thrift store finds: batman- no man’s land novelization

This week’s Thrift Store Find is Batman: No Man’s Land, a novelization of the DC Comics series. Written by Greg Rucka, published by Pocket Books in 2001. My copy was found sans dust jacket.

Writing about novelizations is always something of a chore for these weekly TSF finds, but I decided to give it a go for a couple of reasons.  I’m a fan of Greg Rucka‘s novels. I read one or two of his Atticus Kodiak books when I was in college and enjoyed them. I’m also a fan of Rucka’s comic work. Queen and Country, Whiteout, and even some of his Marvel superhero work has really appealed to me.

Finally, I loved the crossover event on which this book is based. No Man’s Land was a year-long story which occupied the Batman comics for about a year, involving Gotham City being declared no longer part of the United States of America. Lawlessness ruled the land and for 12 months, Batman and his extended family worked to bring Gotham under control from both the tinpot dictators who had taken over the streets and Batman’s rogues gallery.

On that last point, I must confess an incredible amount of nostalgia for the comics on which this novelization is based. The No Man’s Land storyline was running in the Batman books the year I went away to college. I matriculated in a small town in Western New York and when I left home, I wasn’t reading too many straight superhero books. I was an alternative/indie comic reader and something of a snob when it came to four color shenanigans.

When I went to college, I quickly realized the town was about an hour’s drive away from ANY comic book store and I wouldn’t be getting any sort of sequential art fix on the regular. A cigar store in town had a spinner rack which was fitfully stocked with Marvel and DC books… mainly DC. Clearly shelved as some kind of afterthought, I became a regular buyer of these superhero comics, including Batman and Detective Comics. I’d recently been thinking about digging those old comics out of storage and taking a look at them… but when I found this book at the Goodwlll, I thought I’d just take a read and see.

It’s a fairly good novelization which I suspected, considering Rucka was a key figure in orchestrating the original comics from which this work is taken.  No Man’s Land was always just as much story about Police Commissioner Gordon as it was about The Dark Knight. Rucka preserves that dynamic in his book, painting Gordon as a survivor of Gotham with no interest in help from his former ally. The author streamlines the year-long story fairly well, hitting the key notes (the Batman/Gordon rift, the introduction of the new Batgirl and Harley Quinn, the unravelling of the Gotham City Police Department) with precision.

The author also does a good job cramming all the exposition you need into the book without making you feel like you’re reading a primer on Batman comics. The device he uses, an extended letter being written to Commissioner Gordon from his daughter (and original Batgirl) Barbara, is quite effective without feeling like a total info dump every couple of chapters.

Rucka also makes insightful trims to the story for the purposes of clarity. He sacrifices the participation of third string superhero Azreal to no great loss. Catwoman is conspicuously absent; her major contribution to the comic storyline is here taken over by Barbara Gordon. Poison Ivy, a key player in the NML books, is mentioned but has no significant scenes.

The most glaring omission is that of Superman, who made several NML appearances over the course of the crossover.

On the surface excising the Superman cameos makes perfect sense as it was one of the aspects of the comic that made no sense. Batman was a card-carrying member of the Justice League. Why wouldn’t he call in his godlike compatriots to fix up Gotham City, rather than let it become a warzone? The writers of the comics eventually paid some lip service to the problem, and certainly having Superman and Green Lantern blow in and rebuild Gotham would have been an awfully unsatisfying conclusion to the story.

In a strange way though, taking Superman out of the story leaves the final third of the book in a strange way, when the “savior” of Gotham City is revealed to be someone directly tied into the Superman mythos. It’s a bit awkward.

Anyhow, Batman: No Man’s Land is a good, quick read. I plan on putting the book in my classroom library this week; I can envision some of my students enjoying this book. It’s a darn sight better than that Kingdom Come adaptation I read a few months ago.

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