REVIEW: Batman: Europa
Our newest contributor, Alex Giannini makes his debut on the site with a review of a Batman miniseries that just finished up not too long ago.
FIGURES AND MORE REVIEWS………
It’s a good time to be a Batman fan. Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s also good time to be a fan of a generation-specific Batman, which is a pretty unique thing in comics. Right now, DC is publishing a number of Batman books (obviously, right?), but those books manage to span an impressive breadth of eras and even allow readers to choose from a number of different Batmen.
Looking for a smart and cohesive, longstanding run on the character? Great, because Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are giving us the best New 52 title in their instant-classic run on the flagship book. Or maybe you don’t shiv, and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight is a bit more up your (crime) alley? Cool, because we’re two issues into Dark Knight III: The Master Race, which picks up where Mr. Miller left off in his seminal reimagining of the Bat Universe. Produced alongside the tremendous talents of Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert, this next chapter of the Dark Knight’s tale has generated incredible buzz inside comics shops and the story, so far, is delivering. On the other side of the spectrum entirely, we’ve got Study Hall of Justice, the new all-ages book produced in conjunction with Scholastic that sees a school-age version of Bruce Wayne. But maybe you’re looking to actually be Batman? Again, DC’s got you covered thanks to the massively popular Arkham video game franchise.
Oh, and there’s this little Zack Snyder-helmed movie coming out in just about two months that looks like it’ll probably be a pretty big deal.
So, yeah, simply put, there’s a Batman for every Bat-fan out there.
And that’s where Batman: Europa comes into the fold. This series, which was announced seemingly forever ago, was released with a decent amount of fanfare towards the end of 2015. Giving readers a “classic” interpretation of the characters—a Bruce Wayne Batman who’s been at this for a long time but seems to be in the prime of his crime-fighting life and a Joker who’s as crazy as ever—the series also manages to put its characters in new and interesting locales all over (you guessed it) Europe.
On the surface, this book was a no-brainer for me—a must-buy at the ol’ comics shop on its day of release. Written by Matteo Casali and Brian Azzarello, and featuring a really unique and spectacular mash-up of artists I adore (including Jim Lee, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Gerard Parel), Europa is a beautiful book, from start to finish.
Incorporating inventive panel layouts and painterly finishes, there’s a very cool combination of dynamic super-hero pencils and truly distinctive coloring that gives Europa a look that’s different from anything else currently being published by DC or Marvel.
The premise is also fresh and thought provoking, as both Batman and Joker have been infected by a mysterious and life-threatening virus by a mystery antagonist who’s behind it all.
Admittedly, there are times when the dialogue gets a bit too comic book-y, with Batman and Joker flinging clichés at each other once every couple of pages, but I rationalized that away by assuming the stilted, unnatural conversations were due to the deadly virus coursing through their veins.
Because they’re both infected with the same illness, the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince have no other choice but to work together to save themselves.
In and of itself, that’s a pretty great hook, right? An intriguing elevator pitch for a series, and one that proved to develop into an interesting 4-issue mystery that I looked forward to each month. That said, the resolution to the conflict was one that I had a hard time with.
So let’s just cut to the chase, and SPOILER ALERT the heck out of this next paragraph.
Each issue takes its time to set up the location of the story—giving us Batman’s brief history lessons on places like Rome and Paris—and each does a good job of slowly ratcheting up the tension until each of the first three issues ends with Batman and Joker talking about where they’ll be going in the next issue.
Heading into the series’ fourth and final issue, I knew what was going to happen. The mysterious big bad would be revealed, and somehow, Batman would find a way to save both himself and The Joker. Because that’s the right thing to do.
Well, it’s in the final issue that the creators throw a very tight-spinning curveball at us, first by introducing Bane as the shrouded-in-shadows string-puller behind the whole thing, and then by revealing that while Batman and Joker are both dying from the virus, they’re not the same strand of virus.
In short (and, honestly, after a little too much exposition from Bane), we find out that, basically, Batman’s blood is the antidote to Joker’s illness and Joker’s blood is the antidote to Batman’s. There’s some back and forth, and Joker does his best to get killed by Bane before Batman steps in and beats the crap out of the hulking mastermind.
And then we get down to it. Batman is presented with a chance to rid the world of The Joker. And, more than that, the Dark Knight wouldn’t have to break his “no killing” rule. If Batman would just let the virus run its course and kill him…Joker dies. This is Batman’s Great Big Out, where he finally has the chance to rid the world of the horror that is The Joker, while still sticking to the moral code that has guided him since the deaths of his parents.
Toss in the October Surprise revelation that Joker watched (and laughed) while a character from issue one died, and it really pushes the Dark Knight to make a tough call.
There’s this deep philosophical question facing Batman here, and of course, he decides to save himself and vows to always be there to stop The Joker. Batman simply cannot justify what is, essentially, suicide, and so he saves Joker and Joker saves him. Only, we, as readers—and, you have to assume, Batman—we all know that there’s no way the Caped Crusader can ever hope to stop Joker without killing him. As long as Joker breathes, blood and horror will follow.
So is Europa another Batman/Joker caper where the good guy wins, or does the Clown Prince get the last laugh?
The series ends with Batman pummeling Joker, and enjoying it, which opens up all kinds of other questions. But the series very literally answers the biggest and most existential question that has forever hung over Batman’s cowl—can the Dark Knight live in a world without The Joker? Or are the two dependent upon each other for their very survival—or, more precisely, for the justification of their existence?
When Batman drinks Joker’s blood (no, really) and Joker does the same with Batman’s, the answer is abundantly clear.