B for Bashful

*Rising Out of Ashes Dept: Just a quick heads up - reader James Moar has posted some interesting material in the comments section to Monday’s post regarding VIZ’s release of Phoenix, the volume released today apparently containing the 1971/1976-78 story Nostalgia, rather than what was next in chronological line, 1971’s Robe of Feathers. Page count concerns might have factored into this; more at the link. Thanks James!

Batman: Year 100 #2 (of 4)

In which Paul Pope’s 2039 Batman begins to put tiny pieces of the puzzle together, while the Detective Gordon of the future also struggles to the see the big picture, hounded by federal goons who also don’t appear to know what’s going on. As for the reader, well, their senses can register scrapes of terrorism, snatches of government distrust, and murmurs of folk hero immortality; Frank Miller (who purportedly aided in devising the premise here) might be attracting all of the attention and invective with a certain upcoming project of his own, but Batman is already facing the political concerns of today whilst engaging in the traditional sci-fi masquerade of comments of this sort. Actually, I do believe there’s some sort of film opening soon regarding the triumphs and travails of a caped vigilante who fights the untrustworthy government of the future in a land redolent of media control and patriarchal social abuse; very different works, informed by rather dissimilar politics, yet the zeitgeist shines through.

One thing that doesn’t shine through in this particular work is a detailed, point-by-point plot; a story is indeed brewing, but writer/artist Pope is keeping us only slightly more informed as to the activities of the title hero than the police. We don’t know Batman’s real name. We don’t know where he comes from, or what drives him, or where he gets the wonderful toys and such. We only really understand him through action, and lovely action it is; whether jury-rigging a pully system to allow him to ‘fly’ through a sinister headquarters, meditating in order to scan his nearly photographic memory in the way you or I would zoom in on an actual snapshot, or popping in a set of fake fangs to make himself look more spooky (apparently federal agents are also a superstitious and cowardly lot), this Batman uses his brain and derives consummate joy from striking terror into the black hearts of villainy. Maybe that’s all the motivation he has.

And maybe it’s perfectly ok that we’re not permitted access into our arm’s length savior’s personal world; one of Pope’s big recurring motifs is the lack of privacy afforded citizens in this future world, and the Batman costume acts as an explicit symbol of personal containment, the old ‘secret identity’ trope injected with fresh urgency in a world where a particularly vile government man begins an intimidating professional meeting by revealing the results of the other side’s colonoscopy. “There’s not an inch of privacy left, anywhere. Not even in the places where the sun don’t shine,” remarks the villain, just in case anybody anywhere hadn’t quite caught wind already. Thus, it’s fitting, even necessary to the story’s effect that we’re never really let into Batman’s world - he wants it that way.

He does have a trio of helpers, one of them a young man named Robin (maybe his birth name, this time). There’s cute little references to Bat-Trivia like Oracle or vintage adventures. The prospect of different, fundamentally similar Batmen appearing in different time periods (maybe to reflect different creative teams?) is raised. We get a peek into what’s not much of a stately manor. But mostly we see Pope’s curving lines, and Jose Villarrubia’s sometimes muted, sometimes burning hues, as Batman fights villains. All of which, brooding references to contemporary terrorism aside, are actually pawns of the media manipulating, citizen-spying centralized power of the nation. There’s little subtlety to be found, the red, white and blue-clad goons beating the shit out of poor Gordon for daring to check up on information for himself rather than accepting what’s spoon-fed to him; they’re probably into even worse stuff, mystery forces having maybe infiltrated their ranks.

But that’s all kind of pushed to the side, I remind you once again - this is not a machine gun barrage of twists and turns and plop take revelations. One gets the feeling that by the end of this series, now half over, we’ll have maybe gotten an introduction to a new old hero, if even that; we’ll have solved the murder of Agent MacGuffin, no doubt, but we’ll have taken away other things. A once-again reaffirmed faith in the visual drive of Paul Pope (and have I mentioned how great those costume and character designs are?), and maybe a little something about These Modern Times of Ours, albeit something becoming increasingly familiar no matter which zone of political thinking it's coming from. Must be that zeitgeist. Bloody, bloody thing.