Webcomic Wednesday: Illegal Batman by Ed Pinsent
Deconstructions of the Batman, even excellent ones, are nothing new, but I’ve never seen anyone or anything break it down to the molecular level and reassemble it into a wondrous and haunting new form the way Ed Pinsent does in Illegal Batman. Or should I say the way Ed Pinsent did—though it’s now available for viewing and download on his website, Pinsent made this comic in the pre-Internet, extremely Batman-heavy days of 1989. And yes, it’s as unauthorized as a bootleg Batman t-shirt from roughly the same time period, but you’d have to be a very, very strange reader to mistake it for the real thing. In Pinsent’s hands, and in his warm and shaky black-and-white line, Batman becomes an avatar of inaction — he takes days on end to do nothing but think about each clue before he acts — and un-action — he arrives at the scene of the crime, eventually, by transmitting himself through the air as a sort of thoughtform-cum-lightbeam, the usual physical process of being Batman completely eschewed. His arrival at the criminals’ castle headquarters is in the form of a graffiti-like mural they unsuccessfully attempt to efface from the walls; when he finally materializes physically, his body has somehow been painted white, and he must lurk in the shadows to regain his customary dark coloring. He’s here to save a young mother who, the criminals have informed him via a VHS tape mailed to the Batcave, has had her face carved off in front of her confused children for reasons apparent to no one. But Batman sees through the ruse, and reveals to the woman that she is in fact whole and intact. She asks him for answers, asks what his happening, asks where her children are, and his non-response is a bullet to the heart of the Batman mythos: “The damage is done. We cannot solve our sadness. Remember that…We cannot solve our sadness.” And yet, when he and the woman re-materialize in the Batcave after dodging a days-long siege by an army of “strong-arms” and briefly becoming a constellation in the night sky, her children — now labeled “his children” for reasons unknown — are with them. For all the tough-guy posturing and grim’n’gritty iconography of the original, Illegal Batman reveals the central tenets of the Dark Knight idea: a gossamer fantasy of the possibility of justice, a form of contemplative comfort in a world that too often provides no comfort of its own.
Sean T. Collins