No time for chit-chat. Mrs Ashley’s gone to see the fam in Canada so I’m on double-walk duty.
My pooch, Beatrix, is insistent. Look at this face, you try and say no to it:
COMIC OF THE WEEK : BATMAN: YEAR 100
By PAUL POPE
Published By DC COMICS
It’s the year 2039. Supervillains no longer threaten Gotham city thanks to government intervention and a mysterious “final solution” that saw the doors of Arkham Asylum close once and for all. The Gotham police department squabbles for jurisdiction with the goons of a Federal Police Department who crack down on crime in squads of violent thugs and unleash packs of attack dogs on criminals. Batman is considered an urban legend – all footage of him has vanished from public record, all mentions of him are from disbelieving government officials. However, you and I know that there will always be a Batman in Gotham and, even with no Jokers or Killer Crocs to face, he is needed just as much as always as a deadly conspiracy is beginning to play out between cops, spooks and the hero this near-future Gotham so desperately needs.Unfortunately, Batman’s rise back to prominence puts him at odds with all arms of Gotham law enforcement as he’s framed for a murder he obviously did not commit.
Originally published in 2006 over four prestige format books, Paul Pope’s Batman: Year 100 is a distinctly lo-fi piece of Batman futurism. Pope’s Batman looks very much of the here and now and is in fact far less a fantastical creation, at least in costuming, than the currently published version of the character. Paying homage to the Kane-Finger Batman and harking back to 1939, the year of the character’s creation, Pope’s hero laces up combat boots, has no body armour whatsoever, short stabbing bat-ears on his cowl, wrist-long black leather gloves like a giallo film murderer and relies heavily on smoke and mirrors and theatrical flair to affect the most terrifying countenance. He wears ceramic denture-fangs, drops smoke bombs for obfuscation and his utility belt is positively minimalist. “Regardless of what’s in his utility belt,” Pope writes in an afterword to the collected edition, “Batman has to be believable, relying on muscle, brains and will power more than anything else.”
It is this comparative believability of the hero in Batman: Year 100 that’s one of the book’s most striking features. In a world featuring attack Rottweilers with cameras in their eyes, a telepathic government agent like something from a Philip K. Dick book and police hover-ships jetting across the Gotham skyline, Pope’s use of a down-to-earth, low-tech Batman is surprising. Visually, however, our vigilante is a knockout with his combat boots, his stitched up cowl “like a well-made Mexican wrestling mask,” (Pope again), and skivvy sleeves that stop just short of his wrists, allowing a glimpse of skin between sleeve and glove. Batman should reflect the city around him and this is why Pope’s Batman in his cobbled together suit works so well visually. His Batmobile is a souped-up trailbike, built, logically and like the man riding it, for speed and utmost mobility. Pope’s Gotham is also largely stripped of any futurism – it’s industrial, antique, foreboding in a gothic, crumbling way, brought to grim life by Pope’s loose lines and inky splashes. Like the best Bat-artists, Pope also does not forget that visually Batman works very well as a shape in motion, organic and curved, cape curled, as he navigates around the warren of buildings that is Gotham City through Pope’s artfully messy pages. Pope, I’ve always felt, is the true heir to Jack Kirby in that his art is heavily-stylised but packed with maximum energy and spontaneity; powerful, crackling artwork that flimsy panel borders somehow just manage to frame and contain. That, however, is an essay for another day.
Batman: Year 100 also gives us an updated Robin, Oracle and Jim Gordon. Pope drops cool little visual hints in the form of recovered video footage to Bat-versions past, from the aforementioned Kane version to a 1986 Miller Dark Knight who “looks like he’s put on some weight,” tying continuity into the project neatly. Batman: Year 100 is a terrific experiment, further demonstrating the flexibility of this iconic character as he’s put in the hands of a legendary indie creator. It’s brisk too, with sequences of excellent, fluid chase and fight sequences – the opening of a wounded Batman outrunning a pack of the police dogs across rooftops a standout – but Pope is aware that Batman is first and foremost a detective, a crime solver, and while the payoff to the unfurling conspiracy lacks the power of the journey towards it, Batman: Year 100 is an absorbing read with Pope re-contextualising the Batman mythos, updating it, morphing it and even stripping it back, as he takes his turn playing with DC comics number one toy.
As with last week’s Joker, see the video section below for a cool little tribute to the project showcasing Pope’s crazily dynamic artwork.
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : COSTUME PARTY
By EDUARDO RISSO
If you love comics and don’t check out http://thebristolboard.tumblr.com/ on a regular basis, you’re missing out on some good stuff, from original art to complete short stories, many of which have been forgotten about and just disappeared entirely.
One such story is Eduardo Risso’s “Costume Party,” originally published in the November 1998 issue of Heavy Metal. A fun little EC-style shocker, Rizzo, the artist of 100 Bullets with writer Brian Azzarello, the upcoming Dark Night: A True Story with writer Paul Dini and dozens of other excellent projects, seems to be letting off some creative steam here with a bustling costume party that allows his to draw all sorts of characters from Snow White, to The Joker, to a really excellent Mummy. To say much more would be to spoil it, so pop on over to check it out, complete and uncut.
