**spoiler alert** I forget how long ago I read this, a couple years. I won't give it 1 star because there is some depth applied to it and I enjoyed hi...more**spoiler alert** I forget how long ago I read this, a couple years. I won't give it 1 star because there is some depth applied to it and I enjoyed him in Gotham City and the like.
Why it gets a low rating is because of all the unnecessary plot devices which made this seem incredibly hollow to me, as well as the illogical emotional tone of the entire thing which conflicts with Batman's rational detective character.
For one, terming this the 'ultimate evil' is stupid: murder is obviously the ultimate evil. I'm pretty sure children have died before in Batman comics and saying something else is 'ultimate' essentially demeans their loss and suffering. Someone should speak for the dead.
Secondly, it was made overly personal by making Martha an activist crusader and essentially rewriting Joe Chill. This warps Batman's origins in a ridiculous fashion, the Waynes were supposed to be random victims of crime which is why Batman targets random crime. Essentially with this reveal it would have shifted his character away from this.
There's also a heavy misuse of terminology.
The climax also essentially cheats Batman out of a moral dilemma. Under a false persona (I forget if it was as Bruce Wayne or possibly something similar to Matches Malone, he attempts to infiltrate the network (I refuse to call it a 'pedophile network', something like 'sex slavery network' sounds more apt). Part of the audition is that he is supposed to have sex with a minor (thus keeping out law-abiding cops and people with moral reservations) and have it videotaped (a failsafe if he decided to turn on them, they could give it to the police and have him arrested in mutual destruction).
Batman decides not to do it, and then they just magic him into the country anyway. Now certainly, Batman is a moral guy and would obviously take the road less traveled and do the difficult research. But the problem remains: it side-stepped the dilemma and the devastation he would have undergone if he hadn't been magicked him in. Essentially, I would have liked to have seen what would happen if he suddenly lost the trail of the ring and was never able to infiltrate the country. Or conversely, what if, after exhausting all other possible options, he went back and did that, because it would be for the greater good to have sex with one child (and since Batman is a nice guy I'm sure he would be far less harmful than any other choice of partner) to save essentially an entire micro-nation of them, including the child in question who would also be saved.
This dilemma is entirely sidestepped and this makes the writing incredibly weak. It was a moment of suspense and then Vachss is all "option 3!" where we get an idealized happy ending. As gritty as the book managed to be early on and due to the overall subject matter, this was pure anti-grit. Basically, Batman could very well have blown his one chance at infiltrating the network based on his sense of repugnance and doomed all the children (including the one he in theory 'saves' by not having sex with them) to continue their lives of being rape slaves.
In other stories, Batman has had to deal with a sense of guilt over youth who have died because of his choices or influence. For example, the various Robins (Jason Todd and Stephanie Brown) who essentially died (although as we know in comics nobody stays dead, not even Bucky). Similarly, events like 'War Games' or the OMAC situation are as a result of his influence. Not to mention his guilt over sticking to his principles in not killing people like the Joker.
This book had a great opportunity to continue with this theme, where Batman's belief over what should and should not be done ultimately, while not causing, prevents stopping people's suffering at the hands of villains. The concept of refusal to do a 'lesser evil' to cure a 'greater evil' is an ongoing one with all Superheroes, including Supes and Spidey.
Lately films just seem to totally ignore this. A good example being Batman Begins where he refuses to save Rhas al Ghul. That's out of character. Batman has saved Joker so he'll damn well save Rhas al Ghul too.(less)