Batman: Year One 1

The Birth of the Batman

The rumours are true. I pretty much have every Batman comic that is considered current canon, so you could consider me a fan. For OneDayRetro, I’ve decided to run through each of and retro review everything one-by-one.

What better place to start than with the one graphic novel that you are pretty much guaranteed see in the Top 3 of every Batman Graphic Novel ListBatman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli.

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Welcome to Gotham City

This ground-breaking story from 1986 follows Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham from a hiatus in training after the death of his parents. At the same time, we see Jim Gordon’s first year on the Gotham Police Department. Batman: Year One shaped the way that Batman comics would be written from that point on, but does it hold up after nearly 30 years?

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The Dark Art of Batman: Year One

The artistic style in the Batman: Year One is truly fantastic on a number of levels. It has a dark, realistic tone throughout which really helps to cement the book in the grounded world that it takes place in. Mazzucchelli absolutely nails this one.

As the story progresses and Batman makes a difference within the city there is a distinct colour tone shift. It literally brightens up the pages. Batman: Year One begins dirty and depressive, but by the end there is a luscious orange glow to the panels – a visual representation of the good Batman is doing. This meta-visual story telling is definitely one of the strongest parts of an already strong book.

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Frank Miller Redefines Batman

Up until The Dark Knight Returns, Batman was known mainly as the camp TV character from the Batman ’66 show. Whilst the TDKR drastically changed the public perception of Batman in 1986, Batman: Year One builds upon it’s foundation. The spiritual sequel to The Dark Knight Returns helps to explain exactly why the TDKR is the way it is.

Year One’s author, Frank Miller, said ‘why would the Gotham City from the 66 show even need a Batman, the police are all kind and good hearted?‘.

It’s this ideology that drastically shapes the storyline. Almost every high ranking member of Gotham Society is corrupt, and that is why Batman must exist.

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Why Does Gotham Need Batman?

Bruce is tired of his city. After years of training, he wants to make a difference to Gotham from the ground up. Feeling overwhelmed by the task ahead of him, he doesn’t know where to begin his mission – until one fateful night. After going out to fight crime in the seedier parts of Gotham, Bruce is severely wounded and hunted by the GCPD.

As he lies dying, Bruce receives an omen. From here, we see him mould the myth of the Batman throughout the next 4 chapters of Year One, growing into the character we love.

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What it Takes to be a Cop in Gotham City

Jim Gordon on the other hand is tired of life. He initially sees the Gotham City police as a means to an end, a way to support his wife and unborn child. If that means taking a few bribes, well…

However, after seeing the good Batman does for Gotham, Gordon also takes it upon himself to shape the city. From this point on we see Jim Gordon become the light counter-point to the Dark Knight. In a beautiful piece of parallel storytelling, once Jim understands the depth of Gotham’s corruption, he too starts from the ground up – by taking on his fellow officers.

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Call Me Lieutenant

The great thing about Batman: Year One is the moral shades of grey that it’s characters inhabit. The most obvious example is while Gordon claims to be morally incorruptible, he falls for a co-worker, even going so far to share a kiss with her. Whilst a lot of people hate this element of the Year One story, I actually view it as one of the stories strongest plot points – showing nobody is truly moral in Gotham.

Gordon will stop at nothing to do the right thing, even if it has the potential to ruin his life. By confessing the affair to his wife, Gordon leaves himself able to operate without fear, the very thing Batman is attempting to instill in his own enemies.

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The Nine Lives of Selina Kyle

Selina Kyle also has her own Year One arc, chronicling her journey towards becoming Cat Woman. However her plot was later retconned as DC didn’t really want a prostitute as a flagship character. I don’t really know what to say. It is a Frank Miller story, I suppose. Miller and his prostitutes. What is he like?

It has to be said that the moral ambiguity throughout Year One does ramp up the element  of realness in the book. These characters aren’t friendly Disney-type cotton candy characters, they’re multi-faceted with dark personalities, doing what they have to in order to survive.

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“Ladies. Gentlemen. You have eaten well.”

Even after 30 years Batman: Year One still holds up. While there are some weird turns (especially with Selina), the book has a really great, consistent and uplifting tone to it – rare for any Batman book really.

It would later go on to influence huge elements of Batman Begins and should really be seen as a jumping off point for many people wanting to get into the comic side of Batman. Whilst it isn’t perfect, and I prefer the Dark Knight Returns out of the two, this book definitely deserves it’s moniker as one of the best. 9/10

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About Paul Tweddle

Paul is not the hero that one day retro deserves, but he's not the one it needs either. After watching his VHS tapes gunned down in the street (thrown in the bin and replaced with DVDs), he vowed never to let an old piece of media suffer the same fate. Paul is the Head of Development at Get Connected.

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