The Berlin Batman

by Guest Blogger

Mike T West introduces us to the original ex-bat(!), the Berlin Batman, with illustrations from the original DC comic, reprinted with the kind permission of creator Paul Pope.

Berlin Batman Paul Pope

Meet Baruch Wane. A wealthy painter and Jewish socialite who lived in Berlin during the Second World War. Forced to hide as a closeted Jew after his parents were brutally murdered by racist thugs; this quintessential 1930s Berlin hipster also happened to be Batman.

Baruch Wane by Paul Pope

Elseworlds is a publication imprint, officially started in 1989, which challenges artists to take classic DC comic book characters and reinvent their mythos to create something related and yet totally unique. What if Clark Kent was born in Soviet Russia? Or Lex Luthor was Wonder Woman’s dad? Can you imagine Batman as a vampire, a pirate or a cult leader? Sometimes genius, sometimes downright awful, it is always exciting to see what interpretations will appear (or, at least, it was – the most recent edition hit stands back in 2010).

Enter New York-based artist Paul Pope, who experienced early success as an alternative comic book creator for various large independent publishers. Combining a European aesthetic with manga-style energy, Pope went on to write and draw the ultimate Elseworlds tale, “Batman: Year 100”, published in 2006.

Paul Pope

060627 LVHRD Bi-Fold 093.jpg by D. Robert Wolcheck. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Paul Pope Komissar Garten and RobinHowever, Pope’s first work for mainstream comics appeared in 1998, in the now defunct anthology series “The Batman Chronicles”. The extremely rare eleventh issue saw our hero Herr Wane don his cape once again to retrieve the confiscated works of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises (in reality a known anti-Nazi propagandist) from the clutches of the facist police.

Joining the Berlin Batman on this adventure are his friend, police chief Komissar Garten, and Baruch’s fraulein/assistant, Robin (see what they did there?). Garten is of course unaware of his close pal’s secret identity – one doesn’t want to spoil a bromance after all.

Paul had to say this about the project:

What if Bruce Wayne were a Jew, born into a Germany suffering under encroaching Nazism? That was the pitch. I had just read Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories and George Grosz’s autobiography, both of which paint vivid pictures of this place and time, so it seemed a natural turn of events to imagine a shadowy superhero for that world as well.

The Berlin Batman Paul Pope

The Berlin Batman cover Paul Pope

Ironically, the book’s layouts aren’t even based on German architecture!

The building depicted on the page above is actually a building in Paris, a hotel on the corner of Boulevard Montparnasse at Raspail, near the Luxembourg Gardens. Not very German…

Despite such inaccuracies, the Berlin Batman is a quick-fire, jaunty take on the Bat legend, with a concept so extraordinary it’s a shame that 15 years have passed without a new chapter.

Interestingly, the story is set one year before Batman was actually created by Bob Kane, who was in real life of Eastern European Jewish descent (connect the dots, nerds!), and is former Presidential candidate Ron Paul’s all-time favourite comic book.

I strongly suggest you support your local comic store and seek out the fantastic “Year 100” book, in which the Berlin Batman tale is also collected. I have purchased it many times, both as an introduction to non-comic book fans and as a “Berliner” myself.

Perhaps one day the Dark Knight will return to protect the streets of Berlin, one Späti at a time…

Berlin Batman epic Paul Pope