By: Ginger De Los Rios
In 1995, Best-selling novelist Andrew Vachss wove a gripping tale using one of the world’s most legendary heroes–The Batman. In it, the caped crusader rose up against what I believe to be his most formidable foe. It wasn’t Bane, The Riddler, or Two-Face. Nor did the battle involve the aid of Robin, Superman, or the Justice League. Batman was riding solo, just the way I like him.
With the story aptly titled–‘Batman: The Ultimate Evil’ we immediately wonder, what is that? Is it a malicious creature from outer space? A gangster with worldwide connections? Or the usual Batman fare–A physically and/or psychologically marred criminal type that employs devilish stunts and gadgetry in attempts to ‘best the bat?’ The answer proves to be shocking for both Batman and the readers. This evil cannot necessarily be found on the handy-dandy Rogue’s Gallery list of villains.
Batman can lock The Joker in the deepest bowels of Arkham Asylum or a street thug in Gotham city jail, but how does he begin to wage war against the perverted minds and hearts of fellow human beings? And then too, comprehend that they are not literal monsters. They are the friendly neighbor, a loving uncle, aunt, or revered teacher, and worst of all, a parent. While some might label these people as ‘sick,’ Andrew Vachss goes a step further, and perhaps more accurately by calling them out as evil.
Maybe you or I can’t be a costumed vigilante for justice, but the Dark Knight is, and he takes on this personal vendetta with gumption, and fights some of the most despicable forces that threaten to rupture society at the seams.This is Batman vs. the scourge of child molestation and the purveyors of kiddie porn and child sex-tourism.
The story begins with dashing Bruce Wayne at an art exhibit for ‘NOW AND TODAY: The Greatness of Gotham.’ Listless Wayne is talking to a flighty socialite and in comes Debra Kane, and perhaps a bit rudely, on a soapbox. (Her last name seems to be a nod to Batman creator, Bob Kane.) Debra is stunningly beautiful and she is albino. Bruce is intrigued with her and thinks her to be ‘exotic-like fire inside ice.’
Debra is a case worker for the Gotham Child protection services. She and Bruce discuss the causes of criminality and she insists that, ‘the maltreatment of children is the greatest single contributor to later criminal behavior.’ Bruce affably says he’d like to learn more and she challenges him to call her if he’s serious. Three days later to her surprise, he shows up to do case work. He’s not looking for a date, he’s looking to expand his horizons on what the reader already knows–that he’s Batman, and as such, he must stay well-informed on all of Gotham’s criminal deeds. Debra enlightens him along the way as they visit some of the seediest places in Gotham city. As the week goes on, she tells Bruce that all they witnessed–the whippings, scalding, sodomizing by family members and other abuses–was simply normal.
That night Batman saves her from two would-be rapists and she gets the privilege of riding shotgun in the Batmobile. They make a pit stop so Batman can interrupt a violent hit in progress and he educates her on what his job entails. They talk more when he escorts her home and Batman comes to this realization–“…I fight crime, that’s what I do. At least that’s what I thought I was doing. Now what I think I’m doing is fighting criminals. I think you and the people like you are fighting crime. You have my deepest respect. One warrior’s respect to another.”
Batman was very moved by all he had seen in the slums and behind closed doors. He installs a new program into his impressive computer system. The Perry Trauma Scale, which, is similar to the real-life Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales. However, this being comic book fantasy, the Perry scale has the ability to measure a criminal’s past traumas by a series of codes. Batman focuses on one criminal with a dark past of being molested and abused. After certain preparations, Batman takes a visit to Hellgate-the vilest prison system in Gotham. While there he dredges up information about the profits made by Child prostitution. Batman is not playing games, and he’s even making deals to get all the facts he needs, giving info for info. So when a convicted child molester in Hellgate winds up dead the next morning at the hand of the informant, Batman doesn’t even blink an eye. Though he knew all along that the informant had it in for any and all child molesters.
