Batman: Night Cries
by Archie Goodwin, Scott Hampton
(DC Comics, 1993)

"Some things frighten even the Batman. Some crimes even he can't solve...." The near-Gothic beginning to this dark issue-oriented story ought to serve as fair warning that no punches will be pulled in dealing with one of the most difficult crimes any law enforcement official, or vigilante, has ever had to face: child abuse.

Goodwin makes use of the now familiar plot device of having the Batman hot on the trail of someone who has been using his identity to commit a series of murders. The victims: individuals who abused children. His only hope in finding the killer is a young girl who has been too afraid to talk.

There is a sickening reciprocity between the level of abuse perpetrated against the child and the manner in which is abuser is murdered by the mysterious vigilante, as if the unknown avenger wanted justice and vengeance all in one go. But there is a fine line between putting a stop to violence and degradation, which is the path that Batman walks, and perpetrating more violence and degradation. Batman cannot permit the last course of action. That way lies madness. Or does it?

The hardest part of the book to grapple with is the light that Goodwin shines on a very uncomfortable truth: most child abusers never stop abusing. These are crimes committed behind closed doors, ones that Batman cannot prevent without being inherently violative himself. The man who walks in places where cops can't go, is himself only able to go so far. His frustration is palpable, and the pain of the abused child is too close to home for him to be able to dismiss the actions of the murderer without touching on his own painful need to work from the shadows to put an end to evil. What about the social cost of abused children becoming the sort of criminals Batman tracks down? Could the murderer be choosing between the lesser of two evils?

It's a true test of his deep-seated, black-and-white morality. To bring the issue closer to home, and to highlight the gnarly roots of abusers and their own difficult pasts, Goodwin places one of Batman's closest friends in the shoes of the abused/abuser: James Gordon, it turns out, has his own, deeply personal issues concerning this ugliest of crimes. It beautifully underscores the gray areas that Goodwin outlines. Goodwin wisely abstains from preachiness and lets the humanity of the abuser -- himself the product of a violent home -- speak for itself about how and where the cycle can be broken, and how it is created in the first place. He correctly emphasizes the virtue of recognizing that being in pain or not being in pain is as simple as a choice, and it's a choice that anyone can make, anytime. In this tale, Gordon is the winner in his battle to overcome his personal demons; however, for once, the Batman may not be the winner here. Perhaps no one is, except those who find the strength to let go of the past.

Although it's an issue-oriented comic, the story is a detective story from start to finish. The suspense is tight and pulls the reader in from page one and makes for a compelling read throughout. That child abuse is an evil is beyond question in the world of the Bat -- or outside of it, for that matter -- but what to do about those who cannot or will not stop their actions? How can you prevent people from committing crimes in the privacy of their own homes? Goodwin provides no easy solutions, a rather honest route for him to take in a world where the good guys always win and the bad guys always lose. That alone is worth giving the book a read through.

The art is surreal, a dark, ash- and smoke-colored nightmare that fills each page with incredibly beautiful and disturbing images. Never has the world of the Bat felt grittier or more hopelessly real. It is completely on par with the mood of the story. Night Cries is a must have for all fans of the Bat.

- Rambles
written by Mary Harvey
published 8 March 2003

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