COUNTDOWN TO MOZ METAL: AUGUST 1979
If I’m not mistaken, Tom Orzechowski’s distinctively organic lettering makes its first HM appearance, filling word balloons placed over the lovely painted art of Val Mayerik’s “Time Out: Opus Infinity.” It’s a neat little strip about a naked woman and an old man with a violin and how they are in fact the agents of cosmic creation. Are they God and Mother Nature, perhaps? Is he nature and she God? Up to you, really, as music and dance and creation myth combine. And for anyone possibly upset by the fact that she is naked and he is not, well, take solace in the fact that the man is presented as a dishevelled hobo and she a cosmic force right from the get go. Plus, iconic underground comix artist Lee Marrs appears in this issue, as does Chantal Montellier, so the female to male ratio of this August 1979 issue is actually much higher than most comparable comics or even creative teams of 2016…that’s kind of crazy when you think about it.
Marrs presents “Free Ways,” a piece about a woman illegally flouting the law and escaping intense, insane pedestrian congestion by taking to the skies on a flying surfboard (the first of two flying surfboards this very issue), kind of like Chopper from 2000AD for any fellow elderly Dredd fans out there. Thousands of pedestrians watch her defiantly soar the skies, most cheering as she’s able to avoid the authority’s attempts to blast this free spirt from the skies and actually escape to “the outer rim” beyond. The assembled masses are placated and returned to their lives by an announcement promising “specials on foodstuffs” at the mall, driving home the story’s point: we choose to be bound by our own blind consumerism. Sure it’s a touch pat, but surely a message we can all get behind to some extent.
Turn the page and there’s Chantal Montellier with Part 2 of the wonderful “Shelter.” A quick aside: I tweeted Humanoids last week asking if we would maybe see some Montellier collected editions…I did not get so much as a reply. Guess you’re stuck my shitty recaps. Anyway, trapped inside a radiation-proof shopping mall following an outbreak of nuclear war, shoppers and management alike are forced to ponder the fact that they may well just be the last people alive in the country. My admiration for Montellier’s work is only growing by the issue at this point and, again, it’s a terrible shame it will likely never be reprinted.
Peter Kuper presents an early work, “A Space Story,” and it’s the second flying surfboard tale of the issue. A space hippy cruises the cosmos on his board, stopping from planet to planet but finding nothing but war and eventual extinction everywhere he goes. Man…this issue’s becoming a real bummer – war, extinction, consumerism and death stories (all great), separated by some terrible prose in the form of the lousy “Star Crown” (which concludes here – hooray for that) and more Vaughan Bode comics. Bode, you may recall, does absolutely nothing for me, so let’s move on to Moebius’ “Airtight Garage” here as usual, which also features war and a crumbling but still beautiful castle being destroyed. I’m beginning to wonder if this overall apocalyptic vibe to the issue isn’t some plot by editorial to sneakily harsh the buzz of its readership. The hippy vibes permeating much of HM are quite noticeably absent.
No, wait, I spoke to soon – here’s uber hippy Philippe Caza to save the day with some utopian psychedelia. “New Ark City” is the story of a naked man who awakens one day to find his apartment building, and in fact the wider city beyond it, empty save for a Noah’s Ark full of animals. Finally he’s discovered by a naked woman and the final panel is of the two of them embracing, surrounded by a menagerie of animals and a perfect rainbow overhead framing them. Thank you, Mr Caza. My burgeoning existential crisis caused by this issue has abated once more.
Famed letterer, Todd Klein writes and draws (!!) “Illustratos,” a two-page curiosity about a master illustrator sitting in his studio with the shades down, attempting to draw a fantastical city. In as expertly a crafted twist as one can manage in a two-page double spread, he quits for the day and raises his shades, only to find the city of his imagination actually right there outside his window. Like “Free Ways” “Illustratos” would seem to suggest we take a look up and outside our windows and take in everything the world has to offer. But screw that, you say, what does Klein’s artwork look like? Serviceable, comes my reply. The work of an artist good enough to publish, but in need of much practice. It looks like the work of every artist struggling to nail everything down, that generic kind of mid-point every comics artist seems to hit before something clicks and they take off. Surprisingly perhaps, Klein’s lettering is similarly crude, lacking the finesse and distinctive grace that would become the main tool in his artistic toolbox. A fascinating two pages.
A rather overlong and ultimately pointless visual adaptation of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” follows, yes you read that right, with art by Gene Day who, like Klein before him, shows a mere glimmer of what he would soon be capable of in comics such as the amazing Master of Kung-Fu for Marvel (coming soon to omnibus editions in my hands! Can’t wait.)
Convention trouble-maker Arthur Suydam appears with “Mama’s Place” about horny lizard men at a brothel. Table hog Suydam may be, but these pages, looking like Charles Vess on a really good day, are beautiful even if the story is…well, it’s four gorgeously painted pages, let’s leave it at that.
Finally, none other than Jim Starlin brings us home with “Amber II,” a beautifully illustrated spin on post-humanism using The Lord’s Prayer as its base text. Tom Orzechowski letters again, uncredited, but trust me – this lettering dork knows his TO. Lovely stuff and a perfect way to end a loaded issue.
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : BATMAN YEAR 100
Embiggen as much as possible and enjoy Paul Pope’ wild, energising artwork from Batman: Year 100 in this awesome little video, highlighting just how cool the action sequences in this comic really are and just how grungy and human this Batman really is.
See you next week. Love your comics.