Batman Year 100 #2 (of 4)

So far in this four part series, artist/writer Paul Pope and colourist Jose Villarubia have placed Batman 33 years in the future, while stylistically taking him back to his earliest grim and mysterious persona. Pope’s loose, inky artwork and Villarubia’s beautiful colouring continue to complement each other. Together, they have continued to create a unique and expressionistic visual style for this four-part series.

The second installment opens with the guts of a motorcycle strewn in a pile on the floor of a mechanic’s shop. A young guy is working to rebuild it. Elsewhere, a man wakes up in bed, in a grubby and cluttered apartment. A bloodied and tattered costume is laying on the floor next to the bed. Twelve hours after almost dying after a battle with federal cops, “the Bat-man of Gotham” is finally awake. Tora, the daughter of the Gotham forensic examiner whom we met in the first issue, is there, as is the young motorcycle mechanic. He calls the Batman “boss”. Batman calls him “Robin”.

Batman asks them to leave him alone in the apartment. He needs to explore his murky memories in private, looking for the identities of the men who killed a federal cop the night before. It’s a murder for which he was blamed and almost fatally wounded. In the meantime, Captain Gordon and his team review their old records on the “Bat-man of Gotham”, some of which go back as far as 1939. Gordon decides these appearances over the past 100 years can’t all be the same guy, but who is it?

Federal Agent Tibble arrives and, as he did before, plays the part of a Warlord. He “drives home” the fact that Captain Gordon has no privacy, only prompting Gordon to delay giving him any of his information on “the Bat-man” for another twelve hours. The arrogant assumption by Tibble and the Federal Government, that they will stomp out “the last mask” and that there is no private information anywhere that they cannot see, only serves to push Gordon and Batman closer to the same side of the conflict. Batman and Captain Gordon have not met and are not allies, but they definitely seem to have a common enemy in the Feds, and are now taking paths in parallel directions that the Feds would never allow.

Seeing how Gordon and his team speculate about the history and origin of Batman was actually quite fascinating. Part of me really wanted to see a connection made to the past incarnations of Batman that I have known. We learn that there has been a Batman in Gotham in preceding generations, but it is not clear if the past Batman had a good working relationship with Captain Gordon’s grandfather, the past Commissioner of Police. Captain Gordon speculates that there should be much more evidence of Batman over the past 100 years unless some of the records have been lost or purposely removed. In terms of the relationship between these two main characters, this lack of clear knowledge and evidence allows for a new beginning, a clean slate between Gordon, the official representative of law and order, and Batman, the vigilante. This in itself is also quite refreshing.

This is the first Batman story I’ve read that acknowledges that the Batman character has been around continuously since the year 1939. There are no alternate realities, and no different Earths or time travel — just a collection of sightings and accounts of a Bat-shaped vigilante wearing a bat insignia, captured in blurry photographs and vague media reports over the past century. We don’t know who this current Batman really is, but the reader could decide that he couldn’t be millionaire playboy-industrialist Bruce Wayne, who would be 130 or 140 years old by this time.

This story infers that there must have been a few different Batmans active over the past hundred years. It is interesting to speculate on all the sidekicks, or their offspring, who could have adopted the Dark Knight persona over the years. Could there even be some secret society of Batmen, perpetuating the role from generation to generation? It also makes me wonder what happened to Bruce Wayne, the original Batman. Not once so far in the series has his name been mentioned. Artist and writer Paul Pope doesn’t give us any hints one way or the other, and Batman’s true identity remains a mystery, for the moment.

Pope draws very effective thematic connections between the bat in “Batman” and vampire imagery from characters like Dracula or Nosferatu. In the second issue in the series, there is a beautifully black image of Batman’s motorcycle suspended overhead, shrouded like a giant sleeping vampire bat. I think this panel is one of the most beautiful and disturbing images in the series so far. We’re encouraged by both Pope and by his Batman to think of the Dark Knight’s persona as more of a dark beast — something that is truly designed to terrify that “suspicious and cowardly lot”.

So far, Batman’s base of operations has been a shabby-looking apartment — a “safe house”. He doesn’t have an actual underground lair, such as the classic “Batcave”. This Batman lives and works underground, but only in the metaphorical sense.

The pace of the second issue in this series seems less breathless and frenetic than the first one, but it still manages very successfully to draw you into the personal points of view of the main characters and their motivations. It has been established that “the Bat-man of Gotham” is real and very human, but also very mysterious and in one sequence of this story, even mystical.

We don’t know why or how he came to be here, but we have begun to get a closer look at how the man behind the bat operates, and how he relies on teamwork, technology and his own amazing physical and mental abilities to gouge the truth out from under a mysterious federal conspiracy.