Ladies. Gentlemen. You have eaten well. You’ve eaten Gotham’s wealth. Its spirit. Your feast is nearly over. From this moment on—- none of you is safe.
Last week I reviewed The Batman Chronicles, Volume One, a compilation of Batman’s original adventures (1939-40). Our second retro-review of Batman looks at Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s post-Crisis account of the hero’s first year.
Title: Batman: Year One
Writing: Frank Miller.
Art: David Mazzucchelli, Richmond Lewis
Bruce Wayne returns from years of training and takes on the identity of Batman in order to avenge his parents’ death by ridding Gotham City of crime and corruption.
Year One draws parallels between the stories of Bruce Wayne and James Gordon, characterizing both as flawed men with heroic ideals. Each makes mistakes and poor choices, and yet both rise above these. As in the original Batman stories, they only gradually become allies and friends.
The internal narration often works well, but it becomes excessive in places, unnecessary. Narration which shows Wayne/Batman’s mind at work—as in his early walk through Gotham’s east side—later becomes a repetition of content and ideas the art has already communicated.
Originality: 4/6 Obviously, Miller revisits and revises a tale that has been around since 1939. Comics had also been leading to this point; Miller’s own Dark Knigh Returns led the way. However, this represents the first time a mainstream comic-book icon—one of DC’s Big Three—had been depicted in such a dark manner, within official continuity.
Artwork: 5/6 Art and story create a gritty (that overused word) world that’s as close to the real one as Batman can get (a world with a higher level of verisimilitude would preclude Batman’s existence). Not even the film adaptations can match it in this regard. He also does an excellent job of using small details to convey characters’ attitudes.
Characterization: 6/6. Miller’s greatest success may not be Batman, but James Gordon, who finally becomes a developed, interesting character.
Miller also gives us a new look at Selina Kyle.
Emotional Response: 5/6. Year One‘s comic-book world has unmistakable power.
Flow 6/6. Miller and Mazzucchelli work together to keep coherence accross several connected plots.
Overall: 6/6 Miller understood how to keep the story and its protagonist dark while still maintaining his nobility, his heroism. This isn’t just dark, and it’s a far cry from his recent All-Star Batman and Robin and some of Miller’s other more excessive projects. Scantily-clad prostitutes are kept to a reasonable minimum, and Batman has attitude without declaring himself “the goddamn Batman.”
In this story, we’re looking past the darkness. We’re seeing a deeply troubled world that wants to believe in heroism again.
In total, Batman: Year One receive a score of 38/42.
I wonder about the wisdom of having Gordon come so close to uncovering Batman’s identity. Of course, he would– but it’s like Clark Kent’s glasses. We have to nod at some things in superhero stories, and the story itself shouldn’t call undue attention to the fact.
Cindy Newell fleshes out Catwoman’s story, touched upon in Year One, in Catwoman: Her Sister’s Keeper
Tune in next week, same battime, same batchannel, for Batman: The Long Halloween.