Batman: Year One, by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli — a comic book review

Batman-Year_One_(cover)

 

I went about this, as they say, all bass-ackwards.

I watched the 2011 DC Universe Animated Original Movie version of this first. This was the one in which Ben Mackenzie, who would go on to play Jim Gordon in the television series Gotham (now wrapping up its final season), provided the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman and Bryan Cranston was Jim Gordon. As I recall, I liked it.

Batman: Year One originally appeared in print in 1987 in the comic book title Batman, issues #404-407. This was during the “dark” years when I wasn’t reading comic books at all, so I missed this at the time. This four-issue run was written by Frank Miller and drawn by David Mazzucchelli. I was familiar with Frank Miller then because of his run on Daredevil (and his Wolverine mini-series, among other things). Now, of course, everyone knows Miller, who did The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City and 300. Plus, he’s now a screenwriter, film director and producer.

Miller handled the writing duties on this one, but Mazzucchelli’s artwork pairs well with Miller’s writing. I often found the art reminiscent of Miller’s own.

This is another take on the Batman origin story. Rather than beginning with the deaths of Bruce Wayne’s parents, the story recounts the actual beginning of his career as Batman, which happens to coincide with Jim Gordon’s transfer from Chicago to Gotham City. Bruce is returning home to Gotham, having spent more than a decade abroad training in martial arts and science. At the same time, Selina Kyle, who is apparently a prostitute and dominatrix, develops her identity as Catwoman.

Gotham City, as always, is corrupt to the core. Gordon learns this while Bruce makes rookie mistakes on his way to becoming Batman. I love the way this run binds the storylines of Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon together. Both men are on their way to becoming something else. At the end of this story, Bruce Wayne has transformed into Batman, and Gordon is promoted to captain of the GCPD after being instrumental in ending the career of corrupt Commissioner Loeb. Familiar Batman characters Carmine Falcone and Harvey Dent also figure into the plot.

I liked this more than I did The Dark Knight Returns, believe it or not. The inexperienced Batman is a more relatable character to me, as is the younger, idealistic Gordon. I’m not the biggest fan of this take on Selina Kyle, but I can live with it. I prefer to think of Selina as primarily a thief, not a prostitute or S&M aficionado. Although that goes a long way to explaining the whip.

This work is credited as influencing at least part of Season 4 of the series Gotham, and I can see that. However, I believe Batman: Year One, along with The Dark Knight Returns, probably inspired the entire series, not just a season. As the television series lopes towards its conclusion, I find myself wishing it had taken even more inspiration from this story. Gotham would have been a better show if it had begun exactly as this book did, with both Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon as adults, arriving at Gotham City (or returning, in Bruce’s case) at exactly the same time.

It’s not too late. Maybe there’s another Batman show in our future.

I like this one. I know it’s more than three decades old at this point, but great job, Frank Miller.

Firewater’s Comic Book Report Card: A

A

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