RARA-AVIS: Re: Andrew Vachss - Burke series

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 15 Aug 2001

Sorry this is a little behind the bouncing ball (I had some e-mail problems), but I see there's still some meat left on the crime comic bones, so... Rebecca wrote:

>There are other books that don't seem to be part of the Burke series -- two
>collections of short stories. There is a Batman: Ultimate Evil listed in the
>library collection. I looked it up on Amazon. Vachss, indeed, wrote a book
>based on the Batman character - which seems unusual for the writer of the
>Burke series which is so grounded in the bleak urban life.

Not so unusual, actually. Vachss has written several comic books over the years, and in fact had his own comic book anthology limited series called HARD LOOKS, published by Dark Horse back in the nineties (or was it the eighties?) He's also written a few stand-alone graphic novels, and another mini-series about mercenaries, the title of which escapes me right now.

As for writing Batman, you've obviously been away from comics for quite a while. Much of the Batman continuity is very much grounded in
"bleak urban life" these days. The current writer of the flagship Bat title, Detective Comics, is none other than Greg Rucka, whose novels have been discussed here recently. And the current back-up story in Detective Comics is a revival of hard-boiled P.I. Slam Bradley (who actually predated Batman as the arguable "star" of Detective Comics), brought up to date by Ed Brubaker, who's written several great hard-boiled comics, including one of my faves, SCENE OF THE CRIME.

Vachss also wrote a two-issue Batman mini-series dealing with child abuse, that echoes the book, ULTIMATE EVIL, but is a different story. It was pretty good.

Of course, an argument could be made that even without pictures, Vachss is writing comic books. A lot of his Burke books slide rather quickly into that area. I mean, secret hideouts, secret headquarters, secret identities, over-simplistic black-and-white depictions of good and evil, and endless ends-justifies-the-means arguments? Really. And some of those characters seem right out of comic book central casting. Max the Mighty. The inscrutable little Asian woman with the soup. The tricked-up car (ࠬa Batmobile). The Wonder Dog.

Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Despite the heaviness of the topic (evidently, child abuse isn't nice), and the fact Vachss is a rather heavy-handed stylist, they're actually sort of light-weight fun, in a pulpy, Gee-whiz! comic book way.

And to add to the irony, much of Vachhs' actual comic work is less cartoonish than his fiction. I think, in fact, that I prefer Burke's short stories. They're less predictable than the Burke series, and he manages to pull some rather clever and nasty tricks on readers.

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