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March 2007

Batman Bites Back

This review appears in today's Observer:

Batman_year_100_2When 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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Vanity Publishing

One of yesterday's Ephemera items warrants a closer look. Rotterdam-based Bert Simons makes things - strange and wonderful things. Usually, though not always, out of paper. Perhaps his most arresting project is the Paper Clone, which is described as an attempt to make amends for failing to "arrange some kids."

Bert_and_clone  Bert_in_progress  Bert_in_progress_2   

Bert is, understandably, "quite pleased" with the result: "It is a good therapy too... I even got used to my bald spot."  However, what began as an ingenious solution to childlessness and issues of hair loss has now taken on slightly megalomaniacal overtones. By clicking here admirers can download a pdf file and print out over 100 components to construct their own personal Bert. A high-quality colour printer will be needed and 80gsm paper is preferred. Some cutting and glueing will be required. "My presence isn't restricted to my personal whereabouts anymore. Have me around wherever you are!"

Bert hopes to have a gallery of clones "built by people all over the world."

By all means, fund my vanity.

Friday Ephemera

Steven Brekelmans' tissue paper drum kit and paper amplifier. // Jawa ponders the rules for mailing faeces, then has a wonderful idea. // Stephen Fry reads Harry Potter and the Black Leather C*nt. (mp3, nsfw) // Former Muslim says 'Islam inherently radical'; death threats ensue. // High-tech office chair pimped beyond decency. // Crop circle typography is a thing to behold. // The blogosphere, data mined, made visible. // Growing new bones with nanotechnology. // Cloning with paper and glue. // Alarm clock cooks bacon while you sleep; greasy pillows beckon. // Cyborg spy pigeons from China. // Previous attempt to use animals in espionage not entirely successful.

Secret Knowledge, Revealed

AcidicjewZounds! The religious affiliations of your favourite comic book heroes have finally been documented in a disturbingly thorough database. This improbable cataloguing project may well define a whole new stratum of nerdish preoccupation. But, given the effort involved, it's hard not to be impressed and, dare I say it, just a little curious. I was vaguely aware that Spider-Man is sort-of Protestant, that Ben Grimm is Jewish and that Bruce Wayne seems to have that whole lapsed Catholic thing lurking in the background. And, being an ageless Amazon, Wonder Woman obviously leans toward the Greco-Roman deities.

But, shamefully, I didn't know the names of every prominent Hindu, Sikh or Muslim character, or the issues in which their faith plays a prominent role. And, even worse, I'd forgotten all about Moshe Chomsky, the Acidic Jew. Thankfully, these oversights can now be corrected, complete with sources, discussions and extensive supporting material. Ditto Shintoists, Taoists, Wiccans and adherents of Teutonic Paganism. Naturally, the database also includes extraterrestrial belief systems (e.g. Kryptonian metaphysics and Apokolipsian Darkseid Worship), along with characters who, via circumstances far too involved to relate here, came to meet God Himself.

Those secretly intrigued can search for particular characters by name or see heroes, villains and supporting characters grouped by religious subscription. Now where the hell's my copy of Kingdom Come...?

Gratuities welcome.