Batman Europa is a series that appears to not have much depth into it. The responses to this book range from lukewarm to boredom. I guess the burn out from waiting for Jim Lee turned people off. That and the fact that the book appears to have not much going for it. At first, I could understand this sentiment. These are two characters with over seventy years of history. Like lions and hyenas, Batman and Joker are eternal enemies. That history is rich because it has ranged from one of the iconic enemies that even non comic reading know about to interpretations where they were a couple!
I think Europa is one of those books that one can enjoy if you don’t have too many expectations. Granted, I would love a novel length storyline that peels away at their layers. “Death of the Family” and “Endgame” are two notable examples from recent times that showed that Batman and Joker’s dynamic is more than just enemies. However, Joker not really leaving a lasting impact in DOTF (not killing anyone in the ‘family’ or doing something that has a wider effect aside from Batman).
This is where I think Europa has its strengths. I see each city as a representation of their dynamic/association/relationship/bromance. Having the series start in Berlin made sense. Cold War references aside, it is a city that has a strong militaristic history which could easily represent out Dark Knight. Yet, Berlin also has a history because it represents that divide between the East and West. That is why Book 1 didn’t really surprise anyone. We know that these two are opposites but the writing’s strength is in the symbolism. It reminds me of Morrison’s ‘Arkham Asylum’ in that the story looks straightforward but the references that are there are more than just window dressing. What I am saying is this: Berlin represented the divide between Batman and Joker just as it was home to the Berlin Wall.
Part 2 brings us to Prague during its own version of Mardi Gras which is called ‘Masopust’.
While not quite subtle, having Book 2 set in Prague during the festivity serves as a purpose.
Masopust is a celebration just before Lent and it emphasizes ‘eat, drink, and be merry’. It is a carnival with ceremonies, horse masks and gorging. It is topsy turvy. We encounter a group of wooden robots who attack our ‘team’. I noticed that the robots weren’t exactly the type you would see at Epcot. They aren’t sophisticated. In fact, they are quite primitive. We do know that our mysterious foe who wants to kill Bats and Joker has some finances but we don’t know if it is the Czech economy or because our villain is tight with his peněženka. Whatever it was, I saw this as a reference to something ‘outdated’ and ‘primitive’ and since these robots appeared during a festival where everything is upsy daisy, I saw this as commentary to a ‘revolution’ in the Batman/Joker dynamic.
Right of the bat (heh), the Dark Knight mentions Karl’s Bridge. This landmark is notable because it was a significant trade route between East and Western Europe. In the beginning, Batman makes a reference to the ‘Prague Spring’ of 1968. A quick history lesson, the ‘Spring’ was supposed to be a time when centralization was dissolved and there would be more freedom especially in press and speech but as history and Bats note, those dreams were deferred. He makes a reference to its division. It was esteemed for its high arts and intellectualism only for it to be crushed by martial law. Okay, the dual symbolism there isn’t subtle but the story’s punch isn’t in its history but in its use of allegory. The duality and the topsy turvy aspect of the Book come to a grind when Joker actually saves Batman from a giant robot that is on fire. Batman notes this begrudgingly.
Each city represents a phase in their changing dynamic. If Berlin was the Black and White divide, Prague turned it upside down. Book 3 which is set in Paris looks very promising. It is the City of Lights. It is also called ‘The City of Love’. Either way, I foresee some cooperation between the two.