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Batman Never Dies
on 18 May 2013
Set in 2039 (100 years after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27 in 1939), Gotham has become a police state and the overbearing authorities know everything about everyone. A cop is killed and Batman is suspected as he was at the scene - an obvious frame job. It's also the first appearance he has made in public for years and people have forgotten his existence - is the mythological Batman real? He is nonetheless hunted by psychic cops, robot dogs, and other futuristic crime-fighting tools. In the course of finding the real killer, Batman discovers that there's a doomsday weapon being sold on the black market by the (clearly corrupt) cops in charge. Will he stop them in time...?
Year 100 is a very uneven book that I really wanted to like. There's the dystopian future angle, and the attention-grabbing title adding to the mystery of whether Batman is still Bruce Wayne (it couldn't be - could it?), both of which I liked, but while this is an initially exciting story, as it goes on Paul Pope keeps readers at a distance from the characters and this world by revealing very little information about them.
How did things get to this point - Gotham as a police state? What event triggered such an extreme reaction? If this is Bruce Wayne as Batman, how is that possible - Wayne would be somewhere around 120-150 years old, so who is Batman? What happened to his fortune? What of the rogues like the Joker? What happened to the Justice League? We're never told the answers to any of these questions.
So it's quite a limited view of the future. On the one hand that's great because we don't need someone there literally explaining the history of this Gotham, but on the other hand a hint as to the origins of this dystopian future would've been appreciated for a more satisfactory reading experience. As such, Pope's narrative deftness makes the book feel that much easier to forget and become less involved with because we're never given the chance to inhabit this world.
Also, I found that the plot ended up becoming more of a hindrance than an enjoyable story. At first it's a fast-paced, exciting story of Batman on the run and then after about 100 pages, Pope decides to explain the plot by having the reader follow Batman figure out what's going on, step by tedious step. It's an overlong sequence where for nearly 40 interminable pages Batman sits in a room and talks with Robin and Oracle. Exposition, exposition, exposition - it really puts the brakes on the story while also being really boring to read. I get that the reader needed to be caught up to the point of the book, but what a clunky way of doing it.
Some people have complained about Pope's art but I loved it. It's different, it's fluid (which is an excellent quality to have when it comes to the action), and he somehow manages to make machinery feel organic! The Batmobile in this book is an awesome tricked-out motorcycle that, when not being used, hangs in such a way (dripping oil like sweat) as to look like a giant sleeping bat - it's a really cool effect. Pope also has Batman live up to his name, making him look animalistic in fight scenes, wearing sharp false teeth, and also on the cover where he looks almost rodent-like perched atop a pair of chimneys. I also liked that his mask is similar to the original Bob Kane design while also looking like something a luchadore would wear, and the fact that the cops of the future look like hockey players with colourful uniforms instead of boring black kevlar.
I would've liked Pope to have at least hinted at Batman's identity, but I'm fine that he didn't. I get that it's not so much about the identity behind the mask as the mask itself as a symbol of justice and hope for the disenfranchised and that it doesn't matter who wears the cowl, just that someone wears it and exemplifies the ideals of Batman. The book is basically about Batman fighting the Man in a futuristic setting - dystopian future meets Hong Kong action movie - and that's fine as far as it goes.
I did find the ending a bit silly with Pope using the kind of ending that's been used too many times - Batman tells the baddies that he knows all about their plan and then the Bad Guy says: "How did you know?" to which Batman grins and says "I didn't but you just confirmed it for me". Ugh. It's that smarmy playground-ish kind of ending that doesn't befit the World's Greatest Detective - though it does add credence to the idea that this isn't Bruce Wayne after all as I think Bruce would've figured it out himself rather than guessed.
Overall, Year 100 isn't a great Batman book but it's not a bad one. It has enough in it to make it worth picking up but it felt overlong by half, the ending was disappointing, and there were simply too many unanswered questions that stopped it from being a satisfactory read. It's got some great art and is an interesting Elseworlds concept, but it's not an essential Batman book to read.
Also included is the 18 page short Pope wrote/drew back in 1997 featuring a German Jewish Baruch Wane/Batman in 1939 Berlin, fighting against Nazi oppression in the lead up to the war's outbreak.