Muth has earned admiration as a picture-book author/illustrator and as a comic-book artist; here, he expands the Dark Knight's origin story for a picture-book audience.
After a night at the movies, Bruce Wayne and his parents (inexplicably) walk through a dark alley, where Bruce's parents are shot and killed. (The violence is indicated by Bruce's surprised face, illuminated by the flash of gunpowder, and his parents' fallen hat and scarf.) The lonely boy is tended by the loving butler Alfred, who keeps Wayne Manor lit day and night to hold his young master's newfound fear of the dark at bay (presumably the titular dark secret). One day Bruce falls into a cavern beneath his property, where he faces down a ludicrously monstrous bat and finds bravery and his life's work. The story's logic suffers with its spurious expansion. How does facing the bat help Bruce conquer his fear of the dark? If it’s meant to be a symbolic embodiment of that fear, that’s not clear. The pages between his parents' murders and his confrontation with the bat are filled with grieving, not a burgeoning need to bring justice to a crime-filled world. But Muth's watercolors are breathtaking.
Since young readers' interest in superheroes begins before they are typically ready for comic books, this lovely if thinly plotted picture book fills an important niche—though they may wonder where the action is. (Picture book. 4-8)