Friday, 4 November 2011

Books: Batman: Year 100


Batman: Year 100
By Paul Pope


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That's the year the world first met "The Bat-Man."Detective Comics #27: now one of the most valuable comics in existence (so if you've been hoarding yours in the attic someplace - well -  nows the time to sell).

Of course - way back then he was just a rip-off of The Shadow ("Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" etc [1]): but since then The Bat-Man has evolved considerably: he got a back story [2], a boy-wonder and even dropped that pesky little hypen ("Drop the "the". Just "Batman". It's cleaner) - amongst other things.

You see: the Bat-man back then isn't the same Batman we know now. Best example: every child knows that Batman made very solemn vow about firearms [3] and has a pretty strict whole "no killing" thing: but it wasn't until the Comics Code Authority came into being in the 1950s to ruin everyone's fun that the "no guns" and "no wasting the bad guys" thing was actually a thing. Up until that point The Dark Knight really didn't give much of a hoot about packing heat [4].

Point is: this is a character that is always adapting. In the sense that he's always outsmarting the bad guys, always cheating death and never gives up [5]. And also (outside of the world of Gotham) he's a figure that's always able to morph to cope with whatever era he finds himself in [6]. Basically - like has been said elsewhere: He's the ultimate survivor.  

Of course - over the years this means that he's built up quite a few layers of paint (so to speak). No longer just a Shadow-wannabe - The Dark Knight has quite a few different sprogets (is that the word? No?) in his Swiss Army Knife of a personality: He's a creature of the dark striking fear into the heart of the criminal underclass, he's an utility belt wielder extraordinar with more gadgets than Q and Inspector Gadget combined, he's the world's greatest detective [7], he's a ninja, he's a scientist [8], he's Zorro [9], he's   the goddamn Batman [10].

But the problem with all this Bat-parts is that it can be tricky to work out which parts to keep and which things to throw away. Watching The Dark Knight Rises this week (yeah - I know the date above says the 4th of November 2011 - but the thing I wrote back then wasn't that great (well: it sucked): and I just kept thinking how much better it would have been if Christopher Nolan had taken a few notes from Paul Pope's playbook: hence all this now): I just kept thinking how damn stupid Batman's cape looked (I'm gonna ignore his Bat-growly-voice seeing how the rest of the entire internet has already beaten me to it): I mean first of all: it wasn't even the same colour black as the rest of his outfit (and was is it made out of: velour? [11]) and - hey - didn't Watchmen and The Incredibles both make the idea of capes seem not only silly but also kinda dangerous? (No? Just me?). I mean - it was cool in Batman Begins when they did that whole - let's shoot this like a horror movie stuff - but for some reason most of The Dark Knight Rises has Christian Bale standing in the middle of the street in full daylight in full Bat-regalia and it just kinda makes him look like a guy doing cosplay [12].    

There is a point in the film about the halfway mark (and don't worry if you haven't seen it - I'm not going to ruin it for you) where it seems like maybe they're going to strip away the bulky Batman suit and take away all his gadgets and maybe turn him into a rough-and-tumble street fighter relying not on the trappings of technology and - well - prestige [13] - but rather using his wits and his indomitable killer instincts: less of the man and more of the bat. But no - instead we get more standing around and punching and sitting around flying stuff - so that it feels more like you're watching a play than - I dunno - an action movie. But then I guess that's what the genre is nowadays - actors standing around delivering their lines inter-spliced with all the CGI shots (and thinking about it: that's probably why one of my favourite films is (don't laugh) Cloverfield as - amongst other things - the whole thing feels really physical and tactile (all that camera shaking): so you know (or rather at least: more easily pretend) that it's stuff that's actually happening).

Batman: Year 100 is the Cloverfield of Batman comics [14]. It's what The Dark Knight Rises kinda aspired to before it went all rote and predictable. It's not a perfect comic (it just kinda ends: like you feel like there should be another book or something to fill out the rest of the story): but it's kinetic, alive and drenched in sweat: with all the clunkiness of the Batman mythos stripped away to it's bare essentials - so that it doesn't feel like a Hollywood Movie Star being paid $$$ to stand around and pose: but more like a living breathing force of something beyond that requires no suspension of disbelief [15] to enjoy. As described by Paul Pope himself in that Wired Article below: "He's someone with the body of David Beckham, the brain of Nikola Tesla, and the wealth of Howard Hughes, who is pretending to be Nosferatu" - so who are you to resist?

