Thursday, February 5, 2015

Batman: Digital Justice

Batman: Digital Justice
by Pepe Moreno
DC, 1990

It was 30 years ago next month (i.e., March, 1985) that the first 'digital' comic strip, Shatter, was published in the PC magazine Big K............

In December of that year, First Comics released the first issue of a dedicated Shatter color comic book series, which eventually lasted for 14 issues.

Marvel, noticing the high sales of the initial issues of Shatter, hired its artist, Mike Saenz, to produce Iron Man: Crash in 1988. Crash was advertised as the 'world's first digital graphic novel.'

DC eventually entered the digital comics market two years later, with its own graphic novel, 'Batman: Digital Justice.'

As indicated in the jacket flap, 'Justice' was composed on a Mac II with 8 MB of RAM, 45 MB of hard disk space, and a Trinitron 19 inch monitor ....a high-end setup for the late 80s !

Pepe Moreno, author and artist of 80s comics favorites like 'Rebel' and 'Generation Zero', took a year to complete 'Justice.' Given that Moreno was a more accomplished artist than Saenz, and was working with more advanced computing equipment, 'Justice' - not surprisingly - is the better-looking of these early digital comics.

'Justice' is set in the early 21st century; a time when hardly anyone remembers the legend of a caped crusader named Batman. Law enforcement in Gotham City has been modernized, relying on a system of ubiquitous, hovering drones to deter crime and punish evildoers.

James Gordon's grandson - also named James - is a sergeant on Gotham's police force. As 'Justice' opens, Gordon is in plainclothes, and pursuing an illicit drug transaction, when a drone lays waste to perps and police alike.

Outraged, Gordon starts an investigation of the drone's programming, which leads to a direct rebuke from his superior officers. Continuing his investigation through covert channels, Gordon discovers that a rogue AI - the digital embodiment of the long-ago super villain 'The Joker' - is in control of the city's computer network.

Stymied by a bureaucratic coverup, corruption in City Hall, and the deaths of close friends and associates, James Gordon finds himself alone and embattled......

However, when he pokes through some of his grandfather's old files, Gordon comes across knowledge that may turn the tables on the Joker.....knowledge about the legend of Batman........

I won't disclose any spoilers, save to say that Batman - and a reincarnated Robin, and a reincarnated Catwoman - will soon be dispensing digital justice on the evil forces, digital and 'real', besieging Gotham City.

To anyone under 30, obviously the computer-drawn and colored artwork in 'Justice' is going to appear crude. However, if you are willing to make allowances for the limitations of the technology at that time (keep in mind that today's XBox One is a more powerful PC than anything available in 1989), you will find that Moreno succeeds in giving 'Justice' a unique look and atmosphere, and the graphic novel retains its artistic appeal even to the present day.

Copies of 'Batman: Digital Justice' can be obtained for reasonable prices from your usual online vendors (I got mine for $5, from the discount bins at my local comics shop). It's well worth picking up.

1 comment:

William said...

Batman: Digital Justice was one of those comics everyone was pumped up about back in the day, and it was maddening because the graphic novel was wrapped in you had no idea if it was good or not. Was going to be Blade Runner or was it going to be Max Headroom. You just had to put your money down. I still have the comic to this day and while not as good as Dark Knight, it is an interesting story with interesting art from an time before computers made zombies of us all...I guess the machines won after all.