You may remember me recommending this recently in the 'TBU After Christmas List'. Well I was one of the people who rushed out with their Christmas money to buy it and I have to say, it's the best purchase I've made this year!
Looking back, I'm aware that I didn't really explain what the book is; frankly, I didn't know. What I did know, however, is that it looked cool- and it does! It's just a shame that it's too big to fit on any of my shelves when standing at over a foot tall, and it's not like I actually have a coffee table to put it on… so for the moment it resides, rather sadly, on its side on a very cluttered shelf.
In any case, the book itself is actually written as a manuscript, written by Batman as a recount of his journey from orphaned child to costumed vigilante, including case files, newspaper cuttings and excerpts from Batman's journals. The book acts as a guide to becoming Batman, something Bruce felt was necessary after his run-in with Darkseid in Final Crisis.
Specifically, the book is an abbreviated history of Batman, from 'Year: One' to 'Batman: The Return', recounting major storylines and giving them context and adding extra details and information. Countless character design sketches and blueprint schematics can be found throughout the pages and all of them specific to the part of the book they are referencing. As well as this, these case files of Batman life are punctuated with character bios which are extremely interesting.
I know that the book is expensive but I have to say that I already own 'The Batman Vault' as well as 'The Essential Batman Encyclopedia' and this book is completely different to both of them, as well as containing a lot of new information and images. I was also worried that there would be a lot of recycled content but most of it is completely new and what little has already been printed, the way in which it's presented makes it seem fresh.
The character bios are also completely different to those from 'The Essential Batman Encyclopedia' as they don't just list the character's history but offer information such as height or eye color-presented as if it is a file on the Bat-computer.
Batman's views and perspectives can be found all throughout the manuscript but they are never as prominent as when presented as handwritten annotations. These annotations give the book a personal feel and Batman's influence on the book becomes recognizable. Something that truly makes this book stand out against all of the others.
Based in continuity leading right up to before 'Flashpoint', the book has a lot to draw from and a lot of references are made to Morrison's work with the character. David Finch's artwork also fills the pages but more disturbingly, so is the continuity from 'Batman: The Dark Knight' volume one. I guess it was the latest origin story at the time but it means that within 'The Batman Files'… Dawn Golden exists! I know, I was horrified at that too, I guess Manning is a big fan of Finch.
One issue that I found with this book is that, other than the chronological progression of the story arcs, there is very little structure as these are cut with seemingly random character bios. A nice touch, however, is that any picture used is often captioned to put it into context, "Still from the clinic's security cameras" for example.
One of the things that excited me most about the book is a mention to the Outsider suit from 'Bruce Wayne: The Road Home' but unfortunately, no extra information is given. It really does look like no one knew where that suit came from. However, I don't want to give too much away in reference to the new insights which are given about Batman's old stories.
Aside from the odd minor flaw, this book really is a must read and I recommend it to any Bat-fan. I have to say that the thing that I like most about this book is how in depth it goes into some of Batman's cases, particularly useful for stories I haven't read and particularly interesting for those I have.
Being that this is written as if by Batman, you really get a feel for the character and how his mind works. Manning has done an excellent job of conveying a realistic character who still feels like Batman. Considering that when reading a comic book, you only get the odd panel of Bruce's thought process, this book is invaluable in learning Batman's true motives- particularly in the founding of Batman Incorporated! If you've ever doubted Bruce's motives behind revealing himself as Batman's associate, this book will make you see why but more than that, it will prove that it was a good idea.
This book truly is a most own for all Batman fans… I just hope you have the room for it!
Reviewed by Joe Jinks