Written and drawn by Paul Pope with colours by Jose Villarubia
Published by DC Comics
Paul Pope is the swift kick upside the head of modern comic books. An American indie comics hipster guru, revered and respected for bringing a manga energy and flow to the page. He primarily draws his own alternative books but luckily for us and DC Comics he made this venture into the mainstream with his take on the Batman.
Set in the year 2039, 100 years after Batman’s debut in Detective Comics #27, Pope opens on a panel of Batman running, well sprinting, from a pack of dogs. The scene is visceral, the dogs are slobbering as they splash through puddles, sweat drips off Batman’s face. He’s bleeding and gasping for air. And then he leaps between two buildings 10 storeys up.
This is a futuristic dystopia of dogs with retina cameras and cyber cops called the Gotham Panthers. Batman has become less than a myth, he is a mystery to the public, police and government, the last mask. Implicated in the murder of a federal agent, Batman becomes the target of the government’s focus and must uncover the truth behind the killing while keeping his secrets safe.
The language is a mix of sci-fi future babble and hardboiled 40’s slang. On re-reading the book for this review I appreciated the effort that went in to tying this story to Batman’s debut. Pope keeps mixing things up while keeping one eye on the past.
The character is redesigned, his costume is more grey, the shorts have draw-strings like a 40’s swimsuit, the top is almost like an old sweatshirt. He draws the drapes and folds of the fabric, this is not a suit of armour but it does have a whopping great pair of boots. This Batman is an athlete, a cross between boxer and gymnast who is far from effortless, the strain leaps from the page like beads of sweat.
Pope’s art is prodigious. He has a detail and realism that he combines with exaggeration and overemphasis to tell the story. The way he controls his page layouts and panels feels like a class in storytelling.
And lord, the sound effects. They are everywhere, changing size, shape and colour to reflect the action. Often SFX are innocuous and unnoticed, here they overlap and accent the action, demanding the eye’s focus. They combine with the art and motion/action lines to deepen the reading experience and bring the panels to life. There’s a sequence where a character hears a knock on her apartment door late at night, as she goes to open it, the insistent ‘knock-knock’ overlays the page, pieces of each word appearing in subsequent panels, drawing the scene along. I could hear the knocking, like I was watching a movie late at night.
I love reading-and seeing in the case of Nolan’s’ Batman films-differing takes on Batman and this is one of my favourites. Reading Paul Pope comics make me want to read not just more of his work but also the work that influenced him
Should I buy it? YES. This is a phenomenal comic book by an amazing comics artist. It’s not your classic Batman and that is a good thing. Keep your eye out for future reviews on Pope comics when I write about his books 100% and Heavy Liquid.
Next week: As one of the best crime comics ever written is wrapping up its 60 issue run this week, I go back and review where it started. Scalped: Indian Country by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guerra.