Monday, February 18, 2013

Reluctantly embracing Batman

I've been getting into comics lately. I just finished catching up with Ultimate Spider-Man, and I figured the next series I should tackle is the one on everyone's "best comics of 2012" list: Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's reboot of Batman, subtitled in its first collection as The Court of Owls.

Despite its critical acclaim, I was hesitant to embrace Bruce Wayne. Much like how Spider-Man was the "it" guy in superhero movies during my formative years, Batman is the popular one these days due to Christopher Nolan's film trilogy. He's so popular I instinctively don't want to like him, because I'm that sort of person.

This is the cover of a real Batman issue.
You wouldn't see this in a Chris Nolan film.

While I enjoyed Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, I thought they weren't the Greatest Movies of All Time like many other nerds have deemed them. And The Dark Knight Rises was... mediocre at best. I understand Batman is a "serious" character, but at the end of the day he's still a guy in a bat costume punching bad guys. Nolan's trilogy takes itself too seriously, both in terms of tone and in terms of realism in its art direction.

Because Batman himself is such a boring character, Batman as a franchise lives and dies by its brilliant villains--by far the most iconic of any superhero series. Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight was genius, and I've got a man-crush on Cillian Murphy so of course I liked him as the Scarecrow in Batman Begins. But Bane was such a laughable cookie-cutter antagonist in The Dark Knight Returns, it baffles me that there's a large portion of the moviegoing population who believes it's an Oscar-worthy end to the trilogy.

So I was skeptical about the new Batman comic. But it's widely regarded as the best mainstream superhero comic in production today, so as a comic noob I felt like I couldn't avoid it. And I'm glad I was able to get past my prejudice. It's excellent.

I don't read superhero comics to
read about socialites hobnobbing
Batman has a slow start, but I guess that's necessary when rebooting a franchise. Lots of exposition, lots of Batman brooding about stuff as usual. The Bruce Wayne scenes are vastly inferior to the Batman scenes, since when he's Wayne it's essentially the story of an old-money billionaire doing old-money billionaire things. The Mitt Romney-esque message is "rich old white people who have controlled everything for centuries are the ones you need to depend on if you want your shithole of a city to succeed." Fittingly, all the successful white men look pretty much alike in the artwork, and have very large chins.

But it gets more complex as it goes on. Thematically, this series is about Bruce Wayne's relationship with Gotham City. Because he comes from old money, his family owns a huge percentage of Gotham. And as Batman patrollin' the streets, he feels like he knows the city better than anyone. He feels that Gotham is his city; it's often his only friend as he gallivants alone through the night. But as we discover in this series, perhaps Batman doesn't know Gotham City as well as he thinks he does.

I love this exploration of the superhero as the product of an urban environment. In my Spider-Man review I remarked how interesting it was that they threw Spidey into the middle of Wyoming--Spider-Man, like Batman, can only thrive in a city environment. In the middle of farmland, both Spider-Man and Batman are reduced to guys in goofy suits who can't really do anything. Miles Morales and Bruce Wayne come from opposite ends of the urban spectrum: Miles from a working-class minority family in Brooklyn, Bruce from a long line of penthouses running the city.

From bourgeoisie to junkie in five issues' time!

In a fun twist, the primary antagonists in this iteration of Batman aren't proletariat plebes like many of Batman's foes, but a secret society of old rich people. While Bruce Wayne thought he controlled Gotham with his money by day and with his vigilante justice by night, he's confronted by a group controlling Gotham with money by day and with vigilante justice by night. They're too close to his comfort zone and he loses his mind. This is the sort of Batman I want to read about.

Art-wise, this is when everything gets turned upside down. Batman starts to go insane, and the artwork goes from mostly-realistic to stylized and psychotic. This is what hooked me for the long run; it's something you'd never see in a Christopher Nolan Batman movie. Once again it's the villains who bring out the best in Batman, forcing this boring, static character to question his immense sense of worth and superiority over the regular people of Gotham City.

No comments:

Post a Comment