STORY & ART – PAUL POPE
Set 100 years after Batman’s first appearance, in 1939, Pope introduces us to a classic Orwellian future where privacy is non-existent and America has become something of a police state. Within this world, the appearance of Batman, a masked man whose identity is a mystery, causes something of a stir. As the Batman is investigated by both allies and enemies we learn that Gotham’s nocturnal guardian has been around for at least 100 years (so rather than setting it 100 years in our future, Pope has played with the idea that the first appearance of Batman in comics was in fact his historical first appearance).
Plot-wise, things are pretty simple, but the delivery adds more complexity – Batman stumbles across the murder of a federal agent but is wounded in the process, alerting the authorities to his existence. Now with the full force of the law after him, he has to figure out why the man was killed and, in doing so, he unravels a bigger conspiracy (of course he does).
The main draw here is Pope’s art. His style is unique and very recognizable; it has the energy and sense of movement of the best manga art but is most certainly its own thing. This comes out best during the numerous action and fight sequences found throughout the book, which is rather action-packed. The action never becomes confusing and rather than typical splash pages, Pope gives us a lot of smaller, kinetic panels.
For me, despite all the action, one of the book’s main strengths is that it is grounded in reality. Pope has done some serious world-building here, creating a fully realised city and into which he places his very human characters.
His Batman’s identity, while hinted at, is never revealed leaving a nice sense of ambiguity. What we do learn is that he is very human; just a man in a suit who gets tired, gets hurt, and struggles for every victory. He also does some detecting, which is always good in a Batman story. The closest we get to full blown super heroics is a mildly telepathic character and a few deeds from Batman that, while impressive, are possible. It makes clear that these deeds push him to the edge. I find it interesting that a future-set Batman is one of the most grounded and human versions of the character I have read in some time. He’s not indestructible and is not always multiple steps ahead – often barely escaping situations he has rushed into. He’s human, and most enjoyably, rather funny, which is a nice change for a character who is often a little too serious.
The main draw here is Pope’s rather fantastic artwork. The story and writing are good and thankfully do not require a huge understanding of Batman mythology, as Pope is interested in telling his own story – one that is not littered with references and homages. This is a book worth buying. By the end I certainly felt that it is a version of Batman I’d like to visit again, as long as Pope is there to show us the way.