cover image Batman: The Ultimate Evil

Batman: The Ultimate Evil

Andrew H. Vachss. Warner Books, $19.95 (196pp) ISBN 978-0-446-51912-0

Vachss and Batman seems a marriage made in publishing heaven--the creator of the underground PI Burke (the forthcoming Footsteps of the Hawk; Forecasts, July 24) taking on another soul-wounded, big-city night avenger. And it almost is. While no classic, this is likely the the most stylish adaptation yet of a comic-book figure, its cold stiletto prose and white-hot passions lifting it leagues above recent Spiderman and Incredible Hulk offerings. It's also Vachss's best work since Shella, and a capstone to his lifelong mission: for ``the ultimate evil'' is child abuse, the target of all of Vachss's writing. The plot line is very simple, reading like a series kickoff: Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne, meets a social worker who helps abused kids. A series of personal revelations catalyzes Wayne/Batman's decision to join her in fighting child abuse, first by destroying an international child-sex ring. The usual Batman trappings are here, but Vachss plays loose with our customary idea of the caped avenger--his Batman is as much bat as man (``Batman possessed a sense of his surroundings so delicate that it could detect the slightest molecular shifts in the empty air'') and seemingly invincible, leaching the story of some suspense. Still, the real villain here is child abuse (the book closes with ``Child Sex Tourism,'' an essay by David Hechler), and it's a treat to see Vachss/Batman take it on with such gusto. Major ad/promo; simultaneous Time Warner Audiobook; simultaneous comic-book adaptation from D.C. Comics. (Nov.)