Sunday, 18 October 2015

Batman: Digital Justice

Released in 1990, Digital Justice had lofty ambitions. Not only did it claim to be revolutionising the way comic art would be created, but it also predicted that it would, in time, be counted alongside the likes of Blade Runner and 1984 as an immortal classic of dystopian sci-fi. 25 years later, we can see that though computers are used by a lot of comic artists, they're used to create traditional 2D art, rather than the 3DCG type art that features in Digital Justice (which has aged like a banana in the years since its publication), and obviously, it's been pretty much completely forgotten by everyone whether as a sci-fi story in its own right, or even just as a notable Batman story. If anything, it feels more like the equivalent of a straight to video action movie starring Rutger Hauer or Chistopher Lambert than any serious addition to the sci-fi canon.

The story revolves around James Gordon, GCPD detective, and grandson of the Commissioner Gordon we all know from regular Batman stories. He finds out about a secret conspiracy causing the armed flying robot drones that have replaced most of the police force to assassinate various targets around Gotham, with their actions covered up. While investigating these events, James also finds the costume of the original Batman, given to his grandfather as a gift by a retired Bruce Wayne. Various events lead to his picking up a good-hearted street punk as his Robin, and together they eventually find the batcave, which is being run by an AI program written by the late Bruce Wayne, who gives them both fancy high tech costumes to fight the enemy behind the drone murders: another AI program, written by the late Joker, that controls all the other computer systems in Gotham. Obviously.

The story isn't great, but it's about on par with most of the "Batman in a different setting" Elseworlds stories that would follow it throughout the 90s, but what really sticks out is the artwork. The whole reason for this comic's existence is that it would be the first ever comic with completely computer-generated artwork. More specifically, the artwork is a combination of computer-coloured 2D artwork, which actually looks a lot like the Judge Dredd and Sinister Dexter stories 2000AD would print in the late 90s with computer coloured artwork, so I guess you could say it was ahead of its time in this aspect. There's also a lot of 3DCG artwork, which looks pretty much how you'd expect 3DCG artwork from 1990 to look. Very low poly, lots of purplish-grey cuboids with jagged edges, and the represntation of The Joker's AI program is a bizarre jumble of simple 3D shapes. It's good that DC were confident enough to push the boat out on this, but it's definitely more of a piece of experiment art than it is an attractive aesthetic item or an effective narrative work.

I don't really think I can recommend Batman: Digital Justice. There are a million better grim cyberpunk dystopiae to enjoy in pretty much every medium, and you can go to youtube and see many more attractive and imaginative works of early 3DCG. It can remain a historical curiosity, something that could never have been made at any other time.