Today, Drew and Michael are discussing Batman: Europa 3 originally released December 30th, 2015.
Joel: There is another character that was just as important as the two of us: New York City.
Karen: So New York City is like another character?
They Came Together
Drew: Everyone has heard the old “setting as a character” cliche from some exhausted press tour interview, but filmmakers rarely acknowledge that cities aren’t fully fictional. That is, calling Chicago a character in The Fugitive is a bit like calling John F. Kennedy a character in Forrest Gump — these are real things (albeit fictionalized versions of them) that our fictional characters just happen to be interacting with. Moreover, if we accept the “setting as a character” cliche, it only ever reveals the setting to be a supremely boring character, undergoing no change over the course of the story. Indeed, because stories that tend to feature “settings as a character” tend to stay in just one city (I’m looking at you, New York), it’s impossible to separate the “character” of the setting from the general tone and mood of the narrative. Batman: Europa sets out to do the opposite, a kind of city character study — or perhaps “travel guide” is more accurate — by way of a superhero adventure.
This issue’s city-of-the-month is Paris, and finds Batman and Joker hitting all of the highlights: the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Montmartre are mentioned by name, and the catacombs and Notre-Dame feature as major settings. That’s not bad for a single day in the city of light, though a Parisian might turn their nose up at the emphasis on tourist attractions. The Joker addresses this exact sentiment in his introduction to the city, cutting down virtually all of those landmarks.
In doing so, he’s basically playing on the anxiety of any travellers in Paris — anxieties that we’ll come off as uncultured and ignorant in a city that is famously derisive of such traits. Can you enjoy the Eiffel Tower without worrying about what real Parisians think of you? Can you enjoy the Louvre without feeling guilt over how much of the collection came to France in the first place?
Grappling with those issues may actually be more essential to the experience of traveling to Paris than snapping a photo of yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower might be, so its a smart move to emphasize it over the landmarks themselves. More importantly, writers Matteo Casali and Brian Azzarello dig into the psychology of Parisians, offering a portrait drastically different from any we’ve seen thus far in the series. In this case, it’s the existence of a kind of cult of personality around the Joker. It’s an idea that’s been picked up in Gotham before, but resonates a bit stronger in France, which tends to be a bit more suspicious of authority and rules. Seeing how Batman and Joker’s struggle is variously interpreted by these cities not only brings out their individual characters, but draws our attention to the American lens we normally view them through. Batman is a hero to us, but feels a bit fascist in France.
Unfortunately, as with the previous instalments, we don’t spend quite enough time in the city to truly ruminate on those differences, opting instead for a kind of quick sample of what that might be like. It’s a bit like how we tend to travel in Europe, hoping that hitting all of the major landmarks and eating a few local delicacies can give us some sense of what a city is all about. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach, but with a creative team that clearly has a handle on what makes these cities tick, it’s hard not to be left wanting more as they skip on to the next city.
Speaking of the creative team, Diego Latorre handles the finishes, lending this issue an otherworldly ambiance that matches the setting and Bruce’s creeping delirium perfectly. Don’t get me wrong — I loved Giuseppe Camuncoli’s work on the first two issues (and Latorre is working from Camuncoli’s layouts here), but I think a drastic change of art style between cities really drives home the character those cities impart to the story. It looks like this trend will continue, as Gerald Parel steps in on finishes as the story moves to Rome next month, which I couldn’t be happier for. If nothing else, this series is turning out to be a fun introduction to artists with drastically different styles.
Michael! I’m hot off of a holiday trip to Paris, so forgive me if I’m over-excited about this issue. Did it strike a chord with you, or is all of this “setting as a character” stuff as boring to you as it usually is to me?
Michael: Drew, I love your examination of the rare acknowledgement of fictional characters in real cities or vice versa. On a very small scale it’s like a real world/fiction crossover. And while I don’t necessarily begrudge the fact that Spider-Man hangs his hat in New York, I’ve always preferred how DC’s superheroes live in fictional cities. Gotham, Metropolis, Star City, Coast City, Hub City, Opal City: totally made-up cities with totally made-up names. I love it. Clearly there are countless pieces of fictions that have taken place in real world cities. However I think the interaction of superheroes with those locales makes for a more interesting interaction than the city of Chicago in Drew’s example of The Fugitive. It’s more interesting because with superheroes (and more to the point superhero comic books) everything is exaggerated and heightened to another level; which is the appeal of Batman Europa.
That appeal of Batman Europa is what readers are basing the price of admission: the promise of premise. The premise of Batman Europa 3 is: “Batman and Joker are dying of a virus and have to join forces, all set across the backdrop of Paris.” With that kind of setup it’s hard not to have your curiosity piqued, right? Unfortunately Batman Europa 3 (and the series overall) skates by on a plot that might not have escaped heavier scrutiny had it been set in Gotham City. To reiterate Drew’s praise, I’d say that the huge shift in artistic style from Diego Lattore’s finishes absolutely suits Batman Europa 3. Here are a couple of comic book faults of mine that I’ll admit to you. 1) Grant Morrison typically is in my brain when it comes to Batman stuff (particularly the Joker), so Lattore’s art really made me think of Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth – which itself was inspired by gothic artwork. 2) I often place too much importance on the script of a particular comic and allow the penciling, inking and coloring to go by the wayside. I am human; I am flawed. Batman Europa 3 is a book that is heavily driven by the style of the Lattore’s artwork – the saving grace of the issue as far as I’m concerned.
If Brian Azzarello and Matteo Casali are the advertisers of Batman Europa 3 then Lattore is the guy who closes the sale. The Joker’s Parisian contingent of avant-garde followers, Batman’s creeping descent into insanity and the mystery “Batjoke” villain at the issue’s end are each heightened by the dreamlike nature of Lattore’s work. The expressionist style that Lattore employs throws the reader into a state of confusion that probably benefits the more horrific elements of the issue. When Batman and Joker find the body of “The Trojan Horse” – the man they assume has infected them – it’s a ghastly scene. You can’t tell precisely what’s happened – other than some removed lips and likely stabbing – but it’s an image that makes a point and underscores Batman’s monologue of “no killing.”
Going back to what I said earlier, Batman Europa 3 is a comic that gets by on the promise of its premise. Azzarello and Casali have some interesting concepts and ideas but they never really explore them in an engaging way. Diego Lattore is the hero of this particular Batman tale.
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