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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Batman: Night Cries/90 pgs. & $24.95, DC Comics (hardback)

For those who think the word adult describing a movie, book or comic always promises nudity, graphic sex and violence, the glamorization of drug use, and nihilism, be prepared to be surprised.

Published in 1992, Batman: Night Cries is a graphic novel about child abuse that is never exploitive. It set a new, high standard for the use of the word adult. But let's be honest. What novel takes thirty minutes to read? This is a powerful, even unnerving, short story. It is also much more.

It is painted, not drawn, by a master of this new approach to graphic storytelling, Scott Hampton. Using dark and brooding blues, blacks and blood reds, Hampton paints a bleak portrait of a police commissioner who cannot balance the pressure of work with family responsibilities, a psychologist deeply marred by the broken children he serves, and a brooding vigilante in a cowl and cape who is haunted by the murder of his parents. Hampton's art is stunning.

It is wonderfully written by the late and deeply missed master storyteller, Archie Goodwin. Batman: Night Cries is a profane story written without profanity, a violent and ugly story written without graphic brutality, and a base story that elicits compassion. Goodwin's characters (particularly Commissioner Gordon, a deal-ringer for Archie) are real people, both noble and flawed. And Goodwin escapes the blurring of right or wrong. There is no equivocation of 'yeah, he molests children, but…' Gordon is the protagonist of this tightly knit melodrama, and no better portrait of a noble man hurting the very people he loves the most has ever been crafted within the limited space of a graphic novel.

Batman: Night Cries is highly recommended for adult readers.

Review by Michael Vance