Kids, do you like Batman gritty? Do you like it so gritty that the Dark Knight and his surrounding mythology is single-handedly transported back to 1972, where the porno theaters and nameless muggers were still dime a dozen in Gotham City, and its images were required to be accompanied by whammy guitar music?
Italian comic book artist Francesco Francavilla has embarked on some brilliant, retro concept art for a radical reinvention of Batman, his allies and the rogues’ gallery on his Tumblr. Our knee-jerk reaction would be to compare his work to films like The French Connection, Shaft, Death Wish and Serpico, but really they are an incredible homage to poliziotteschi, a subgenre of crime dramas inspired by the popular American ones—but with the sleaze and violence dialed up to 11. Francavilla appropriately hails Batman 1972 “The Best (& Grooviest Comicbook) [sic] of 2013 (that didn’t happen).” I’d be hard-pressed to think of anything to challenge that, and even without an actual series and standing alone as pop art, it sings one hell of a high note.
Note the fashion of Batman—trench coat for a cape, turtleneck, cowl. Perfect 70’s fashion, and it’d fit right in with the big-name Italian designers who would suit up them up.
Francavilla’s work echoes that of Brian Azzarello’s 2008 graphic novel Joker, where the Clown Prince—now just another street punk, complete with the mouth scars Heath Ledger popularized in The Dark Knight—emerges from the walls to take his city back.
Here, the Joker is a .44 Magnum-packing hired gun with a deviant mind full of indescribable sexual and violent urges. That blank face, period-appropriate feathered hair and flamboyant shirt says it all, doesn’t it? Surely, Helmut Berger would be your man to play this degenerate criminal.
A Pam Grier type in a Catwoman costume? Well, why the hell not? Dangerous and hard as FUCK. Feminism straight from a Jack Hill picture.
Francavilla’s Riddler is an aging sum-bitch with what looks to be facial elements of Dr. Hugo Strange. Not sure if it’s just the artwork, but maybe he’s just a bald dude in a pimp coat who likes stumping his victims.
I don’t know whether to peg Jim Gordon as a cynical flatfloot or the same person, bottling up his pessimism for the sake of Gotham’s finest. I love that the easy way wasn’t taken out for Gordon, and he has this studly Paul Williams/John Lennon thing going. The plainclothes fit like a glove on the man and his glorious mustache.
The Batmobile—no fancy toy bullshit, missiles, guns, smoke, super-speed. Just an ass-kicking, customized Dodge Challenger-type piece of American muscle flexin’ itself around Gotham.
I saved the best for last:
Two-Face alla Francavilla, complete with an uncanny resemblance to Franco Nero and his bushy mustache still intact on the burned-over side.
Francesco Francavilla’s work is mesmerizing, ambitious stuff that transcends its niche concept by buying into it and cluing in on a “realistic” Batman world that even makes Christopher Nolan’s brilliant film series look far-fetched. Francavilla posted a second wave yesterday titled GROOVIEST COMICBOOK OF 2014? (let’s hope it happens).
I do, too. DC Comics deserves an arresting take on one of their most famous characters with this kind of scope and eccentricity. I sincerely hope we’ll be seeing this as a comic, be it physical or digital, rather than just a Tumblr post in the coming months or years.