Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Batman: Europa Review (Brian Azzarello, Jim Lee)

Batman is infected with the Colossus virus by a mysterious enemy. The clues point to Europe - and he has one week to find a cure. The snag? Joker is also infected and holds the puzzle pieces needed to find it. Batman and Joker must work together to save each other’s lives - tick tock, tick tock! 

Batman: Europa was originally announced in 2004 after Jim Lee was inspired from living in Italy and wanted to do a comic with some of the artists he met in Europe. Jim Lee being Jim Lee (the man never keeps deadlines - still waiting on that finale to 2008’s All-Star Batman & Robin!), the project idled until 2011 when it was re-announced… and then stalled again! Last year the issues finally started appearing and now, in 2016, we have the long-promised book.

Was it worth the delays? I’ll say yes with a caveat. It seems almost churlish to point it out as it’s entirely secondary to the artwork but the story is very weak. On the other hand, the painted art: wow. This is basically a Batman art book and it looks stunning. 

Matteo Casali and Brian Azzarello’s rambling story of Batman and Joker infected with a lethal virus will get called copycat from fans of Arkham City, the 2011 game that utilises a similar plot, except Europa pre-dates it by a number of years - it just came out five years after the game (I wonder if WB appropriated the plot thinking this book might possibly never come out so why waste a good storyline?). 

The “Batman and Joker working together” angle could’ve been better. As it is, the two just hang out together as they barrel through Europe, the hard to follow “investigation” taking them from Berlin to Prague to Paris and finally Rome because those are the places the artists wanted to draw rather than because the plot demanded it. And the reveal of who’s behind it all is also a bit crap - him? Eh… ok? Seems overly elaborate but alright… it’s an ending anyway! 

The artwork though is fantastic. Jim Lee pencils and finishes the first issue, drawing Berlin beautifully, taking the reader through the city’s history. I liked how we learn a bit about the character of each city throughout and how parts of each could be mistaken for the fictional home of Batman, Gotham City. Also, a big hurrah for Lee deciding to ditch his crummy New 52 Batman outfit for the classic Batman look - blues, greys and yellows, winner, winner! Then again, this has been gestating for so long, maybe those pages pre-date the New 52 (which launched in 2011)? 

Superior Spider-Man artist Giuseppe Camuncoli (who also does all of the layouts) draws the second issue which has my favourite art in the book. Seeing Batman and Joker battling mechanical men together in snow-laden Prague is amazing especially when the fight goes to the Old Jewish Cemetery. 

Diego Latorre’s art in the third issue was my least favourite. It’s extremely dark and reminded me of Dave McKean’s work in Arkham Asylum, the book he did with Grant Morrison in the ‘80s. I get why it is that way though as the Colossus virus is weakening Batman and causing his vision to dim, especially as they’re in the Paris sewers anyway. The trippy sequences do give us a truly gruesome Joker which I liked. 

Gerald Parel takes us home with the last issue set in Rome. Seeing Batman and Joker walking to the Colosseum lit up at night was really cool - I guess the clue for where the story was headed was in the virus name, Colossus/Colosseum? That final page aerial snapshot was really something too. 

Batman: Europa’s story was very thin on the ground and ultimately wasted a great concept - it’s a very forgettable tale - though Azzarello is incapable of writing a bad Joker (“My, my, what a pair we are… Heh”). The artwork though is the real star of the book, as it was always meant to be, and that’s the reason to check this one out. A generous three stars for the script, an easy five stars for the art, evening out to four stars overall - quality work takes time to create an Europa was worth the wait!

Batman: Europa

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