24 August 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Gotham, Part XXXVI: Batman: Year 100 and Other Tales: Deluxe Edition

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2015 (contents: 1998-2006)

Borrowed from the library
Read February 2016
Batman: Year 100 and Other Tales: Deluxe Edition
by Paul Pope

Colorists: José Villarrubia, Ted McKeever, James Jean
Letterers: Jared K. Fletcher, John Workman, Ken Lopez

Year One Hundred
It's been fourteen months since I kicked this whole Batman project off by reading Batman: Year One, but for Batman it's been 99 years, as I'm wrapping up with Batman: Year 100. In the future, America seems to be a wasteland ruled over by tyrants, but the Bat-Man of Gotham, the last of the superheroes, still stands for justice, along with the few who aid him, including a new Robin. The story is ostensibly about an overcomplicated murder mystery, but it's really about what Batman stands for: standing up and saying "no" to unjust systems.

Not a guy you want to meet in a dark alley. Or anywhere, really.
from Batman: Year 100 #2

Paul Pope both writes and draws the whole book, and I found myself engaged more by his unique visual style than by his writing. His Batman is a terrifying enigma, seemingly over a century old but as full of energy as ever, and his Gotham is a bleak dystopia where the Gotham City Police Department seems to operate out of a pile of trash, and the rest of America doesn't seem much better off. He establishes the grotesque nature of this world perfectly, from its attack dogs to the tragic ways that even criminals are treated in the future. But the story itself felt somewhat rote to me, and what the ending conflict turns out to be doesn't really resonate thematically with what Pope is trying to say about Batman.

How can you even have a base in a pile of trash?
from Batman: Year 100 #2

One thing that I did, of course, really like: Jim Gordon. This Gordon is the grandson of the original Commissioner Gordon (by Barbara? James Junior? it's not really clear), but when the story begins, he doesn't even know that the Bat-Man of Gotham isn't a myth. A big part of the story is his growing realizing of who Batman is and his growing disaffection with the unjust circumstances within which he is expected to impart justice. One ordinary man with nothing but his own courage to support himself: of course I liked it.

The constant of the multiverse is that Jim Gordon will always be awesome.
from Batman: Year 100 #4

There are a couple other "Bat tales" by Paul Pope tucked into the back of this deluxe edition: "Berlin Batman," "Teenage Sidekick," and "Broken Nose." "Teenage Sidekick" is pretty disposable (Batman both likes and needs Robin, did you know?), and "Broken Nose" isn't deep, but it is amusing (it's about the first time Batman ever got a broken nose).

Isn't that kind of a facist impulse itself, though? Whoops.
from The Batman Chronicles #11

"Berlin Batman" is the real triumph here, revisting Batman's actual year one of 1939 and imagining what he would have been like if he had been from Germany. Pope revisions Bruce Wayne as Baruch Wane, a wealthy Jewish socialite who takes to the streets as Batman to stand against the injustices of the Nazi Party. This was published a few years before Batman: Year 100, and I wish it had come first in the book, too, because what Batman means to Pope is clearer here: Batman is a symbol of resistance, because he stands for the right to privacy. Pope says in his introduction to the tale: "Does a superhero have a right to a secret identity? In a police state, the answer would have to be NO." But it's just not about superheroes; Batman rescues an economist (a real man, named Ludwig von Mises), whose arguments disagree with Nazi doctrine, and helps him get to America. Mises has the same right to privacy as Batman, the same right to be left alone. There's a great scene where Baruch's father tells him about the eternal struggle between government and governed:
Swell guy, Baruch Wane's dad. Not quite the inspiration Earth-Zero's Thomas Wayne was.
from The Batman Chronicles #11

But the Berlin Batman finds that third way, and the hope that there might be something other than oppression, that individuality can be the triumph of the day. "Berlin Batman" draws out more directly some of the themes that were implicit in Year 100, but got lost in its apocalypse-virus climax.

Next Week: Soon I'll be starting a new project (or rather, picking up some old ones). But first it's time to transition by picking up another piece of superhero prose fiction, with a return to the Final Crisis!

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