Back at the Bat cave: The ever-loyal Alfred senses Master Bruce’s distress over his findings and decides it’s time to reveal a vital family secret. He hands Bruce the ‘Investigative journals of Martha Wayne.’ As Bruce sorts through them, he learns that she was an investigative Sociologist uncovering truths about an international ring of pedophiles. The truth hits hard. They weren’t just casual, unctuous men on street corners in trench coats; they were as efficient and organized as the Mob with ties all over the world. Martha was well on her way to cracking down on one notorious purveyor in particular. (More on that in my 2nd review.)
The truth about Martha is stunning and Bruce even gives way to tears. She was a crime-fighter with a secret identity known only by her husband. And, in a marvelous bit of foresight, Martha chose to pass the mantle to her beloved son. She had high hopes for him to carry on her missions. It is now firmly established that crime fighting is in the Wayne blood. The revelation is all at once poetic and astounding to Bruce. In a somewhat melodramatic fashion, he vows to complete the work that cost his parents their lives by the hired killer named Joe Chill.
The original story was adapted to the Graphic Novel format by Neal Barrett Jr. Denys Cowan and Prentis Rollins did impressive pencil and inks. They used vivid colors and detailed broad strokes, along with all forms of cross-hatching for sharp and glamorous facial features and dense shadowing. I am disappointed in the uninspired cover, because it’s practically a replica of a pivotal and striking image of Batman right near the ending. It takes away the momentum of Batman’s ‘discovery’ scene.
Throughout the story, Batman gets to employ some cool bat-gadgets like the bat plane, a bat-winged hang glider, sonar probes and even rocket boosters.
The batmobile is a deep black color and has a distinct Mustang front with two impressive batwings spreading out from the rear. The author and artists made good use of Batman’s computer and data systems as well.
The Batman portrayed in this story is in peak physical form, his muscles rippling with tension. The fight scenes are quick, skilled, and effectively conveyed through the panels; they happen when absolutely necessary and as only Batman can achieve them. I appreciate that they aren’t gory, drawn out, and take up three or more pages as I see in many comics today. Batman has always been an efficient combatant and one well placed punch or kick should have a common criminal out cold.
There are more than a few heavy-handed discussions between Batman/Bruce and Debra Kane. It could give younger readers the impression that they are being lectured and cornered to accepting just one point of view. But the information is essential. The author’s disgust and passion about root causes of child abuse is evident, as it is in most of his written work. Unfortunately at the time this book was published, and even today, the topic remains very taboo. But I for one feel as strongly as Andrew Vachss. Children are precious innocent victims and need to be protected. In the comic book world, who better than Batman to do so? Batman may not have superpowers, but he understands the inherent darkness to be found in human nature and has every resource available to conquer it. He is my favorite hero.
Adapted from a 144-paged novel, there is little doubt that many details were left on the chopping block. I haven’t read the actual novel in nearly fifteen years, so I can’t make the suitable comparisons. But as an avid reader, I know books are much more in-depth and character developed. In what could have been spread out in four or five graphic novels, the action moves along swiftly within two. Neal Barrett Jr. gets straight to the heart of the story, and for the readers, the disturbing, yet delicately handled subject matter will pierce their hearts as well.
But I strongly believe that is Vachss’ intention. And we as readers are given a unique opportunity. It turns out Batman was just as much in the dark as everyone else to the horrors of child degradation. Following along, we are the invisible presence, and privy to each act and conversation between characters. This is our very own Batman adventure. We feel the same emotions as Bruce does, grappling with bouts of shock, disgust, and contempt for these vile individuals that hurt children. And we seethe with righteous outrage at those who condone it or turn a blind eye. The story’s message is clearly for us to be aware of this inhumane treatment, and perhaps like the heroic Batman, be compelled to do something about it.
For the Review of ‘Batman: The Ultimate Evil Part 2’ Click Here
(check out Ginger’s other creative endeavours at http://www.voyagersguidebook.net)