I have come to the realization that I spend much too much time buying comics instead of reading them. This is going to be my personal therapy in getting me to again more deeply read the plights of my superheroes. If you wanna stay along for the ride, I promise to at least satisfy my own (incredibly high) standards of intrigue.

So let me start with something special. Something that will inevitably be argued (please, tell me why I’m wrong! TREAT ME SO BAD!!!!).

In all my years of searching, and, really it has taken years, I have come across many attempts, but only recently have I felt able to say, that a comic has made me able to say with a fair amount of certainty that it is

THE BEST BATMAN COMIC BOOK EVER!

 and it’s pretty cheap, too. Now, it would mean a lot less without all those earlier journeys to the perfect depiction of Batman, but, really, it doesn’t have to.

The comic is a retelling of Batman’s origin, but instead of placing Batman in Depression era Chicago, err, by which I mean that palace of crime unaffected by crime, Gotham, the cartoonist/ink impressionistic artist Paul Pope casts Bruce Wayne as Baruch Wane, a wealthy Jew living in Berlin during Hitler’s rise to power. Brilliantly dressing Bruce Wayne as a more oblivious effeminate inheritor rather than a gifted and cunning businessman,

Paul Pope’s inverted world of Batman continues to depict our hero as a staunch defender of art instead of a business:

And, really, looking at the publication history of Batman, this would be the more correct case. For most of comic’s history, Superman outsold Batman. It wasn’t until Superman got married, and all semblance of a normal person’s life outside of kisses above canyons left Superman comics, that Batman eventually began to sell better, and start to define the rest of the DC Universe, instead of the other way around.

Instead of just sales, Batman also eventually led to many sublime examples of superheroics that highlighted and launched formerly unknown creators to a superstar status. Frank Miller became one of the most popular comic book artists, probably making the entire image school of Spawn knockoffs possible from the perspective of the bigwigs giving money to these projects: his success proved that artist, and, more important, icon and image, driven comic art could succeed in a marketplace as well as character and event driven comics. And he did this by making batman old and placing him in the future with a tank for an automobile that can explode and detach whenever he wants it to.

oh, whoops, that was a still from Christopher Nolan’s recent film. Here’s what Frank Miller’s dystopian future batmobile actually looks like:

Grant Morrison admits in his book “SuperGods” that he could not have maintained his lifestyle without the constant royalties from Batman: Arkham Asylum, still the highest selling original graphic novel, a record it has maintained since its publication in 1989. And that is a book that features the psychedelic collages of Dave McKean more than plot, for sure. Although Dave McKean draws a menacing joker, in vague drag, as Morrison’s script called for

(For all the people with raised eyebrows and your watchmen books out, Yes, Watchmen sold more, but it also reprints material, so although it has sold better, it was not originally produced with the final; book form in mind. The lengthy text pieces at the back of each issue give each publication more a magazine feel, and, indeed, reading them separately gives one a much more foreboding sense of dread, each trip to the newsstand bringing more grave portents of impending urban apocalypse. The seemingly irrelevant text pieces become vital pieces of a world that only comes once a month, a consolation for the serial nature of reality.)

All of which is to say that the Elseworlds, out of continuity Batman story, has given countless unorthodox creator’s unprecedented popularity. It allows for them to tweak conventional characters. Like a great jazz band deconstructing a familiar standard with instruments made of goat bones.

Batman: Year 100 by Paul Pope gained him a large audience that furthermore has never before seen his work. If one needs proof of the impact that these mainstream dalliances has had needs only search for their original back issues on bay. A thirty two page comic self published by Paul Pope in the late nineties (of his still unfinished scifi epic) can fetch as much as fifty, or can be giddily snatched up quickly for as little as twenty.

And this is his earlier attempt at revitalizing the Batman mythos. Instead of reaching into the future, Paul Pope reached into the past first, a move that almost none have done, seemingly out of an inability to make his origin more compelling. Well, whereas others saw tragedy as enough, Pope has cast Batman as the savior of a dystopian future and the savior of German Jews against a world war. Yea, these are much more compelling origin stories that focus on setting as much as place. More importantly, Batman is definitely in much control of his motivations, instead of becoming the vengeance obsessed violent vigilante his 90s comics saw him become.

It probably helps that he has a partner in crime form the very beginning of his exploits.

This is probably the most crucial change to this Batman than any other Batman character: he can share his identity, and he can trust women. Or, at least, one woman named Robin.

I mean, his parents were still killed, but he has a visible enemy, the nazi. And they are one that can be defeated.

His jewish past even becomes another fold in his secret identity, a way of teaching him how to be careful and anonymous before ever donning a costume.

The “bat through the window” remains unchanged, as well as Bruce Wayne’s poses in a chair as he decides his identity, except with one twist: he’s a pubescent teen when he makes this decision, and not the adult that he is in the original “Bob Kane” (really, Bob Kane studio hand’s) pages that Pope’s layout and design imitates.

My favorite part is the first caption: “He was the smartest, most precocious kid in his whole class. He found that the others resented him more for this than for being a Jew.”

More than anything, this is a Batman with youth and energy. No wonder his “sidekick” is a sexy peer he could have make love to without raising senatorial eyebrows.

And he also has a friend in his quest. One that is healthier for Batman than Gordon, that cop demanding Batman’s presence while his underlings must hunt him for his thirst for justice. Unlike Harvey Dent, who was Batman’s friend for an incredibly short period of time as a man of the law, this friend does not see his tragedy as a sign to turn his back on humanitarianism. Indeed, his friend, a man of humanism through diplomacy and speaking instead of convicting and trial, is hunted by the nazis (in a wonderful moment rendered in blood red fantasy through Baruch Wane’s fantasy of what happened), and he is only slowed down. He still publishes his great work after getting out of the nazi volcano. Batman does, too, defending free speech across the world. “The legend of his exploits continues to grow to this day”.

This is a Batman who does not need a relationship with the law to know what is right. He only needs art.

“It is easier to destroy than it is to create… I wish I could do more… But sometimes you must destroy to create… to create space, then use that space to build. to build something new. something better.”

The comic also has an elseworlds story of Batman as a pirate, and Batman as a private detective that is impeccably rendered in art deco noir stylings by Kieron Dwyer, with Sin City’s color scheme of black and white with occasional temptations of red.

The comic book in question is Batman Chronicles 11. It would be in most store’s quarter bins.

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