Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #208: Batman Hong Kong by Moench and Wong

Every so often, I like to read a random superhero story, just because. Even then, though, it's usually something odd or out of continuity -- mostly because there's no reason to care about continuity unless you dig into it all the time (and then you have continuity stuck under your fingernails forever -- that stuff is hell to get out).

Which is a long way round to Batman: Hong Kong. This was one of the periodical attempts of the Big Two to colonize other parts of the world for their particular manifestations of adventure stories -- like the manga versions of whoever that have been turning up every year or three for the last decade -- matching an American writer (Doug Moench, who has done a lot of years in the Batman mines) with an artist from the part of the world under siege (Tony Wong, and no points for guessing where he's from). This was an original graphic novel in the summer of 2003, and seems to have stayed a complete one-off. Even the new hero introduced here -- Night-Dragon, clearly intended to be the "Batman of Hong Kong"-- hasn't turned up anywhere since, which may mean he's too obscure a Batman even for Grant Morrison. (And here we thought that wasn't possible.)

It's a Batman story, which means there's a villain doing something horrible -- killing people with snakes on a webcam, in this case -- and that leads the guy with far too much neck on the cover to Hong Kong, where he panderingly thinks about how different it is and how he really could use a local guide. (Batman never thinks such things in his usual books, because those are written for Americans, and Americans are sure they know everything about the world already, and their Batman definitely does.) Night-Dragon then appears, with the usual complicated origin tied into this particular case, and the two fight crime and defeat the villain together.

Luckily, Wong's art is very different from what you'd see in any other Batman book. It's stylized adventure-comics art, all speed lines and extreme faces and hand-to-hand combat -- that much is familiar -- but the idiom is entirely different, from the use of color (some panels appear painted and others have something that looks more like traditional comics coloring, with lighter, brighter shades) to the choices of poses to the styles of faces. I assume Wong was chosen because he's the exemplar of the then-current commercial style in Hong Kong -- that's the point of a book like this -- and he's clearly quite good at telling a story about men fighting and yelling at each other.

Nothing really came of this, so I imagine it's been mostly forgotten: the only superhero stories that count are the ones that tell the current continuity. But it's a decent Batman story, told in a unique way, so I can't help but think this is a vastly more interesting Batman story than all of those others. (But, then, I would think that, wouldn't I?)

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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