What makes it different from other (boring and leaden) Batman tales of it's ilk is the wild, ferocious dangerous energy Paul Pope flings across the page - I've never read a Batman story that seemed so desperately alive - highlighting all the stresses and massive amounts of physical agility that it would take to pull off high-stakes crime-fighting: dude has to strain and sweat over everything he does and that - combined with the story that starts in media res - and never lets up. The artwork is all flowing white lines and jutting angles so that you eyes never really have a place to get settled. And with some cool Bat-updates (that I'll leave to you to discover) and some hot motorcycle action: it'll make your heart race too. Plus - it puts the Bat-Man of Gotham up against more than just your usual cookie-cutter supervillains with crazy costumes and silly names ("What is crime? Who are the criminals now?") and - I've gotta say - it's all adds up to create a good look for The Dark Knight.

It's called Year 100 because it's set 2039. But we all know that (with folks like Paul Pope leading the way) the Bat-Man is going to be around a lot longer than that.

[1] Nowadays - best known - (if at all) - as a crumby 1994 action movie starring Jack Donaghy.

[2] Altho not until Detective Comics #33 - you hear that Hollywood? You don't always have to kick things off by making everything about the hero's secret origins (see also: Tim Burton's Batman - ha!).

[3] Please see: Grant Morrison's Final Crisis for the one exception that rule.

[4] See this: which is (I'd admit it) nicked from this Cracked article called 5 Reasons Batman Always Wins. Which I wholeheartedly recommend to each and every Bat-fan out there (and the non-believers who want to know what all the fuss is about): it's one of the best encapsulations I've read about what it is that makes people so giddy about The Dark Knight: "Did you see what just happened? The two most common ways of calling something fast are "in the blink of an eye" and "at the speed of light," and Batman outdrew both of them. That is not the gunplay of a man out of practice. The new metaphor for speed just became "half a Batman.""

[5] Check out Neil Gaiman's Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? for more on that one.

[6] So much so that the only way to triangulate all the various versions of Batman into the same frame of reference as each other (or however you wanna say it) is to either go dimension-hopping (see the third story in: Planetary: Crossing Worlds) or a form of controlled schizophrenia (see Grant Morrison again with: Batman R.I.P.).

[7] Cough.

[8] Dur.

[9] An acknowledged inspiration.

[10] I'd suggest Grant Morrison's (him again) The Return of Bruce Wayne for a much more entertaining breakdown of this idea.

[11] "If we hit that bullseye, the rest of the dominoes should fall like a house of cards... Checkmate."

[12] Which then just got me thinking about Batman Ben from Parks and Rec (Which then gets me thinking of Batmen Abed from Community). In fact - check out this great article "It's Not About "Dark," Damn It" on The Comics Cube!: Sample quote: "You're supposed to find this man frightening, but nothing about him is frightening. He's in a Halloween suit. He can't turn his neck. The entire movie spends so much time establishing how "grounded" and "realistic" it is, but the very way Batman is presented is "realistic" in a Hollywood point of view, which is not at all "believable," but more "not fantastic." It wouldn't even be so glaring if Jim Gordon didn't get so much screen time. How is who's supposed to be the world's most perfect human wearing body armor from head to toe while the old policeman next to him is only wearing a bulletproof vest?"

[13] Christopher Nolan pun intended. (And for more Nolan-related fun check out: Christopher Nolan tells a knock knock joke).

[14] Just so you know: for me Cloverfield is one of the best films of all time ever. If you're lucky maybe one day I'll try and write down exactly what it means to me. If you're lucky.

[15] Something else that stopped me from getting emotional involved with The Dark Knight Rises: are you really telling me that there's going to anyone in Gotham (hell - the world) that couldn't work out that Bruce Wayne is Batman? I mean at this point - with all the ostentatious displays of super expensive-looking-technology - who else could it be? Who else could afford all that stuff? Bill Gates?


Further reading: Heavy Liquid, Batman: Year OneBatman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Marvel Boy.

All comments welcome.

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