Batman: Year 100 review

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Seven years ago a friend of mine picked up a copy of Batman: Year 100 on a whim. He wasn’t that much of a fan of Batman to begin with but said that he didn’t care for Year 100 because he hated the artwork and found the story to be too confusing. But even with such a sour recommendation I still wanted to borrow it before he traded it into the comic shop for something else. At this point in college I hadn’t read a comic in years and this was one of the newest Batman stories out there so nothing he could say would dissuade me. Boy, was I glad I didn’t listen to him. I loved the art! I thought it was the closest thing to a moving image I had ever seen on a comic page. I also found that despite the blend of manga and cyber punk aesthetic, writer and artist Paul Pope’s approach to the character was pitch perfect! It was the definitive depiction of a mortal Batman.

I gave the book back, we argued, he sold it for a couple bucks, and I went back to reading text books, never visited the Gotham of 2039 again…until now. It’s been seven years and ever since I started reviewing comics for Batman News I’ve always wondered if my fondness for Year 100 was just because I was so thrilled to be reading a Batman comic in the hustle and bustle of my college years or if it was indeed an amazing adventure for The Dark Knight.

Well, here we are. I’ve read Batman: Year 100 again and I’m happy to report that it is absolutely a must-read. In fact, I was going to review All-Star Western, Vol. 2 first and just casually began to flip through this as I moved some books around on my desk. I couldn’t put it down. The action is non-stop.

Content

The new edition of Batman: Year 100 not only includes the 4 issue mini-series, but it also comes with Paul Pope’s other Elseworlds tale “The Berlin Batman” from issue #11 of The Batman Chronicles (1998). I’ll talk about each of these.

Batman: Year 100

While not an official Elseworlds story, Batman: Year 100 certainly takes place outside of continuity and showcases a very unique interpretation of Gotham that hasn’t been seen before. However, what sets Batman: Year 100 apart from other Elseworld tales is that while it does take place outside of traditional continuity, it still acknowledges it! In fact, it adheres to it so rigidly that the story times the first ever Batman sighting in May of 1939, the publishing date of Detective Comics #27. Classic stories such as The Dark Knight Returns, which isn’t considered canon, are also prominently featured in the the Year 100 timeline. It’s a world where everything that happened in the comics happened when those comics were published.

You’re likely asking yourself how this could be possible. How could Batman begin in 1939, still operate in 1986 for The Dark Knight Returns, and then rise again in the year 2039. Well, that’s a question that lies at the very heart of Batman: Year 100 but rather than give us a clear answer, writer and artist Paul Pope leaves our hero’s identity ambiguous so that we are left to wonder, just like the citizens of Gotham. Is this the same Bruce Wayne? Has someone new donned the cape and cowl to keep the legend alive? Is this all simply history repeating itself? After all, the cast is made up of characters filling the archetypes of Robin, Jim Gordon, Oracle, and there’s even a Leslie Thompkins in there for good measure. All of these important supporting roles are re-invisioned except for Alfred Pennyworth. This is likely because of the story’s emphasis on plot over character and its focus on the legend more than the tortured soul behind it all. To get at the heart of Bruce Wayne (or whoever it really is under the mask) and explore his motivations you need an Alfred to anchor him back to the life he lost. Batman: Year 100 isn’t that kind of story though. Our hero literally hits the ground running, with no regard as to why he’s here to save us other than he’s Batman and that’s what Batman does. He’s back and he’s got a case to solve. There’s no time to reflect on falling pearls or answer questions on how legends can never die.

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The closest thing to equate this Year 100 world to would be Batman Beyond but with Orwellian themes. It’s a bleaker, more dystopic future where the government knows everything about everyone, it’s a police state. You don’t see Batman catching purse snatchers or gangsters, hell you don’t see that many regular people walking around at all due to strict curfews. Instead we are fighting the overwhelming authority and Batman is the only “Double U” or Unclassified Undocumented person whom the powers that be have seen in quite some time. The Batman is something completely out of their control and that terrifies them. Gotham itself still looks old and rundown because its citizens cannot express themselves and therefore there is no progression in the landscape. The advancements we see are primarily in the weaponry, computer technology, and transportation that the police alone utilize. There’s also mention of telepaths and individuals who have implanted “enhancements” to make them faster or stronger. Batman: Year 100 is absolutely a sci-fi story, but oddly enough it’s one of the most believable depictions of Batman you will ever see.

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The thing that I love most about Batman: Year 100 isn’t its mystery over the identity of Batman, nods to past Batman stories, or its winding conspiracy story, but its focus on the imperfections. No other book has done as good of a job of recapturing the gritty feel of Batman: Year One like this. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Paul Pope’s Batman is even more realistic. He’s a Batman who hits harder than everyone else but when he gets hit in return, you can tell that it hurts. His movements are faster than cameras can register, but he can still be struck by a bullet. When he outruns dogs and police on a rooftop chase he sweats, he pants, he bleeds. He’s the most dangerous man in the world, but he is most certainly a man. A man who can die if he makes one wrong move on any given night. Paul Pope never forgets this and it gives every action scene (of which there are many) far more weight. He even deliberately drew the sleeves on the suit to be too short to reach the gloves, leaving a hint of skin exposed so that the reader never forgets that it’s just a man in a suit. And don’t even get me started on the utility belt. Pope meticulously laid out how many pockets there would be, what equipment could fit, and how those pieces would be organized. The Batman trained himself to physical and mental perfection, but he never became a god in the process. He still has to work to stay alive. As I read this book it’s never far from my mind just how hard what Batman does is. All too often in other stories he always looks too clean, too iconic and untouchable and the feats he achieves fail to awe me because he’s portrayed as more of an ideal than a mortal man. I want to see the wrinkles in his face as he struggles to lift the heavy objects. I don’t want to read about a Batman that can’t break, I want to read about a Batman who can, but won’t.

