By Marty Mulrooney
Batman: Murder at Wayne Manor is an interactive mystery book written by Duane Swiercyznski and illustrated by David Lapham. Both co-creators have impressive backgrounds: Swiercyznski is the author of several crime novels and other interactive mystery books, whilst Lapham is an award-winning comics writer and artist whose credits include Stray Bullets and Batman: City Of Crime. This book is almost like The Jolly Postman for adults, with readers studying interactive clues (such as a detailed autopsy report) to solve the mystery and find the killer.
The presentation of Batman: Murder at Wayne Manor is striking. A thick hardback book (the thickness increased by the various clues dotted throughout in their respective pockets), each page has a beautiful crisp design, with text often accompanied by full colour panels drawn opposite in the classic style, with smaller image panels shown in black and white.
Complimenting this is a story written in the first person, narrated to the reader by the the Caped Crusader himself. The book is vague about the year it is set, but it is certainly not set during the modern day. As a result, the reader feels as if they are reading a classic Batman tale rather than one only written in 2008.
A construction crew landscaping at Wayne Manor has discovered a long-buried secret; a dead body over 30 years old.With all the evidence pointing towards Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne, Batman sets out to deliver justice to the real killer and protect his family name.
As an example of how the book works, the first clue is a party invitation found on the newly discovered corpse (see above), blood stained and with a cryptic message scrawled on the back. The detail is exceptional: it feels like a real, luxurious invitation rather than a mere facsimile. Similar clues are dotted throughout and must be studied carefully, then contrasted with clues littered within the text itself.
The story is a good one, with action sequences written vividly, full of kinetic energy. Yet the real joy is in how much the book lets the reader get to know the man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne himself. Somewhat underplayed in the recent film adaptations, Bruce is laid bare here. In fact, much of the book deals with Bruce rather than Batman. It is fun to realise the constant juggling act he must perform on a daily basis, as well as to share his crippling doubts about his origins and past.
One such moment occurs later in the book, when a clue in the form of a photograph reveals Bruce’s father at a masquerade ball wearing a bat mask. This raises many questions in Bruce’s mind. Such plot developments help make the story an enjoyable one to read, rather than just a perfunctory device to move things along.
Sadly, there are some areas where Batman: Murder at Wayne Manor falls slightly short. It lacks a truly good villain to contrast with Batman. Although inserting The Joker for example would have been overkill, some more familiar faces wouldn’t have gone amiss. As it stands, the mystery is a good one but it isn’t very hard to figure out who is involved with the murder. Also, the clues are a lot of fun but it is a shame they couldn’t be more interactive at times.
The back of the book is sealed and must be broken to read the final pages and solve the mystery. Upon doing so, I was delighted to find that I was largely correct with what I had deduced. However, I was also slightly annoyed at the fact that Batman himself seemed to have access to more clues than I had been given!
There are several things mentioned in the solution that perhaps should have been emphasised more previously: after all, aren’t we supposed to be putting ourselves directly in Batman’s shoes? Overall, I liked the solution but doubt many could arrive at it on their own, which is a shame.
However, I still found the overall experience a blast. The story is solid, the presentation polished and the illustrations faithful to the source material. I think a lot of younger readers will love this book, however Batman fans of any age should be able to take something from it too. Due to its very nature it has low re-readability, yet I would still recommend it for trying something new within the Batman universe and largely succeeding.
8 OUT OF 10
All Images © 2008 Quirk Books. All Rights Reserved.