Paul Pope’s take on Batman is a gritty science fiction tale, set in 2039 – 100 years after the Caped Crusader’s first appearances on the streets of Gotham City. Time has not been kind to Gotham, which in Pope’s vision is darker, more run down and significantly grottier than most. The atmosphere is dank and oppressive, a state that isn’t helped by the fact that Batman, thought to have retired years before, reappears on the streets.
Federal agents get involved to try and track the vigilante down, and significant chunks of the book consist of elaborate, physical chase sequences. Pope likes to close in on his characters, leaving the reader immersed in the action. Every panted breath and crunched bone reverberates through the panels, while the solid, unflattering style gives real weight to the characters and their surroundings.
Batman’s costume is grittier too. He wears heavy army boots, a padded leather mask to protect and reshape his head, and a set of sharpened, animal-like dentures to further disguise his appearance. As a result, he’s a truly terrifying character. Pope has not used the futuristic setting to update Batman, but to rid himself of some of Batman’s excess baggage.
After the thrill of the chase, Batman finds himself implicated in a conspiracy that needs further investigation. This brings out Batman’s more investigative and cerebral side, and reintroduces a few familiar friends. The pace of the book changes, though it still regularly nips back into bone-crunching action mode when required.
Batman purists may not like it because the balance of the character shifts under Pope’s direction – you couldn’t really see this incarnation of Batman being best buddies with (or even living on the same planet as) Superman. But it shows that, when you are willing and able to toss aside some of a sacred superhero’s dafter accoutrements, and create something that’s aimed at a more mature audience, there’s no reason why a man who dresses up like a bat and prowls the streets of the future shouldn’t make a compelling thriller.
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