Type Comic
Date 1992-08 (1992-08)
Tags child abuse, fiction

Batman: Night Cries

There have been a number of very violent murders in Gotham--whole families killed. At first, Batman suspects that it is related to a new drug, but as he continues to investigate, the facts don't line up. It appears that, in each case, the adults had committed some crime against children. Batman revises his theory: there is a new serial killer in Gotham, a serial killer motivated by the need for revenge against child abusers. As Commissioner Gordon and Batman seek out the killer, each must deal with his own demons. Batman remembers the night his parents were killed, and must reconcile his own actions, in many ways so like those of the serial killer. Jim is troubled by memories of his own abusive father, and is horrified to see that he may be starting down that road, himself.

For all the violence, this graphic novel has a very subdued feeling, which is reinforced by the dark palette common in Batman stories. At about a hundred pages, Night Cries tells a tightly connected, effective story. The thematic connection between Batman's drug investigation, during which he repeatedly explains that these investigations involve following a chain of people to find the source, and the child abuse investigation, during which it is explained that the abused often become abusers themselves, perpetuating a cycle of violence, is very well done. Too, Jim's struggle, developed over the course of the book, with his own anger, and with his relationship with his wife and son, is a very strong point. This book is set fairly early in Batman's career, and the effects of Jim's infidelity during Year One are still being felt.

Batman's experience follows a similar arc. During one part of the investigation, a traumatized young girl, who may have witnessed one of the murders, spots Batman through a window, and is terrified. As Batman says: "The trouble with an appearance that can strike fear in the minds of criminals--is that it sometimes strikes fear in the innocent as well." The girl may have important information, and Batman regrets frightening her, so he visits her in the hospital, to make amends: "I'm sorry. I don't want to frighten you. I did that once when you saw me through the window at your home. I know I look scary and there have been too many scary things in your life. So I want you to see--" here, he removes his mask, "--I'm just a man, a man who's trying to help." The scene is really touching. Sometimes, Batman seems far from being concerned with the people around him--those he's fighting, or those he's saving--but Goodwin's Batman shows a kind of empathy that Batman must have, if he's more than just a reflection of the violent psychopaths he fights.

This is definitely one of the best Batman stories I've ever read. Its focus on the human impact of the crime in Gotham, and on its particular impact on Jim and Batman, is very welcome, especially coming, as I am, from reading a bunch of Golden Age stories. Comics have come a long way, and this is a great example of a comic that tackles a meaningful issue in a sensitive way. I strongly recommend it.

Character Type
Batman Main
James Gordon Main
Name Role
Archie Goodwin Author
Scott Hampton Author / Colorist / Cover Artist / Inker / Penciller
Tracy Hampton Musey Letterer