The gangster-noir hero

The gangster-noir hero
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First Published: Sat, Jun 23 2007. 12 29 AM IST
Updated: Sat, Jun 23 2007. 12 29 AM IST
Like Commissioner James Gordon, I believe in Batman.
There are other morally ambiguous superheroes in the DC, Marvel, and Wildstorm pantheon, but none like Batman. Bob Kane created Batman, but such writers as Alan Moore (The Killing Joke), Frank Miller (Year One and the Dark Knight books), Archie Goodwin (Night Cries) and Grant Morrison (Arkham Asylum) have written Batman books (ok, comics), and painted and repainted successive layers of grey on a character already grey to begin with. And I don’t mean the colour of his costume, although that too is grey.
As the Joker, one of the bordering-on-the-caricature villains who appear in some Batman books, says in one, the bat (as he calls Batman) belongs in Arkham Asylum (where all the “loonies” such as the Joker, the Scarecrow, the Mad Hatter and the Croc are housed). Or, as the Joker says in another book, all the “loonies” started coming to Gotham city, or emerged in it after the bat did.
So, is Batman (aka Bruce Wayne) the problem or the solution? Is he the victim or the crime?
No one quite knows and that uncertainty makes for compelling fiction. One of my favourite Batman books isThe Long Halloween. Others must like it too because it is the first Batman book to get the “absolute” treatment—large format pages, glossy art paper, leather binding, hard case, in short the works.
In what is still a relatively new trend in comic book publishing, companies are discovering that they can do this with best-sellers, add bonus material, and price it out of the market. Meanwhile, living in my own cultural cocoon, I hadn’t even heard about the show called Heroes that was making news in the US, till the editor of this magazine pointed it out.
Then she sent me an email, attaching an article about Tim Sale, the writer of the TV show. Heroes, I might not have heard of, but Sale I knew. He and partner Jeph Loeb are the writers of The Long Halloween (and a few other Batman books).
Told in 13 parts—in the original form, the book was 13 comic books—and spanning the time between one Halloween and the next, The Long Halloween mixes the gothic feel one has come to associate with Batman with gangster-noir reminiscent of Andrew Vachss (the name is thrown in just so you can Google it, constant reader, and benefit) to tell a story about a serial killer who is bent on taking out all of Gotham City’s baddies.
The Batman books have always tried to be old-fashioned detective fiction and The Long Halloween does this effortlessly, down to the jolting twist in the tail.
Email your feedback to Sukumar at cultfiction@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Jun 23 2007. 12 29 AM IST
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