The thing about Ed Pinsent’s Illegal Batman – released during a period in which the Batman character was enjoying a cinematic resurgence – is it bears enough familiar hallmarks within its parodying nature, that, given the right push, could certainly have seen it exist as an officially licensed offshoot – albeit a very, very weird one.
Recalling Peter Bagge’s Startling Stories: The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man (which was officially sanctioned by Marvel in 2002) whereby our hero has turned his back on crime-fighting and has given in to corporate greed, Illegal Batman also presents itself as a kind of “What if?” take on a flagship hero. What if, rather than Batman – who is referenced directly as “Batman” in just one panel – being the world’s greatest detective, he spent days on end procrastinating over life and death cases, finding inspiration from dinosaur-themed park rides (edit – Ed directly informed me that this is actually an easter egg, referencing the 1946 tale “Dinosaur Island”) and then solving said crime with the aid of a magical beam which can transfer his entire being onto wall facades. Well, that’s exactly what he does!
Wrapped within its own internal sense of logic (this is nonetheless a superhero tale, so we’ll go with it), Illegal Batman paints a strangely endearing scenario, fitted with notions of existentialism and skewed justice, without bordering on pretension. A charming 20-page story, Pinsent’s pacing for the dramatic is spot on; there’s enough mild twists to keep the reader second-guessing the plot, which provides a humorous juxtaposition between action and inaction, with a denouement you never really see coming, thanks to the writer’s oddly poetic rules.
Fashioned in arguably crude but thoughtfully laid out black and white panels, Illegal Batman’s narrative is tightly handled and adheres to the idea of less being more. Modern DC and Marvel finds itself these days struggling with exposition, preferring to rattle on with dialogue, rather than have the visuals tell most of the story; it’s almost a lost art form itself within the realm of comics. There’s little here by way of internal monologue or deep back-story. Instead, Pinsent writes the book as if it were a small fairy tale, a whimsical “once upon a time”, where each panel is assigned its own small sentence or statement, effortlessly depicting the passage of time and therefore eschewing the need for senseless padding. Aesthetically reminiscent of the German expressionist silent-era, Illegal Batman tells the reader all it needs to and nothing more. It’s a comic, which in contrast, shows us why the – mainstream at least – industry is dying today. Perhaps the big guns need to look to Illegal Batman for guidance. Just don’t expect him to reply any time soon.
This review is taken from Ed Pinsent’s Illegal Batman reprint from 2017. Limited to just 50 copies, you can still find available issues via Ed’s own website HERE.