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Batman: Dead White
John Shirley
Multi-cast production, adaptation
GraphicAudio, 6 Hours

Batman: Dead White
John Shirley
John Shirley 's been a poet, an addict, and an out-of-control punk, but also always a writer. He became a screenwriter, bringing James O'Barr's The Crow to first life and doing television episodes for shows like Poltergeist, VR5 and Deep Space Nine. A recent collection of dark/noir fiction, Black Butterflies, was published by Mark V. Ziesing in 1998 and Publishers Weekly named it one of the "Best Books of 1998." It was also honoured by the Horror Writers Association with their Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Horror (Collection) and the International Horror Guild Award.

John Shirley Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Really, Really, Really, Really, Weird Stories
SF Site Review: Silicon Embrace

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Ivy Reisner

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Be aware, this title isn't work safe or kid safe. It contains foul language and racial epithets. The story is overdone. Everything is overstated and larger than life, and that's exactly what a comic book novel should be. There is no subtlety here, no layers of meaning. You have the good guys, who are in all ways good, duking it out with the bad guys, who embody everything we could consider bad (in one scene the antagonist promises to avenge the injustices done to Adolph Hitler). This is large action supported by great sound effects and fantastic voice acting. If you want upmarket literature, you won't find it here. If you want a fun, action packed story, look no further.

There are two plots, somewhat loosely woven together. In the first, Batman has to fight a somewhat deranged white supremacist leader called White Eyes or Big White. White Eyes has gathered a militia with the intent of staging multiple strikes at key targets in the U.S. to cripple the American government. Batman uses a combination of espionage and brute force to move incrementally closer to White Eyes, and stop him.

In the second plot, we have sometimes bounty hunter, sometimes police officer, Cormac Sullivan, and his son, Gary. Gary has gone missing in California, on the opposite coast from Gotham, and Cormac has reason to believe he's involved in selling drugs. He's already used his mother's narcotics on occasion, so Cormac flies to California to look for him. The two plots twist together, intersecting only occasionally until the end when both feed into each other as the story races to its conclusion.

The theme in this story is, of course, acceptance, and John Shirley hits it with a heavy hand. Beth is the daughter of an abusive father, who has lived on the streets, who has routinely had to struggle for her life, and who has fallen into the custody of White Eye's group. Her background would suggest she'd be cynical, harsh, perhaps prone to obscenities. Instead, she's a sweet, polite young lady, who calls her elders (those worthy of her respect anyway) "sir." White Eyes analyzes Batman's gear and equipment and determines he must be Jewish, thereafter dubbing him "Bat-Jew." For the record, given that his parents were buried with crosses for headstones, it seems obvious he was at least born Christian. We get forays into homosexuality. We have a big man knocked unconscious by a smarter, small woman. We have slavery and the wholesale slaughter of innocents. We have crooked cops, but that's standard in Gotham City.

One character talks about being 1/8th African American. The term for that, in the days of slavery and the Jim Crow laws, was octoroon -- the minimum concentration of black ancestry that would make one count as black. President Warren G. Harding's opponents tried to discredit him by labeling him an octoroon. It's a ratio that has a lot of meaning in this country's history as it relates to race relations.

There is an additional thread of an again over-the-top side plot, where Batman, at this point barely more than a year into his crime-fighting career, goes through a pseudo-Zen experience with his old costume. It embodies Batman's need to accept himself, and his mission.

Once you start listening to this one, you are not going to want to hit the pause button.

Copyright © 2009 Ivy Reisner

Ivy Reisner is a writer, an obsessive knitter, and a podcaster. Find her at IvyReisner.com.


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