Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Batman: The World’

“We nod-off in London or Lisbon or Lima; we wake up in Munich”

DC decided that not enough people around the world knew about Batman, so they commissioned this collection, in which furriners wrote and drew their own Batman stories, set in the countries from which the creators hail. I know, what a concept! It’s pretty cool, even though its limitations are fairly obvious.

Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo begin the book with a framing device, sort of, in which Batman leaves a note on the “dark web” that’s kind of hilarious, given that he’s writing about Gotham being his wife and how her evil has seeped into the world and he’s not going to let her infect other places. It’s typical of Azzarello’s overwrought writing, but it’s mercifully brief, so we can get to the rest of the book, which doesn’t really need explanation. Batman fights crime, even crime outside of Gotham, and it’s only in recent decades that DC has decided that Gotham is his little fiefdom and he must never leave it. The idea of him fighting crime outside of Gotham is not really that shocking (Batman fought “Apaches” in Paris in the late 1930s, for crying out loud), so this book doesn’t need a justification. But DC let Azzarello do his thing, so good for them.

The stories are limited, as I mentioned above, because you can’t really do too much with Batman outside of the regular Batman books. This is true of most comic book characters, of course, but Batman is such a limitless and, weirdly, constricted character that it really comes to the fore in a book like this. On the one hand, he’s limitless because crime is infinitely variable, so you can put Batman into any kind of crime story and he honestly wouldn’t be out of place (even when he’s fighting Darkseid, for instance). On the other hand, Batman can’t change, so the little things that hint at that in this comic – him declaring his love for Catwoman, Bruce Wayne inking a deal with a Polish security consultant – will simply never come up again. That’s fine, but it’s also a bit annoying. So we get creators trying to do unique things with Batman but living with the knowledge that they can’t. This leads to a nice creative tension, but it’s also a frustrating conceit.

The stories are fun. Mathieu Gabella gives us one in Paris, as Catwoman breaks into the Louvre and Batman tries to stop her, but it’s not what you think. If you imagine this set in the DC Cinematic Universe, the “surprise guest” probably won’t surprise you. Thierry Martin has a nice, rough, Frank Miller-crossed-with-Tim Sale style, and the story is fun. Paco Roca gives us Bruce Wayne on vacation in Spain, where he has random sex (go, Bruce!) and checks out his dad bod (unlikely, as it’s unimaginable Batman does what he does even if he’s in peak physical condition, so a dad bod just doesn’t work, but it’s still a funny moment) but still can’t resist doing his Bat-thing. Roca’s art is Cliff Chiang-esque, which works well with the mundane circumstance of the story. Alessandro Bilotta and Nicola Mari take Batman to Rome, where he fights a fascinating character called Ianus (the Roman god of doorways, the one who faces forward and backward) who only speaks in past and future tenses. It’s a nifty time-twisting tale, and Mari’s art is very good. The German story, by Benjamin von Eckartsberg and Thomas von Kummant, features the Joker in Bavaria, and it’s a pretty good Joker story in that he actually has a coherent plan and doesn’t actually kill anyone (he’s like Manson!). It’s funny because the Germans don’t know who he is, and so they’re not pants-shittingly scared of him, which doesn’t really help them. Von Kummant’s digital art is actually quite neat, and this is one of the stories in the book that I’d like to see a follow-up to, as it ends a bit ambiguously. We go back in time to the Cold War for the story set in the Czech Republic, as Štěpán Kopřiva and Michal Suchánek have a story about Commies trying to use mind control to destroy the West. The Russian entry comes from Kirill Kutuzov, Egor Prutov, and Natalia Zaidov, and is rather clever – a cartoonist in Soviet Russia loves drawing Batman, but is conflicted because the newspapers say he’s a capitalist tool, and he grows up confused until he’s able to go to Gotham and see Batman in action. It’s a clever story because it seems like he’s drawing a fictional character, except this Batman is real, and the main character sees news stories about him being replaced by Azrael and the existence of the “Batman Who Laughs,” so there’s a weirdness to the story. Ertan Ergil and Ethem Onur Bilgiç bring Batman to Turkey, where he investigates a smuggling operation. It’s a fine little story, but it ends with … well, I’m not going to tell you, but it ties into one of the dumbest Bat-related ideas of the past 15 years, so it vexed me. Piotr Kowalski, who’s a fairly well-known artist in the States, draws the Polish story, in which Tomasz Kołodziejczak introduces a woman running a security system in Warsaw that is excellent at stopping crime, but she doesn’t want to share the secret of her success with Bruce Wayne, understandably so (wherever Gotham goes, she reasons, the weird evil dudes are sure to follow). This is the story I referred to above, in which Bruce does something that could work well in Gotham, but this will never be referenced again. But it’s a neat story, and Kowalski’s a good artist.

We move to Latin America, and the Mexican story is fascinating, as Alberto Chimal and Rulo Valdés give us a story where Batman is haunted by a strange woman, which ties into local mythology but which is also a mystery for him to solve. Carlos Estefan and Pedro Mauro do the Brazilian story, as Bruce Wayne wants to invest in the country but Batman has to stop some of the corrupt officials who won’t let Wayne money get where it’s supposed to. It’s a nice story, and Mauro has an old-school Mazzucchelli feel to his art.

Then we head to Asia, where the South Korean story by Inpyo Jeon gives us a Bat-suit that can be remotely activated and corrupted, something Batman is able to overcome because he’s awesome. Jaekwang Park and Junggi Kim provide really dynamic, excellent art. The Chinese story, by Xu Xiaodong, Lu Xiaotong, and Qiu Kun, gives us a young girl working in her grandfather’s restaurant and who dresses like Robin to fight against thugs who want to drive out her grandfather so the entire block can be leveled and redeveloped. The twist is that Wayne Enterprises bought the block, which brings it to Batman’s attention. It’s a nice story, and Batman gets to wear a kick-ass suit of armor. Finally, Okadaya Yuichi brings us a manga set in what looks like a pre-modern Japan (there are newspapers, but nothing else that looks “modern”), in which the authorities menace an artist because he draws Batman, a criminal fighting against the injustice of the system. Batman meets the artist, but the meeting doesn’t go quite as planned. It’s a gorgeous story … if you like manga style, because that’s how it’s drawn.

There’s not much else to say about these stories. Batman is a storytelling engine by himself; creators who can’t do at least one good Batman story probably aren’t cut out to be good comic book creators (yes, that’s a harsh assessment, but I stand by it!). But the interesting thing about these stories is how prevalent Bruce Wayne is in them. It’s not a bad idea; Wayne Enterprises would naturally be a multinational corporation, so Bruce would be expected to do business in other countries, but it just shows how neglected Bruce Wayne generally is by writers who work on the two main Batman titles in the States. Bruce Wayne is a fascinating character, and in this collection, he’s allowed to be a character rather than just a prop for Batman. He takes a vacation, does business deals in different countries, and eats at regular restaurants and goes on regular dates. Obviously, Batman is the main character, but his alter ego gets to be an actual person, and the change is refreshing. The best Batman stories are the ones that try to incorporate Bruce Wayne, and it’s neat that so many non-American creators recognize this. Also a bit sad, but let’s not focus on that.

So this is a pretty keen collection of stories. It’s nice that DC did it, and it’s a good addition to your vast Batman-related collection. I mean, we all have a vast Batman-related collection, don’t we?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆


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