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Of course, the details don’t stop with Batman’s design. The city itself has a unique look as I said before and the advanced technology has an interesting feel to it. The whole book has a very manga-style about it that I can understand many will find off putting, but I like it. It’s different. One of the only things I didn’t really care for was the jerseys on the SWAT teams but that just seems to be a part of the strange police-state culture that the new Gotham has, which, by the way, if you love scenes of Batman outsmarting SWAT then you’ll love this. Different police divisions wear armor and then cover it with a football jersey showing the call sign for their unit. It’s an interesting idea, but it still plays kind of silly and undermines the overall grittiness of the tale. I think that if an animated film were made that the jerseys would definitely go– and yes, I think that this would make an excellent DC Animated film (as would Gotham by Gaslight).

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Light trails and smoke are often used to create the illusion of movement and sound effects are always visualized within the illustrations themselves. It’s beautiful pop art at its finest if you ask me. And I love the colors by Jose Villarrubia. As you may know, I’m a huge fan of Sweet Tooth and think that Villarrubia is one of the best colorists in the business. The palette used for this 4-part story (which flows seamlessly without any noticeable breaks, I had no idea where one issue ended and the next began) is incredibly versatile with colors that really make the panels sear into your mind. Gotham itself is dark and dirty but any time some sort of advanced tech would show up there would be the most vibrant neon colors and digital effects that really dazzled the eye.

After reading this book again I called up my friend who trashed it all those years ago and started a seven year argument all over again. I think this is a gorgeous comic through-and-through made with extraordinary attention to detail, love for the Batman mythology, and untamed imagination. In the long list of must-read Batman graphic novels,  this is not the one that gazes the most deeply into Batman’s soul, it’s not the one that has the best villains, and it’s not the one that will make you feel the most emotions. This is the one that most excels at illustrating Batman’s method in the most realistic ways possible.

SCORE: 10/10

The Berlin Batman

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Officially published under the Elseworlds label, The Berlin Batman tells the “What if?” story of a Jewish Batman in 1938 Germany. Baruch Wane is an effiminate, cubist painter and socialite who, as a child, saw his parents beaten to death. Swearing vengeance on all evil-doers, Baruch trained himself to physical and mental perfection and donned the cape and cowl after a bat flew in the window of his study in a moment of inspiration.

Since it was originally published in The Batman Chronicles, which typically featured 3 short Batman stories per issue, The Berlin Batman is quite the short read. It’s also a rather simple one because it’s styled to read exactly like the original origin story of our own Batman first presented by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Some shots during the montage origin scene are almost identical and the design of Batman himself is very reminiscent of Bob Kane’s pencils. One of the only major differences between Baruch and Bruce’s stories is that Baruch had a weird looking “batmouse” stuffed animal that he swore to and I think that the book could have done without that panel.

As excited I was to see Batman punching Nazis, that’s not really what you get here. Yes, he’s taking a stand against the party, but it isn’t until the end of the story that he swears to do whatever it takes to crush Hitler’s regime. All we are treated to is a slightly clumsy assault on a train where the police kamissar is trying to abscond with the notes of Austrian economist and Jewish sympathizer, Ludwig von Mises. It’s disappointing, but at the same time it ignites your imagination with a world of possibilities. I just think it’s a shame we’ll never see Paul Pope realize any of them. The Berlin Batman instead suggests a bigger, far more interesting story that we will never see.

With it being written and drawn(it looks almost nothing like Year 100 even though it is still drawn by Pope) like the old 1930’s comics, there isn’t a great deal of depth to the characters or natural sounding dialogue to be found. It’s there for you to simply appreciate how perfectly Paul Pope recreated the structure of the old pulp and to spark your imagination about what a Nazi-fighting Batman could possibly have gotten himself into long after this particular story ended.

It’s an admirable effort, thought-provoking concept, and a very short read, but not one that I will need to revisit again anytime soon.

SCORE: 6.5/10

Supplemental Material

Some of the best bonus material I’ve seen in all the graphic novels I’ve reviewed. There are:

  • 8 pages of densely written documents made to look as if they came from the Gotham FPC headquarters during their investigation of the Batman.
  • 5 pages of sketches and detailed notes by Paul Pope where he describes how he designed this incarnation of Batman and how the suit and all of the gadgets function.
  • A half-page introduction to The Berlin Batman written by Paul Pope. He looks back on the early days of his career, the idea that sparked Berlin Batman, and shares an anecdote about the time he showed Batman: Year 100 to Frank Miller.
  • The 4 original covers for each chapter of Batman: Year 100.
  • And I think of the very brief The Berlin Batman as being bonus material

Value

$19.99 cover price is a good deal for a book that’s so re-readable and features not one, but two entertaining stories. I do wish DC would come out with a Deluxe Edition already. The only reason I could see someone holding off on buying this is if they are waiting in hope that DC will eventually give it the extra-large hardcover edition that it deserves. You can save about $3 bucks on this over at Amazon, by the way. Rating: FULL PRICE (I’m going to start rating the value as “full price” if it’s worth cover price, “sale price” if it’s only worth it for an amazon price or any other discount, and “not worth it” or something like that for the ones that aren’t worth buying).

Overall

Conspiracy, action, dystopian future setting, and highly stylistic artwork make this a must-read. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a Batman comic that’s more impossible to put down or one that does a better job of showing you a gritty, realistic Dark Knight.

SCORE: 10/10

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