Part Parody, Part Paradox – Ryan Alves’ “Moustache”

“Why, sir —” long-suffering butler Alfred inquires of Bruce Wayne in Frank Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns, “—whatever happened to your moustache?”

Providence’s Ryan Alves is out to do a lot more than flip that query on its head with his recent AWE Comics newspaper broadsheet Moustache, though — and while it may not always be clear what his ambitions and aims are, his atmospheric blend of rich black inks, cinematic panel compositions, well-placed washes (or a digital approximation thereof, at any rate?), intricate linework, and good old-fashioned improvisational drawing at the very least marks this as the best-looking “Bat book” to come down the pike in ages, certainly better than anything DC seems even capable of producing with the “real” thing. Which brings us to the big question, namely —

So what is this early-days story featuring the most thinly-veiled analogue for the Caped Crusader ever seen, then? A revisionist take on Batman : Year One? A deconstruction of the character from the POV of the “alternative” comics scene, a la Josh Simmons’ Mark Of The Bat, or its “sequel” drawn by Patrick Keck, Twilight Of The Bat? Straight parody, perhaps? Or something else altogether?

In truth, elements of all these things are present and accounted for, but there’s also a curiously respectful tone for both the character and the archetypes he at first glommed onto, then finally came to represent. There’s a confused, frightened, vengeful little rich boy inside Alves’ cape and cowl, a violent thug who maybe — needs a hug? As well as a shave, of course.

Look, let’s not kid ourselves : Batman is a ridiculous character, a bored “one percenter” with an axe to grind who decides to get even with the world for taking his parents away from him by dressing up in leather fetish gear at night and beating the crap out of people who are mostly poor and desperate and who, crucially, had nothing to do with the murder of his folks. There’s an awful lot that can be said about such a person, but — while my own “sample size” of their recent-years product is small — DC hasn’t really had the guts to say it. Nor will they as long as the property is worth, on its own, probably well in excess of a billion dollars. It’s not just that they can’t afford to take risks with Batman, though — no, it’s more the case that they can’t even acknowledge how utterly warped the core concept always has been and remains. There’s a forced state of denial in “real” Batman comics that’s entirely out the window here, and while Alves clearly has his tongue planted firmly in cheek in many of the scenes in this refreshingly simple and straight-forward narrative, he’s not taking gratuitous potshots or utilizing his satirical skills purely in service of grabbing low-hanging fruit. He’s just kinda telling it like it is, admitting that the whole notion of Batman is equal parts cool and camp (or maybe cool because it’s camp), problematic and promising (at least as far as telling a very particular type of story goes), fascist and, dare I say it, funny. By refusing to dwell on anything overly much he’s able to offer succinct comment on everything about the character just enough, and the resultant reading experience is something that somehow manages to poke a bit of fun at Batman while at the same time hewing rather closely enough to traditionalist takes on the character that it doesn’t come off as particularly mean-spirited. It’s a weird and heady mix, not entirely easy to describe (as you’ve no doubt surmised), but for all of that — or maybe because of all of that — it really works. And again, it sure doesn’t hurt that it’s so damn gorgeous to look at.

Classify it however you wish, then, it makes no particular difference to me, as it comfortably fits into any number of categories depending on one’s own reading of it — all I know is that it’s the best Batman comic in ages. Even if it’s not, strictly speaking, a Batman comic.

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Moustache is available for $10.00 from the AWE Comics storenvy site at https://www.storenvy.com/products/29875687-moustache

Review wrist check – Monta “Atlas” GMT blue dial model riding a Bond NATO from Crown & Buckle’s “Supreme NATO” line.

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