Over a decade after it was announced, Batman: Europa finally debuted in late 2015. For some folks, like fellow AiPT! contributor (and object of my undying disdain) David Brooke, it was well worth the wait.
For those who like reading collected editions, they had to hang on for a few more months. This week, all four issues of Batman: Europa are finally being released as a hardcover (or digitally for your Kindle).
Is it good?
Batman: Europa Vol. 1 (DC Comics)
Batman gets infected with a lethal virus. The Joker gets infected with a lethal virus. Both men have one week to work together and find a cure somewhere in Europe. Hijinks ensue.
That simple premise offers a wealth of possible narrative directions, both good and bad — but you have to give credit to writers Matteo Casali and Brian Azzarello for coming up with a reason for the two arch nemeses to work together that made sense—in superhero terms, anyway.
From there, the story vacillates between exceptional, tired, and just a hair shy of contrived. The ‘tired’ part might not be fair since this is technically a story from Bruce Wayne’s past. Still, much of his opening dialogue and demeanor felt like stock ‘I Am the Night’ Batman. The Joker has also gone through some significant changes over the last ten years, making this version of him seem a tad too predictable—which is a really strange feeling to have about this character.
Thankfully, Casali/Azzarello’s script provides some really great moments between the two adversaries. Just when it feels like they’re going through the motions, one of them will pull out a genuinely hilarious one-liner or chilling observation. The decision to occasionally switch to the Joker’s viewpoint was also a nice (and welcome) touch.
The trip to Europe itself is rife with historical details. If you’re one of those weird people like me who actually enjoyed history class in high school, you’ll dig it. Otherwise, I can imagine it growing a bit tiresome after a while. Even I started to get annoyed with the constant attempts to make the current narrative parallel the real world past. Sometimes the book seemed so busy trying to sound smart or clever that it forgot to move the story forward.
When we finally discover who is behind the virus, it’s a genuinely cool reveal. Even better, the villain has forced Batman into an impossible situation. Batman’s immediate victory (which we all knew was coming) is achieved in a way that feels a little cheap. The moral quandary, however, leads to a viscerally horrific solution and some fascinating introspection…which, once again, is resolved in a manner I didn’t really care for.
Still, I appreciated the journey. The dialogue alone made the miles worth it.
I had initially planned to pick up Batman: Europa in single issues, but decided not to once I discovered that Jim Lee would only be drawing the first issue. No offense to the other artists, but as a 90’s Marvel kid, I was only interested in this series for my artistic hero’s work.
Now that I’ve seen issues #2-4, though, I feel kind of bad. Giuseppe Camuncoli, Diego Latore Relancio, and (especially) Gerald Parel did some truly outstanding work. That’s not to say it didn’t have its problems. The decision to make things look more fevered and abstract as Batman and Joker’s conditions deteriorated was cool, but it occasionally ventured from being an interesting aesthetic into ‘What the hell am I looking at?’ territory—particularly when it came to the action sequences.
All of it, however, was absolutely beautiful, especially the various landscapes and landmarks of Europe. Europa’s artwork may not have been well suited for fight scenes, but it was still gorgeous to look at.
Is It Good?
Eh…mostly. This isn’t your typical Batman vs. Joker story, which works to both its benefit and detriment. We get to see some great moments between the two while they embark on a journey that never feels quite as dire or dangerous as it should. Framing it all is some wonderful artwork that doesn’t always match the story, but is still beautiful in any context.
In the end, I’d say this is definitely a story that hardcore Batman fans should pick up, if only for the great art and Batman/Joker interactions. Otherwise, the more casual reader can probably skip it—unless you want to see a beautiful portrait of Europe through two very demented perspectives.