Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sexy Batman: Why I Love Kate Beaton

Like all right-thinking men, I have a bit of a crush on Batman. It's not that I love the comics that much -- as best I can tell the continuing Batman series is a bit of a mess, as with most continuing hero titles -- and it's not that I'm all that into the Christopher Nolan movies, either. The Joker was great in The Dark Knight and beyond that I don't think it's aged very well: it's a not-very-smart person's idea of a smart Batman story, one that strips away all the fun and weirdness and replaces it with a very "gritty," very "realistic" sort of action movie. I will continue to go on record as much preferring the Iron Man movies. Probably the best incarnation of Batman I know, and the one where I fell in love with the character, is Batman: The Animated Series, which was on for some time during my most formative years. The mix was perfect: it's grim and serious in the way a cartoon about a guy named Batman can be, without insisting on its own seriousness to the point of becoming a farce all over again.

I mean really what I love at this point is the idea of Batman. He's so serious! If you are a bad guy, he will get you. And put you in prison. And then you'll get out like ten minutes later and do it all again. Don't think about that part too much! His worst enemies are a clown, a guy with a messed up face, a dude called The Penguin, and a lady dressed up like a cat. And why does he fight them? To avenge his parents' untimely murder. Also, he is a detective. And but also, he knows kung fu. I mean you have to understand, this is pretty much the guy I would design if I were going to make up a super hero so awesome no one would ever believe him.

And Kate Beaton's got his number. I think the joke here began as a bit of revenge for the absurd contortions lady comic book characters are put through in order to look "sexy," and it still works on that level, but there's also the figure of Batman himself: add one more contradiction to the pile (he's not just ultra-masculine, now he's self-consciously sexy) and the absurdity of it all blows up wonderfully.

The best part, I think, is the clear affection with which Beaton treats poor sexy Batman. He's absolutely a figure of fun and mockery, but you can see the love in not only the humor, but the lines themselves. Her art started out a little rough, though very charming and lively, and has since developed an elegant, controlled goofiness that makes her characters feel very alive.

She started out doing mostly comics about history, but has since branched out to book cover comics and general silliness. I guess she gets a lot of e-mails saying "Wow, you're a girl! That's weird, 'cause you're so funny!" Which is really too bad.

I love the silliness of her jokes. She draws some of the funniest cartoon butts in history. (She drew Sexy Batman's butt in the link provided above, trust me it is hilarious.) A lot of her characters make the goofiest faces -- check out Harley Quinn in Sexy Batman strip 2, with her crazy duck lips and silly eyes. By posting several related strips at once, she can often build a decent gag into a great one -- check out her Gatsby comics to see what I mean. I like that she's not above just doing a gag, going for a larf.

You see a lot of "silly" humor these days, I think, that's really better described as random. Take Family Guy, every comedy fan's worst enemy: they're silly in the sense that stuff happens for no reason, in the sense that the world is usually revealed to be a senseless, cruel, crass place. I much prefer Beaton's good-natured approach: it's not that she hates these characters and it's not that she wants to make them suffer arbitrarily. She'll take an easy laugh, sure -- but not a cruel one.

So yeah, basically her comic is a good time, I think you should read it.

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