I had low expectations for Europa for many reasons. One of which is that it was originally announced way back in 2004 and again in 2011 only for it to be mysteriously removed from the monthly solicits. Hard to imagine that was five years ago.
I still had this attitude when I picked up my copy. Overall I was pleased but I am hoping that it will pick up in the upcoming issues. #1 was a set up but I think that Azzarello and Lee focusing on Berlin had intriguing artistic merit.
The basic story is that Batman has been infected with a virus and he teams up with the Joker to solve the mystery. The summary pretty much give us the plot. At this point you wonder what is the point of reading it? The set up and story felt flat but upon a second reading, I began to see it as a story that focuses more on symbolism than something heavy handed. I was worried that the primary selling point was Jim Lee’s on point pencils but I think ‘rushed’ feel was done to, ironically, make us slow down and look at the details.
Batman Europa is part Road Trip and part History lesson.
The Cold War themes not withstanding, Berlin’s history as a divided city stands as an appropriate metaphor for the Batman/Joker dichotomy that Lee and Azz are going to explore. I have never traveled to Germany (yet) and I do not sprecken ze Deutch but what I got was that Berlin was the starting point because of the reference to the Berlin Wall. The Berlin wall which fell down in 1989 (coincidentally that was the same year that the 1989 Tim Burton film came out) represented the divide between East and West Berlin and in history it is seen as a symbol of the ‘Iron Curtain’, that is the divide between East and Western Europe. This was made obvious when Dark Knight commented: “Colln and Berlin crashed into each other sometime in the fourteenth century. History forced them together. I get the joke but I am not laughing. And neither is anyone else. I see to that….with politics. Persuading walls….to crumble.”
Maybe I am being delusional and maybe I am letting my fanfiction fantasies run wild but could this be another attempt to add nuance to the Batman Joker dichotomy? Given the strong and largely positive reactions to Death of the Family and Endgame, maybe, just maybe this project is an attempt to recreate what makes this hero/villain combo so fascinating.? In a time when moral relativism dominates politics and everyday conversation perhaps it is time to reinvent this pairing. I am not saying that Batman will start ‘understanding’ Joker’s murderous tendencies’.
Noting the bold use of the word ‘persuading’ tells me that Batman is aware that there is more to his ‘relationship’ with the Joker than just the black and white hero and villain dynamic. This concept is not new but using the Berlin wall as a reference point suggests that there are possible changes a coming. What exactly they are remains to be seen but given what we have seen in recent months and years with Death of the Family and Endgame, we will see Batman and Joker interacting on a more personal level.
Another thing that stood out to me was the name of the seedy night club Kabinet Kaligaris. This is a reference to ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ which is a famous German silent horror film that was part of the German Expressionist era’. It is a film that deals with conformity and authority and the unwillingness to challenge it. It stared Conrad Veidt which as any Joker should know was the actor who inspired Mr. J in his other famous film ‘The Man Who Laughs’. Germans, at least in the U.S. are often stereotyped as being very frigid and cold. That is an apt description for the Dark Knight himself.
Yet, Joker himself represents another part of Deutschland. His second appearance in the book involves him singing to his hostage, a hacker named Nina. Joker sings ‘Underneath the lantern, your computer screen….Darling, I remember something that’s never been, Tho you may sob your sad denies, you catch more shhh not many flies, my lil one of the lamplight, my own silly Marlene!’
Marlene Dietrich was and still is a notable actress from the era of old Hollywood Glamour and in German silent films. Madonna is said to be a very big fan and for good reason: Marlene represented sophistication, glamour and she broke gender barriers when she wore pantsuits which became the fashion craze in the 1930s. She constantly reinvented herself. I see this as a nod to Joker himself who has been reinvented but always had the same elements that made Joker Joker. He also one of the few characters who doesn’t always conform to the gender binary. This is why I think Azz and Lee chose Berlin as the first part two the Europa series. It is not so much a plot driven story but a character driven one.
In Death of the Family, Batman’s extended family were chess pieces in Joker’s game. Endgame was Joker’s extended temper tantrum. Europa, it seems, will be about the two of them engaged in a more personal dialog free from outside influences. So far it looks promising.