Sunday, January 31, 2010

Review - Batman Year 100

Batman: Year 100
by Paul Pope
2007 Eisner Winner for Best Limited Series
2007 Eisner Winner for Best Writer/Artist

I'm snow bound at the moment and I took the opportunity to read some lighter material than what I had been going through lately. I had been reading a lot of dreary independent comics that were the exact kind of material that I don't like. Between stuff with no narrative or point and works where I wound up hating the autobiographical main character (or in a few cases both) I have had my fill of "serious and important" books for a while. So I went to their polar opposite and picked up Batman: Year 100 expecting something less pretentious and more action driven. And I got just that; Batman: Year 100 is solidly in the camp of "pretty but dumb" superhero comics. It's a pleasure to look at but not to think about.

In the year 2039 a Federal police officer has been murdered and the hunt is on for a man in a bat costume who appears to have done it. There's scraps of information that indicate that this Bat-man has been around a hundred years but no one knows any details which make the feds pressure the Gotham City police for any information. Batman meanwhile investigates the murder on his own and finds a conspiracy tied to the same people who are hunting him.

This comic is a black hole of plot. I finished it without gaining any significant knowledge about the characters or story that I didn't know going in. There's a whole lot of vague hinting at multiple possibilities for things that never get resolved one way or the other. Is Batman over a hundred years old or have multiple persons been wearing the outfit? Depending on which scene you're reading it could be either. The scheme itself at the heart of the story is so needlessly complex that I had to go over it several times to make sure I wasn't missing anything. The plot literally occurred so that the plot would occur in a kind of recursive loop that goes beyond the idiot plot. The setting has vague allusions to things like intrusive government surveillance but nothing ever comes out of them. It's a generic dark future where generic characters do generic villainous things because they have to provide a plot for a comic book.

On the other hand Pope does a lot of the details well. He crafts some terrific action sequences that exciting to read. I liked the style of his Batman which is recognizably based on the version we're familiar with while also being more horrific. He still won't kill the villains but he'll terrify them in ways that I don't recall ever seeing before. It's Batman as a monster in all senses of the word whether he's putting on a face that will give someone nightmares or taking actions that should give everyone in the world nightmares.

The art in Batman: Year 100 is spectacular. Pope has a cinematic style but instead of blowing up the pages for that he shrinks them down. This makes most pages incredibly dense visually where he usually places eight panels a page in a double column format. He uses this canvas to give a movie style flow while avoiding the natural breaks that would occur while turning pages. He has enough panels that he can use silent reactions without it slowing the pace of the comic too much. He crams detail into each panel that makes me wish I had the book in a larger format so I could have appreciated that artwork better.

With all of that in consideration I found Batman: Year 100 to be a decent but not brilliant superhero comic. If you're just looking for an exciting comic where Batman freaks out a bunch of guys and then punches them then Pope delivers. It wasn't something that I particularly enjoyed but if you liked Frank Miller's Batman work then there's no reason to skip over this. Especially since it is so nice to look at.