Batman Bites Back
March 04, 2007
This review appears in today's Observer:
When Paul Pope was asked to reimagine the Batman mythos, the artist and writer described the opportunity as "being handed the keys to a really, really hot car." Oddly, the really hot car that’s usually driven by our comic book hero doesn’t appear, though a rather impressive motorbike does. This choice of vehicle is broadly symbolic of Pope’s approach to an elaborate iconography developed over seven decades. Pope strips away much of the customary Bat paraphernalia to focus on narrative and a smaller, grittier, more street level, hero. There’s no Batcave, no old money mansion and no long suffering Alfred Pennyworth. It isn’t clear whether the man behind the bat mask is in fact a traumatised billionaire or is even called Bruce Wayne. And it’s to Pope’s credit that he manages simultaneously to frustrate his readers with unresolved questions while keeping them glued to the unfolding story, puzzles and all.
What is clear in Pope’s imagined future is that anxiety is the norm, privacy is practically non-existent and the state knows everyone’s business in unsettling detail. Even the ever-present police dogs have tiny TV cameras implanted in their skulls. In a country under quasi-martial rule, where no-one can remain “off the grid,” an unidentified vigilante is an unacceptable anomaly. In a neat visual conceit, Pope contrasts this Gotham of 2039 with a portrayal of our hero that harks back to Bob Kane’s earliest drawings circa 1939. This is an Expressionistic Batman, stylishly distorted and grotesque, rendered in loose, inky artwork and with an eye for amusing detail. Batman’s arsenal of tricks not only includes various acids and explosives, but also a set of misshapen ceramic dentures to heighten his inhuman appearance. This masked avenger is, as Pope puts it, “pretending to be Nosferatu.”
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