He’s inventive, unpredictable, dark and wickedly creative. And since he has been mentioned only in passing in this column before (for a work called Heavy Liquid), I decided to write about an old favourite rather than a new book. We will return to new books—and there are some very interesting ones—next week. So, indulge me.
The writer, as those who know their comics already know from the work I have named, is Paul Pope, the man called “the dark prince of comics” by Wired magazine.
And the book that is the focus of this fortnight’s Cult Fiction is Batman 100, Pope’s 2006 work, a nice mix of Pope’s science-fiction-ish approach (evident in most of his works) and classic superhero comics. Cult Fiction has usually steered clear of commenting on technique but Pope’s drawing style is unique. There is something about the intensity as well as asymmetry of his lines that gives his illustrations a distinctly futuristic dystopian look (I have commented on the similarity between Pope’s work and the writings of Philip K. Dick in the past so won’t belabour that point again).
Dark prince: Pope’s Batman is faceless.
Batman 100 is also, undoubtedly, inspired (at least to some extent) by Frank Miller’s Dark Knight books where an ageing Batman returns to clean up Gotham. Miller, for those interested in such trivia, is a good friend and mentor of Pope’s, according to the same Wired article I have quoted from at the beginning of this piece. Interestingly, there’s a reference in the comic to a 1986 report on Batman by a Commissioner (Ellen) Yindel, a name that should be familiar to anyone who has read The Dark Knight Returns.
Batman 100 is set in Gotham in the year 2039, which is the origin of the title itself. Batman first appeared in 1939. The setting is totalitarian and the plot is convoluted but time-tested—of a government agency planning to use a super chemical to kill millions—and while Batman ultimately saves the day (like he usually does), the real greatness (yes, greatness) of this comic lies, apart from Pope’s style and visualization, in two other things.
The first is the identity of Batman. Batman 100 features a Captain Gordon who is Commissioner Gordon’s grandson, so is Batman 100 Bruce Wayne? If so, how has he managed to live to be at least 120-130 years old? He doesn’t seem rich, so, if he is Bruce Wayne, what happened? Pope doesn’t answer the question, not even indirectly, and far from leaving readers with a sense of incompleteness, this makes the book better.
The second is possibly Pope’s own take on what makes a superhero in 2039. Sure, Batman jumps walls, scales buildings, fights an army of people, and flies around (albeit on wires), but his real superpower in 2039 is that he is off the grid. In an information- and communication-rich world, no one knows who he is or where he comes from. In the future complete anonymity, Pope seems to suggest, can create the truly invisible man.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.
Write to Sukumar at email@example.com