A novelized version of the venerable comic strip almost makes it as a top-drawer thriller. An earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale has leveled Gotham City. So woeful is its condition that the federal government decides it’s beyond repair and cordons it off from the rest of the country. Thus, officially, Gotham City ceases to exist and NML (No Man’s Land) is born. Not everyone joins in the exodus, however. Scavengers and predators hang on for the sake of increased opportunity, but they’re not alone. Police Commissioner James Gordon, for instance, stays because his commitment to law and order is inescapable. Then there are the nutcases familiar to generations of the Caped Crusader’s fans: the Penguin, Two-Face, the Joker, Black Mask, Poison Ivy. Their motives for remaining are even more irrational than Gordon’s, but that’s as it should be. Meanwhile, gangs roam untrammeled. Murder replaces basketball as the urban game of choice. Territories are staked out, and the NML becomes, in effect, a kaleidoscope of war zones. It’s a situation that cries out for the Dark Knight, and yet after 90 days Batman is still a non-player. Turns out he’s been engaging in a Hamlet-like soul-search for answers, values, meaning—behavior most unbecoming an action stalwart. Fortunately, he snaps out of it in time, and with the aid of Robin, Nightwing, and an updated version of Batgirl, confronts the forces of evil, now including villainous multibillionaire Lex Luthor (Superman’s nemesis, visiting from Metropolis). Despite the formidable array of villainous talent, most readers will probably count on a happy ending, though the publisher has chosen to withhold the last two chapters from advance copies. Rucka (Shooting at Midnight, 1999, etc.), canny suspense writer that he is, wrings so much from his high-colored cast you almost forget that they—re, well, comic strip characters.