Does the name Jademan Comics
ring any bells? Some comic fans might recall a mustachioed
entrepreneur named Tony Wong who introduced a slew of Chinese
comics to the American public in the late 1980s. His company
Jademan released English language reprints of such Hong
Kong fare as Oriental Heroes, Drunken Fist,
Force of Buddha's Palm, and Ma Wing-Shing's Blood
Sword. After some initial popularity, the public's interest
in Chinese comics waned, and Jademan ceased publication
in the United States.
Recently, however, Hong Kong
manhua has experienced a resurgence of sorts when
ComicsOne began releasing popular HK comics like Weapons
of the Gods, Mega Dragon and Tiger, and Storm
Riders to American readers. Perhaps inspired by this,
DC Comics hired Tony Wong to try his hand at drawing one
of the company's flagship characters: Batman. Artistically
speaking, the union between Tony Wong's Hong Kong style
and the Dark Knight Detective is a proverbial match made
in heaven. But from a storytelling standpoint, the partnership
leaves something to be desired.
The story opens in Gotham
City as a computer geek just happens upon an authenticand
livesnuff film while surfing the net. The hacker watches
helplessly as the victim is murdered right before his eyes.
The following morning, the hacker immediately reports the
incident to the police, but Commissioner Gordon tells the
man that until a corpse turns up, there's nothing to investigate.
Things start to perk up when
a bum finds the body of the poor soul killed in the private
webcast. Upon learning that the film wasn't a hoax, Commissioner
Gordon calls on the one person that might just be able to
solve the case: Batman. Fearing that the hacker might be
in danger, Batman races to save him, but sadly, our hero
shows up just moments too late.
At a seeming dead end, Batman
gets a break when he learns that a similar murder has occurred
across the Pacific in Hong Kong. Ol' Bats, along with his
trusty butler Alfred, boards a plane and heads to the Far
Eastsans costume of course. Thanks to Jim Gordon's
connections, the Dark Knight is able to meet with HK Police
Chief Chow Yee to discuss the particulars of the case. The
meeting proves fruitful; the clues seem to point towards
the villainous Tiger One-Eye, a triad leader half as pretty
and ten times more powerful than Chan Ho-Nam.
But after busting some Triad
flunkies' heads, Batman is no closer to the truth. That
is, until he meets Benny Lo, a former gangster whose partner
was killed in the same manner as Gotham's snuff film victims.
Inspired by Batman, Benny dons a costume and begins calling
himself Night Dragon, teaming up with Bats to solve a mystery
that unbeknownst to both has roots in Benny's own past.
First, the bad news: I'm sorry
to report that Batman: Hong Kong is NOT longtime
Batman scribe Doug Moench's best work. In many cases, the
dialogue is simply overwritten: it's too obvious, wordy,
or just plain melodramatic. Comics are a visual medium,
and it's a shame Moench didn't trust the pictures to do
the talking. But then again, considering the quality of
Moench's past work, one wonders how much input he had in
creating this project.
Whatever the case, a lot of
the better ideas in the story aren't executed very well.
One interesting aspect of the story that is undermined by
the writing is the whole idea that the vigilante Night Dragon
finds himself caught between his two unclesone a cop,
the other a crookfrom both a literal and philosophical
perspective. But sadly, that point is so belabored by the
dialogue that any intended poetic resonance ends up getting
lost in a mountain of exposition.
Also, sloppy departures from
the basic tenets of realism sometimes strain the narrative.
While I'll admit that a man dressing up as a bat to fight
criminals is in itself not the most realistic of concepts,
I can't help but be annoyed with the idea that Benny Lo
could construct an elaborate, armored costume in the course
of a single day. Sure, Night Dragon's golden nunchaku and
Storm Riders-style blade are pretty neat, but where
did they come from? Did Night Dragon just have them lying
around the house? Did he pick them up from the Acme weaponry
store? At least with Batman, we've been told he's spent
years honing his skills and amassing all his wonderful toys,
but it seems too big a leap to think that Night Dragon can
transform into a full-fledged crimefighter on par with the
Dark Knight in less than twenty-four hours.
But as I mentioned before,
comics are a visual medium, and consequently, the saving
grace of Batman: Hong Kong is the artwork. Tony Wong's
take on Batman is striking, and bears a slight resemblance
to the work of legendary Batman artist Neal Adams. Additionally,
Wong's Batman has the long bat-ears seen most prominently
in artist Kelley Jones' Batman as well as an oversized,
creepy cape that's reminiscent of Todd McFarlane's Spawn.
But even with these familiar touches, the overall style
is all Wong (and his assistants, I presume). Ultimately,
the Hong Kong method of mixing in traditional penciled art
with full-color paintings results in a series of memorable
However, if there's one complaint
I have about the art, it's the limitations imposed on Wong
and his crew. Part of the appeal of Jim Lee's popular run
on the regular Batman title was the sheer pleasure of seeing
his take on the classic villains from Batman's rogues' gallery,
i.e., the Joker, Killer Croc, Catwoman, etc. Here, the Hong
Kong setting simply doesn't allow for that. But supposing
Batman: Hong Kong does well, there's always a chance
Tony Wong will get the chance to tackle the Joker in a sequel.
For those of you out there
who are diehard fans of manhua and/or Batman, then
by all means, pick up a copy of this book. But if the storyline
is crucial to your enjoyment, then you might want to pass
or at least wait for the trade paperback to come out. When
all is said and done, Batman: Hong Kong just isn't
up to snuff. (Sanjuro 2003)