Le Retour du Batman de Clichy-Sous-Bois

Posted: 11/09/2010 in Comics
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I should have written this yesterday, but I got sucked into a marathon of The L Word. David Hine, who is actually responsible for creating Bilal on the writing end, swung by the blog to clear up where he got the idea from (ie; not my favourite action movie ever) and share some insight into how it came about:

Rather than use the obvious choice of The Musketeer as the new French Batman, I wanted to come up with the kind of hero I would want to see in a comic book if I were French. The process of developing a story is complex and there are all kinds of things I looked at. The urban unrest and problems of the ethnic minorities under Sarkozy’s government dominate the news from France and it became inevitable that the hero should come from a French Algerian background. The Parkour element was maybe a little obvious, but it fitted very well with the concept of a hero from the streets. Clichy-Sous-Bois, as you point out, is the flashpoint for rioting in Paris, so again was the obvious location for Bilal.

What I love the most here is the starting point, that Hine wanted to create a character that people in France (who aren’t Jean-Marie Le Pen) would want to read about. (I think that given the success and prominent place in pop culture that Banlieue 13 occupies and the runaway critical success of The Prophet– which swept the 2010 Cesars and was France’s entry for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars- suggests he’s correct). That’s something that every writer, both professional and aspiring can learn from. Even the most well intentioned creators wanting to diversify often fall short by not fully engaging with the places and people they’re trying to evoke, which my friend Richard recently expounded on in regards to Grant Morrison in the CBR forums. I’m not saying Hine good, Mozza bad here. More that here’s Morrison doing what he does best by providing the framework to greatly diversify the DCU in an exciting and fresh way with Hine stepping in to take advantage of the opportunity in a way that Morrison probably would not have capitalized as well on.

I’ve talked enough about the metafictional context of the character, though. What I’m keen on today is trying to figure out as much about Bilal as I can from what little has come out so far, so let’s head back to one of the leaked concept images:

The most interesting thing here is the difference between 16 and 22. I wasn’t quick enough to see the original DA post, but at one of the forums who got a hold of the story first there was mention that the change in his hair from the shaggier look to the severe buzz cut had something to do with an important event during that time. My initial thought is that he cut his hair in order to pass more easily in white society, which is likely, but the bigger question is what event made him decide to suppress his Algerian heritage, or at least a prominent physical marker of it. It also seems like he got into parkour sometime around sixteen judging by the gloves, but became far more dedicated sometime between then and 22 as his pre-Nightrunner adult look screams what Jake Kane refers to as “high speed, low drag.” A lot of heroes over the years have had finger gloves, elbow pads, and knee pads but it looks to me like Bilal may be pretty much the first one in history to actually have good reason for it. Parkour is a great way to blow out a knee.

Bilal seems like a very pragmatic kind of guy. There’s no indication of him being flashy and the pads seem to indicate he’s a calculated risk taker. He may be a traceur, but I doubt he leaps without knowing exactly how and where he’s going to land (barring unforeseen circumstances). From his background in parkour to his codename and costume, Bilal seems to owe far much more to Dick Grayson as Nightwing than he does Bruce Wayne as Batman. His distinctive bat symbol that expands from his chest to his shoulders and the domino mask like detailing on his hood recall Dick’s modern Nightwing costume. It kind of makes me wonder who it is that’s going to France to meet Bilal. Hine told me that his brief was “… to take Batman to another country as Bruce Wayne sets up the global franchise of Batman Incorporated.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that it’s Dick as Batman who goes to France, not Bruce. All there is to do now is wait until Detective Comics Annual #12 hits the shelves. I’ll be counting the days.

  1. Oh, wow. That’s the first I’ve seen of that concept drawing. I absolutely love the designs. Partially because I love Dick as Nightwing or Batman especially, and the standard Nightwing costume is my favorite of all time. Parkour is something I’ve been interested since my early teenage years, but I’ve never been able to get into, for a couple of reasons. I very much hope that we get a lot of use of Bilal outside of Inc., he’s got a lot of potential.

  2. […] wanted to create a character who tapped into France’s zeitgeist and current events.  Over at Emma Houxbois, Hine had this to say: Rather than use the obvious choice of The Musketeer as the new French […]

  3. […] Hine recently explained his decision to create Bilal Asselah as a character on Emma Houxbois’ […]

  4. […] than use the obvious choice of The Musketeer as the new French Batman, I wanted to come up with the kind of hero I would want to see in a comic book if I were French,” […]

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