Batman: Nine Lives
Writer: Dean Motter
Artist: Michael Lark
By Doran Murphy
We often think of our comic superheroes as morally infallible. Batman, we believe, is above the normal urges of other humans. He's beyond pain; he's invulnerable. Or maybe that's just the impression we got growing up watching reruns of the campy 1960s Batman show. Somehow he always managed to save the day, usually after escaping from another deadly mess with the help of some gizmo from his Utility Belt. Batman has been built up as almost god-like in our minds, and is pushed far beyond the limitations of mortality. Indeed, he is seemingly un-killable, and hardly human.
Batman is often called the "world's greatest detective" which would often leave one to wonder why there aren't many mystery books about him. Batman: Nine Lives sets out to rectify that, and show Batman's human side, all at the same time. Set in the Golden Age of comics, this book also drops most of the costumed criminals. Edward Nygma, Oswald Cobblepot, Harvey Dent, The Joker, Mr. Freeze, and Clayface all make appearances, but the only person in costume is Batman. Perhaps by showing the human side of the villains (instead of the costumed side), and having Batman in costume, Bruce Wayne is further separate from Batman.
Or perhaps it is Bruce's seemingly amoral attitude that separates him from Batman. In Nine Lives, a murder has been committed: the murder of Selina Kyle. While still a member of the living, she was an attractive woman who ran a seedy bar, frequented by many of Gotham City's elite. Unfortunately, she appeared to be sleeping with all of them. In addition to the idea of a love-spurned murder, she also kept a safety deposit box which contained valuable information about all of her consorts — which she could use for blackmail. So, when she turns up dead, there's a very large number of suspects, including: Bruce Wayne, playboy millionaire; Dick Grayson, private eye; Harvey Dent, Bruce's lawyer; Edward Nygma, Selina's banker; The Joker, a card shark; Oswald Cobblepot, the Godfather of Gotham, and a few others.
So, Batman and his new ally, Dick Grayson, must run around Gotham City searching for the man who murdered Selina Kyle. Along the way, they're beset by almost all of the other suspects, some of whom are willing to kill to keep their secrets safe. It's up to Batman and Grayson to uncover Selina's murderer. After all, they all had a reason to see her dead, but only one of them killed her.
The art helps emphasize the early era. It's not very colorful, and fairly dark. Yet, the noticeable lack of colors really helps transplant you into the 1930s. The visuals, as well as the sort of dialogue they use really drove that point home for me. Sayings like "What's your game?" and "toots" set the tone early, and I found that helped transport me into the story. Batman: Nine Lives also has an odd format for a graphic novel — it's much longer than it is tall. I can't think of a practical reason for it, but it's not anything worth complaining about either.
All in all, Batman: Nine Lives is a worthwhile read. For those of you who know better than I, it's an Elseworlds comic, which means absolutely nothing to me. [Editor's Note: Elseworlds stories take place outside of normal DC continuity.] Overall, the book is well written (it had me guessing who the killer was right until the end) and the art is well done. As a period piece, or heck, any Batman piece, it proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable graphic novel, and I would recommend picking it up if you're a Batman fan.