Title: Batman: Year One
Author: Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli and Richmond Lewis
Genre: Graphic Novel
Summary: (from DCcomics.com)
A young Bruce Wayne has spent his adolescence and early adulthood, traveling the world so he could hone his body and mind into the perfect fighting and investigative machine. But now as he returns to Gotham City, he must find a way to focus his passion and bring justice to his city. Retracing Batman’s first attempts to fight injustice as a costumed vigilante, we watch as he chooses a guise of a giant bat, creates an early bond with a young Lieutenant James Gordon, inadvertently plays a role in the birth of Catwoman, and helps to bring down a corrupt political system that infests Gotham.
Why did I read this book: This is essential Batman reading, and I felt doing a read and review here would be a nice lead-in to Batman Begins, and to get us in the mood for The Dark Knight!
Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One is the Alpha of his Dark Knight story arc–as the title suggests, we see a young, 25 year old Bruce Wayne here return from his travels to face Gotham, and to become the Dark Knight. Frank Miller’s ‘reboot’ of Batman proved to be a huge success–this is definitely essential reading for any Batman fan.
Year One opens with Bruce Wayne returning home from his mysterious trip abroad. To the public, he is Gotham’s most eligible bachelor, and he works to maintain his brainless playboy persona. Underneath, however, Bruce is ready to take on Gotham. He has been studying martial arts, and knows that only he, as a vigilante, can mete out the justice that Gotham’s corrupt city officials and police department deflect. Bruce checks into a hotel under an alibi, and goes undercover to the red light district, itching for action. When he is solicited by a child prostitute and her pimp, he springs to action. Unfortunately, for all his knowledge and training, Bruce is still naive–and is taken by surprise when the child prostitute fights back, along with the help of friend and fellow street walker, the one and only Selina Kyle. Bruce, stabbed and then shot in the back by some crooked cops manages to escape to his manor, and begs for inspiration on how to fight back against the injustices of Gotham, and how to strike fear into the hearts of those who would cause fear in others. And he sees it–a bat. It flies before Bruce, breaking through the glass window. And Bruce understands–he speaks, “Yes father. I will become the bat.”
The story also follows a younger Jim Gordon, who has just moved to Gotham with his pregnant wife, Barbara. Gordon is a detective, and a rarity for Gotham–he’s a good cop. He’s assigned to a Dective Flass as his partner, and quickly sees what it takes to be a cop in Gotham as Flass beats up a teen for no reason. Gordon realizes that everyone in power–the Mayor, Commissioner Loeb, Detective Flass, Mob boss Falcone, are all in on profiting off crime in Gotham. Still, Gordon is determined to clean up the city any way he can–with a child on the way, he needs to prove that the world can be changed and made right.
After a while, the notorious Batman and Gordon realize that since so many people in high places seem determined to eliminate them, the only solution is to work together. With cameos from Harvey Dent (who will later become Two Face) and Catwoman Selina Kyle, this is a wonderful introduction to Batman in his younger days. Alpha, indeed.
I love this graphic novel and the introduction to a young, frustrated Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. As always, Frank Miller weaves together a complicated, multi-character plot with ease and finesse. The separate strands of the story, following Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon, and Selina Kyle are deftly handled and braided together to form a compelling look at three fed up characters and how each deals with the injustices of Gotham with the hands they are dealt. For Gordon’s part, he becomes a cop bent on getting Gotham cleaned up and doing things right from the inside out–even if it takes some questionable tactics to get this accomplished. The scenes where Gordon avenges his own attack on crooked partner Flass, and the affair he has manage to make Gordon all the more appealing as a flawed, human character.
Selina, the tough dominatrix fed up with her ragged life, sees the attention and ease that the batman has garnered by evading the cops and electrifying the press. So, Selina dresses up in her own suit, and becomes a cat burglar…and Catwoman is born. Instead of busying herself with ideals or the greater good, Selina’s resolution is more straightforward than Jim Gordon’s or Bruce Wayne’s–she takes what she wants, back from the city.
And then, there’s Bruce Wayne. Traumatized by the murder of his parents right in front of him as a child, Bruce grows up with the desire to get back at the criminals that run rampant, unchecked and without fear in Gotham. Between Gordon’s sense of moral justice and Selina’s complete disregard for anyone else, there is Batman–who strikes fear in the hearts of criminals to uphold justice, but who isn’t honor bound by laws or doing things by the book. What’s even more impressive about Year One, is the equal portrayal of the Caped Crusader AND the man behind the mask. Batman is not some invincible, all-knowing figure; instead we see how more often than not he gets on by the skin of his teeth, and is anything but invincible (even though he might act like he’s bulletproof).
The intertwined lives of these three characters makes for a brilliant story–and nicely sets up the series for further complications.
Although the art isn’t my favorite, there’s something to be said for David Mazzucchelli’s pencils–his sketches are atmospheric, dark and heavy. The coloring is also darker and atmospheric, although, I feel too heavy for my tastes. Still, the overall effect, combined with the noir style prose of Miller is incredibly effective, and makes this an essential buy.
The 2005 reboot of the Batman film franchise, Batman Begins is loosely based on Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One (along with Batman: The Man Who Falls, and other Batman comics). While Selina Kyle isn’t present in Batman Begins, the elements of Bruce Wayne’s darker inner struggle are embodied beautifully on screen. Many other touches, like the corruption of the Gotham City P.D., the integration of mob boss Falcone, and the dogged determination of Jim Gordon draw heavily on Year One, and are faithful to the spirit of the graphic novel.
And the best part? Batman: Year One ends with Captain Gordon, waiting for a certain friend to help him out with a new criminal…who calls himself the Joker.
Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection
Reading Next: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore