Thursday, February 16, 2006

Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah Pope-man, I mean Batman!

Wow am I ever glad I waited to read Batman: Year 100. I knew I would like this comic when it was announced for two simple reasons. 1) Paul. 2) Pope. In that order.

I’ve been a fan of Batman since I was a kid who had the flu one Sunday morning and saw the sixties television show in reruns. I was a bit of a fan of superheroes in general but that really just worked for me. It was bright and funny and everything a kid-friendly superhero should be without needing to be able to read.

Then when I was in university my roommate was big into zines and indy comics. He had Buzz Buzz Comics Magazine and we spent the next three years trying to find out more about Paul Pope because both of us were amazed by this unique comic art. Buzz Buzz was then responsible for some horrible artwork and story telling in that household. Pot and beer don’t help improve your art if you can’t draw to begin with, by the way – well, copious amounts don’t.

Then I became hit and miss with Pope’s work. The One Trick Rip-Off was a decent enough caper with some cool ideas and artwork. I love the scrawling text and the new take on gangs in New York. But man the dialogue was pretty awful at points. I missed out on a lot of his other work THB or whatever it was, Heavy Liquid, but again, my old roommate came through with the full version of 100% for me. Again, this is chock-a-block with fascinating ideas. It’s nice to see him have come so far.

Whereas I couldn’t tell most characters apart, 100% showed a honing of Pope’s craft. He used different characters to clarify the storytelling. There was a lot of throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks but it was a bit more restrained this time around.

I’ve been wondering how the hell he could pull off a Batman story? And I remembered his issue of Solo. This guy has chops now. He’s better when he’s forced to limit himself. It reduces the amount of tangents that can deter from the story. The Batman universe is anything but free-form, which is where Pope has always tended to work. He’s more at home creating entire worlds from the ground up but Batman comes with a crap-load of baggage.

This really didn’t stop him did it? It works because you as the reader are experiencing this story as an outsider. Yes it’s the future, but not too different – think Bladerunner. You know the setting, you know the characters and while you know the history you still feel like you’re experiencing this story for the first time. That only works if the creator is allowed to completely build the world up from scratch. That is Pope’s strength here. He is still building his own world and he’s plopping the shared history of the Batman universe into his creation. It sounds like it could completely fall apart but that’s why it is so great. This story is like the downhill skiing races on the winter Olympics (sorry, I’ve been watching them a lot). The people who succeed need to go barreling down this hill on the verge of uncontrolled disaster but stay within certain boundaries. Pope does the same thing here to Gotham and the Batman mythos.

By creating a new Gotham we experience the old Gotham. Batman used to be an urban legend, and only in the future can he become one again. Only in a world where we don’t know the rules can myths and legends garner their strength once again. Too much has been said about Batman in current Gotham, in continuity comics. Only when he is presented in a new light, in a new city, in a new context can he once again be allowed the same power that he once had – power over the citizenry and over the audience reading the story.

This is a Batman we want to understand. A Batman we haven’t completely figured out yet. We haven’t figured him out because we just aren’t familiar with the rules of the setting. It’s the wild west, it’s a new frontier and while it remains familiar on some levels it is completely new on so many more. The newness of this imaginary border is what makes this story so freaking awesome. It’s kinetic, it’s dynamic, it’s tense, dirty and yet with glimmers of hope. It is Gotham how it is meant to be but can’t be if you are too familiar with it as an audience.

So, yeah, I liked the comic and I can’t wait for the rest. It’s a Batman that doesn’t look like the squared-jaw barrel chested Batman I’m used to. This guy looks more athletic than bruiser which bothered me at first but I decided it shouldn’t be something to gripe about but something to enjoy. This isn’t my story, so why is it being presented this way? I can’t wait to find out.

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