Saturday, April 03, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 59 (4/3) -- Batman: Year 100 by Paul Pope

Are there any Batman stories that haven't been told yet? Now, that might not be a fair question -- the same story can be retold differently, as The Odyssey became Ulysses -- but, honestly, is there anything new to do with Batman that isn't just set-dressing? Even Year 100, one of the best-reviewed and highly-awarded superhero stories of the past decade, from one of the most original and individual talents of our generation, is really just another running-on-rooftops, stopping-the-evil-plot story, drawing from a well that's provided the precise same elements a million times before.

Pope does draw a great Batman, sweaty and twitchy and ugly, and puts him into an equally engaging Gotham City, full of grungy subway tunnels and offices and, of course, those rooftops. And his 2039 is equally a lived-in future, full of old buildings as well as odd new technologies -- maybe too much of the old stuff, actually, since it looks like 1999, or 1979, or 1959, more than it even looks like today, let alone tomorrow.

But it is officially 2039 in this story, a world in which there's been a Batman for a hundred continuous years (in some way that the story doesn't want to explain). The central government, and its F.P.C. cops, run roughshod over citizens, local police, and all semblance of privacy. That is, they do so until Batman goes up against them. Luckily, Pope is still as unwilling to stoop to exposition as ever; we learn or infer everything important about this world as the story races forward. He never stops to have anyone explain anything, which is tremendously appealing. But that does mean that most of this story is unexplained: Batman is real, is Bruce Wayne, has helpers (a young man he calls Robin, a female doctor and her teenage computer-hacker daughter), and runs around Gotham by night, unknown to nearly everyone...but we don't know why or where or even much of how. It's a stripped-down vision of Batman, the original costumed vigilante distilled to his essence.

The story itself is pretty obvious, with its nasty government goons, a good cop named Gordon, and so on -- in fact, it's awfully close to Miller and Mazzuchelli's Year One, which it explicitly references several times. But, again, Pope isn't trying to tell a new Batman story -- he's retelling a standard Batman story his way, with his twisted bodies and battered faces, his sinuous curves and his thousand little lines. And he doesn't even want to tell all of this story: there's no backstory, besides that odd hundred year stretch of Batman, and the ending implies higher authorities that the story itself went to pains to deny. What Pope wanted to so was to put Batman into action -- rough, dangerous, physical action, with boots scraping and muscles straining, bodies flying through space to land with thumps and crashes -- in another Paul Pope milieu, another future that looks like a mid-century tenement district that miraculously escaped both gentrification and urban renewal, another set of crenelated rooftops, dark corridors, and fire escapes.

Year 100 won two Eisner Awards in 2007, presumably showing that Eisner voters like both Batman and Paul Pope-isms. It's an energetic piece of standard action comics rendered in an idiosyncratic style; there have been dozens of Batman stories at least this good, and Pope's other work also typically is this accomplished, if not more so. But this is a Reese's Cup of comics: the Batman chocolate might be cheap and streaky and the Pope peanut butter over-processed, but it punches two buttons at once, and that was enough.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Nicole Atkins - The Way It Is
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

david e. ford, jr said...

i think you get at a major aspect of what's interesting about paul pope's sci-fi conceits: his futures are probably more akin to what futures will be, a lot of what is old and familiar with a handful of neat new gadgets that subtly change how individuals operate. it's a fly in the ointment of the usual, grandiose scifi version of worlds completely transformed by unreal technologies. it makes his stories feel real and relatable at the same time they look cool and have that sort of exuberant whizbang that makes scifi entertaining.

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