Batman: Year One

Batman: Year One
Author: Frank Miller
Illustration: David Mazzucchelli
Originally Released: 1987

Digital Release: 2012
Purchased on iBooks

Frank Miller is a writer who does not reinvent well known comic book characters- changing everything about them. He simply makes their origins more believable and their experiences more grounded. Batman: Year One is another one of Miller’s masterpieces. Sure, you have a grown man dressing up in a bat costume who leaps from building tops and who can take down thugs with precise blows; but Miller shows that there is so much more to the character than pointy ears and a cape. Frank Miller goes into great detail by describing what Batman is thinking as he confronts his first-ever group of thieves and it doesn’t go as planned, or as he tries to escape from a swarm of SWAT team members with a bullet in one of his limbs as the sun begins to rise. And it’s not just Superman who saves helpless cats. Batman’s first year as a crime fighter is very eventful and one that should not be missed.

There are two main characters who each act as their own narrator, describing their side of the story. One of the two characters is highly intelligent and physically sound Bruce Wayne/Batman; and the other is experienced, strong-willed Lieutenant cop from Chicago named James Gordon. Both characters’ stories are fascinating, as is the relationship that slowly emerges between the good cop and vigilante. Neither will stop until every crooked cop and member of the Mob are apprehended and the streets of Gotham are cleaner. The Batman is a symbol of fear to those who do wrong; but he can also be a symbol of hope, turning people’s lives around for the better (e.g. Jim Gordon).

Bruce’s story is deep and full of sadness, revenge, and optimism. In the beginning he is skilled and knowledgeable on how to fight crime, but he is lacking something that should set him apart from the people of Gotham. This thing he is lacking gets him in a bind, and leaves a deadly wound. As he pleads to his deceased father, on the verge of death while sitting in his Manor: “I’d rather die… than wait… another hour… I have waited… Eighteen years… since the walk that night. Since all sense left my life. Without warning it comes… crashing through the window of your study… and mine… it frightened me… as a boy… frightened me… yes father. I shall become a bat.” Using a symbol and personal tragedy, Bruce takes on the mantle of changing his city for the better.

Jim Gordon’s story is full of hopelessness, unfaithfulness, and determination. Being the only good cop in the department has its pros and cons. Rivals send threatening messages that even the corrupt police commissioner turns a blind eye to. Gordon’s example proves that one man can make a positive difference and even earns him the trust of the up-and-coming Dark Knight.

The Pros: From the very beginning of the book you are quickly informed that Gotham City is a disgusting mess, with high-ranking officials who care only about bringing the city down the drain with them. Even the setting is perfect, starting off on a bitter cold January day. The double narrative helps the reader develop intimacy with the main characters by knowing what they are thinking and feeling. The illustration is simple yet apt. For example, I was impressed with how realistic Batman’s muscles were depicted as he clung to the side of a building.

The Cons: It is very difficult to find flaws in such a story. At first I had a hard time seeing Jim Gordon treat his pregnant wife, Barbara, a certain way; but for the sake of the story it added flaws to his character that were redeemable in the end. I suppose Frank Miller could have done more with Harvey Dent, Selina Kyle, or even Alfred, but their roles were fine the way they were. The ending was a downer only because I wanted to read more about how Batman and now-Captain Gordon were going to take down the villain who was threatening the city’s water supply. That is a story for another day.

The storytelling is rich- Bruce Wayne rich.

Jer gives it 5/5.

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