t think there’s quite enough story to make up a full novel though, a short story might have worked better.
The book jumps between Thomas’ life in the 1950’s and Bruce’s life in modern-day Gotham. Sometimes the switch between decades was interesting, but a lot of the time it felt disjointed. I started to get lost when the book brought in the character Amanda, who sometimes thought she was Martha Wayne, and sometimes another character’s long-dead sister. I understand she was mentally ill and confused, but between the time jumps and her mental lapses, I was pretty confused myself. Hickman also brought in many of Batman’s more notable villains, but that part of the plot got a little unwieldy. The story explains why so many famous Gotham crimelords were involved, but I thought the explanations were unclear. If I reread it without any distractions, I’m sure I’d understand it a second time around. The problem is I’m just not interested enough to reread it.
The worst part about the whole story is Bruce’s interactions with Alfred. They were horrible. Bruce is dismissive, patronizing, and gets annoyed whenever Alfred calls him “Master Bruce.” I know there’s a reason for the tension between them, but comparing it with Alfred’s heart-rending scenes in The Dark Knight Rises, Hickman’s portrayal of a condescending Bruce and an almost cringing Alfred was excruciating to read. Bruce’s anger at Alfred in Rises isn’t nearly as hard to watch as his sneering in the book.
It’s not Hickman’s fault that I read this book at the worst possible time, it’s not meant to be compared to a graphic novel or a movie. If you’re more of a book-person rather than a graphic-novel person, you may enjoy this look into three generations of the Wayne family. If you’re more used to Batman in all his comic-book glory, I’d really recommend you read Year One instead.