Book Review: The Dark Knight Manual by Brandon T. Snider

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Designed by Jon Glick and featuring text by Brandon T. Snider, Insight Editions’ The Dark Knight Manual is a scrapbook-like hardcover book featuring tons of photos, inserts, character files, diagrams, case notes and more—all of it pertaining to the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. Loaded with reproductions of blueprints, maps, “handwritten” Post-It notes, and stickers, this is billed as an “in-world exploration” Nolan’s Batman universe. It is worth noting that each copy is shrink-wrapped, which was absolutely the correct way for Insight to handle the packaging. Without the extra layer of protection, the many delicate items contained within could potentially suffer from varying levels of damage (though the book isn’t without such problems, as detailed below).

The book opens with a file folder containing the police report, stamped “case closed,” on the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. An array of postcard-like photos shows not only the victims, but also their killer. From that point on, we’re plunged into a logically organized exploration of Batman’s tech and surroundings. This begins with a first person account of Bruce Wayne’s training with the League of Shadows. The chapter “Base of Operations” shows us where Wayne works, complete with a removable schematic of the Batcave. In “The Batsuit” section you’ll see a very cool multi-layered insert showing how the various levels of the suit stack upon one another (via translucent overlays).

Dark Knight Manual training (350x208).jpg

“Dark Arsenal” covers all the weaponry and gadgetry that Batman is famous for, complete with conceptual sketches. “Vehicles” is fairly self-explanatory as we get firsthand access to the inner workings of the Batmobile and the Batpod motorcycle. This section reads as a condensed, real-world summary of the later sections of Insight Editions’ recently issued companion book, Batmobile: The Complete History. “Profiles” gives us information about key characters from the Dark Knight series, including Harvey Dent (Two-Face), Jonathan Crane (Scarecrow), and the Joker—including a selection of removable playing cards. Despite the very recent release of the film The Dark Knight Rises, profiles of Bane and Selina Kyle are included as well.

On the negative side, although well-produced overall, the sticker and decal sheets proved problematic. These should have been enclosed in envelopes (as a large map of Gotham was) because glue residue caused these adhesive inserts to stick to the adjacent page. In two separate cases this necessitated peeling the sticker sheet off, resulting in damage to the pages involved. This was fairly minor, though definitely noticeable as the decal sheet lifted ink off a picture and the sticker sheet actually lifted some paper fiber off the next page.

Dark Knight Manual drawings (350x208).jpg

I’ll share a brief (but relevant) bit of personal information that I’m not necessarily proud of. I used to make my friends wear a pair of Isotoner gloves when handling any of my books or other collectibles in order to prevent oily fingerprints. If you’re anywhere near as anal about keeping things in “mint condition,” these issues are sure to drive you mildly crazy. It should also be noted that part of the book’s appeal is its “lived-in” look, so such minor damage hardly cancels out the truly impressive design work. Many of the elements overlap (most of the small pictures and extras are not meant to be removed, resist any temptation to start tugging at everything in sight), so occasionally I had to flatten out a bent page or two. The Dark Knight Manual is meant to resemble an overstuffed file folder, therefore imperfections don’t really stand out.

Dark Knight Manual batman (350x208).jpg

That one caveat aside, exploring this book should be a fascinating and fun experience for any Batman fan. Though the aforementioned stickers have more “kid appeal” than anything else (I would’ve just as soon not even included them), the book is appropriate for fans of all ages. In other words, this is far from a children’s book, which is in keeping with the mature treatment Nolan invested in his trilogy. I’ve already become the envy of a few of my comic book collecting friends, who I must admit I’ve denied the opportunity to flip through The Dark Knight Manual (I need to get a new pair of Isotoners first).

Author Brandon T. Snider has penned numerous related volumes, including the kid-oriented The Dark Knight Rises: The Secret Files Scrapbook (2012) and DC Comics - The Ultimate Character Guide (2011). For more information about The Dark Knight Manual or other Insight Editions titles, visit their official website.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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