Eric: Batman: Year One was written by Frank Miller and drawn by David Mazzucchelli. After Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams brought Batman back from camp into the darker realism of his original intent, Miller pushed it even further. While O’Neil’s Batman was a return to grounded form, it was still a superhero that could exist in a world with Superman and Wonder Woman. Miller’s take on the character in Year One is a character that works best away from all that. Gotham is gritty and shares more in common with New York City circa the 1970s. While Superman is mentioned, his kind has no place in this world.
What struck me first, while rereading this book, was that most of what I remembered from this was in the first issue alone. Jim Gordon beating down Flass, Bruce getting the crap kicked out of him his first night out and the iconic scene of the bat breaking through the glass, these all happen in part one of four. I don’t know why these specific moments have stuck with me so long. Maybe it’s the idea of Gordon showing the corrupt cops he’s not to be taken lightly that gave me respect for the character. Maybe when I first read this, I couldn’t believe Batman was ever green enough that he would get hurt against a pimp and a twelve year old. I was only seventeen or so when I got Year One for Christmas, so my experience with the character in comic form was still limited by three or four books.
Kendra: This is the first real Batman comic I’ve ever read. Before this all I knew of Batman was what I’d seen in the movies and animated shows and the few times he has popped up in Birds of Prey. I had seen the Batman: Year One animated movie so I knew basically what they story was about. It’s very interesting to see Gordon and Batman’s characters before they became what we know them as. It never even occurred to me that there was a time before Gordon became commissioner. It’s new to me seeing him as a flawed character. I’m so used to seeing him as the only non-crooked cop in Gotham so it was surprising to see him do something immoral (cheating on his wife). I hated it but I suppose they did it to give his character more depth.
Eric: The rest of the comic, beyond the first issue, is still great. Batman fending off the police, working with Harvey Dent, jumping off the bridge to save Gordon’s son, these are classic moments. When Batman Begins came out, I was knocked back by how much like Year One it was, down to specific scenes. When Christian Bale, dresses as Batman, summoned a swarm of bats to escape Gotham’s special unit, it was like the comic panels were made into motion. The idea that Batman must become a symbol of fear, rather than just a man, is presented here as not something that Bruce realized right away. He learns the hard way that he needs something extra to truly fight crime his way. It’s a testament to the comic and the movie that those concepts worked so well.
Kendra: I like how parallel the stories of Gordon and Batman are. They both are just starting their new roles in Gotham, they both fail miserably at their first attempts at justice, They both have to find ways to make people fear them, and they ultimately end up forging the friendship we are all used to seeing. Its great storytelling.
Eric: I’ve never picked up on the fact that Gordon needs to learn to use fear to fight his battle. It makes the comparisons even stronger. What I’ve always noticed though, even back when I first read it, is that Year One is Jim Gordon’s story. While Bruce/Batman still has the title and own the major scenes, it’s more about Gordon coming to Gotham and taking over the police force. Batman has the criminal chain, Gordon has the corrupt cops. But Batman doesn’t really have to contend with Gordon’s presence, where the latter must to the former. Batman becomes an element that Gordon must either confront or join, and that is just as important to his success in Gotham as taking out the dirty commissioner.
Kendra: After reading Year One, I thought “wow! Gordon should get his own movie or something!” Low and behold here comes the show Gotham. I hope it does a good job but you never know, we all thought Agents of SHIELD was going to be good and look what happened there. I have hopes though. Anyway I liked the focus on Gordon. I feel like it should have been called “Gotham Year One” or something because most of the focus was on Gordon.
Eric: It’s amazing to me how well this comic still holds up, almost thirty years later, and more than ten years since I first read it. Because of the tight writing and gorgeous art, nothing seems wasted. What needs to be told is told, with all the fat trimmed out. If there’s one element I don’t think works quiet as well as I once did, it’s the inclusion of Catwoman in the story. It’s still good, no question, but it does seem like an idea that you could cut and not lose anything from it. But it’s still gravy over the best turkey I’ve ever had, so I shouldn’t complain. I don’t even feel like I’m overstating the quality. It’s not for no reason that this was considered canon for Batman’s origin for three decades, no one wanted to even attempt this again after Miller hit it out of the park. I will say that I’m sad to see it go from continuity, as I am with most New 52 decisions. However, I’ve enjoyed most of Scott Snyder’s Batman work, so I’m excited to see what Zero Year brings to the game.
Next up, Batman: The Man Who Laughs!
Having just talked about the differences I see between Marvel and DC comic books, I started thinking about what comics helped form my fandom. I didn’t just start out as a Marvel fan and go from there. There were certain books and characters that brought me to where I am today. These comics were the ones that won me over!
Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men
These were the first comic books I ever read. In 2000, the X-Men movie was coming to theaters. I had only ever seen a few episodes of the old animated series in the 90s, but I remembered enjoying them. My library had a small, but respectable graphic novel section back then and they had the first three volumes of Essential X-Men, each including about two years worth of issues. I devoured these books. Claremont’s run on the X-Men still stands as my favorite era of the X-Men. I know fans like to point to Days of Future Past and The Dark Phoenix Saga as the best parts of his time on title, but I don’t think the other stories get enough credit. Wolverine and Nightcrawler going against the Wendigo, the Brood Saga, the first few fights between the new X-Men and Magneto, Proteus and Alpha Flight, these tales are what got me into comics. Back when I started, I knew nothing about these characters and I was discovering things as I read these early issues. After a few years, when I had searched across the internet and encyclopedias, I had learned all the stories and secrets and the older stories had less appeal, but I never stopped loving this run. With Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, Kitty Pryde and Rogue as the main cast and my favorite team, these brought me into a whole new world.
I could go on forever about the X-Men, but I’ll hold myself back. To get back to my main point, this series and run got me into comic books and that was the first step to becoming a Marvel fan.
Stan Lee’s Amazing Spider-Man
The same library that had the first three volumes of Essential X-Men also had six volumes of Essential Spider-Man. While I was really only interested in the X-Men, I figured I’d give Spider-Man a try. Where as Chris Claremont’s X-Men was during the late seventies, Stan Lee’s Spider-Man was at the dawn of the Silver Age in the early sixties. It didn’t have the large, ensemble cast of the X-Men, but it had superheroics at it’s early best. Spider-Man was a constant drama that kept me interested in Peter Parker’s social life as much as his hero career. It was fun seeing all his villains come into their identities and seeing the best of superhero cliches form on the page.
The X-Men tend to hang out on the fringe of the Marvel universe, but Stan Lee’s Spider-Man introduced me to it properly. This was the series that not only introduced me to the title character and his supporting cast, but also to the Human Torch and the Avengers. This showed me there was a world beyond the X-Men, and one even beyond Spider-Man.
Frank Miller’s Daredevil
I started reading Frank Miller’s legendary run on Daredevil a few weeks after I saw the movie. At the time, I really enjoyed the film. It was only the fourth Marvel film I had seen back in February 2003, so standards were still being formed. But it did get me reading the character and Daredevil became a quick favorite of mine. Miller introduced me to a a darker side of the Marvel universe; one that was grittier and street level. This wasn’t the world of super powered mutants or the skyscraper battles of Spider-Man; this was the life of a blind superhero who’s villains were above the law and hid in the shadows. Daredevil’s problems weren’t social, they were psychological and the women in his life were out to kill him. At times, he felt like Marvel’s answer to Batman, but he was different on many levels that he stood strong on his own. I read every thing Frank Miller wrote with the character and loved the worst of them.
Daredevil was the beginning of my alliance. He was another character that I enjoyed, in the Marvel universe, and the world was getting bigger all the time.
Joe Kelly’s Deadpool
I almost decided not to mention Deadpool because, when I started reading him, he was still considered a character that belonged to the X-Men line. He’s since ventured out to have his own place in the Marvel universe and he brought me along with him. I bought the entire run of Joe Kelly’s work on the character in one purchase and I read the whole thing in a week’s time. Spider-Man was funny, but Deadpool was hilarious. This was the first comic that made laugh so hard that I cried. But it was also dark and treated Deadpool like a real character who was trying his best to be a hero, even though he would never reach that rank. The character has since become more of a joke machine than a real person, but Joe Kelly made Deadpool a layered, flawed and laugh out loud character.
Deadpool showed me that the Marvel universe was goofy at times and not afraid to make fun of itself. I still haven’t read a DC comic that can make laugh as much as Joe Kelly’s Deadpool did.
Dan Slott’s She-Hulk
I started reading this run on the character because of the rave reviews and I kept reading it because they were right. This book had the humor of Deadpool with the Silver Age flavor of Stan Lee’s Spider-Man. Taking place in a superhuman law firm, Dan Slott made me a fan of She-Hulk, who was fun, strong and and smart enough to win her cases in court. With guest stars from every reach of Marvel, I also discovered some Z-list characters I had never heard of before.
This was another series that expanded my view of the Marvel universe, showing me the scope of characters as well as tone, and helping me understand the difference between camp and fun.
Fabian Nicieza’s Thunderbolts
This was the first time I read a comic book based off of characters I had no connection to; Deadpool was from X-Men, Spider-Man is known by all, and She-Hulk is the cousin of my favorite Jade Giant. But the Thunderbolts were made up of a bunch of villains I hadn’t heard of before! Blizzard? Atlas? Songbird? A non-Simpson’s Radioactive Man? But the first year of Nicieza’s rebooted run on the Thunderbolts was classic in tone, with the heroes finding themselves with their backs against the wall. What I loved back then was that they were villains trying to make good and the concept was new to me (since I had yet to read Suicide Squad).
Thunderbolts proved that I could enjoy a variety of Marvel comic books. Not only about superheroes, but the bad guys that inhabited the universe. Thunderbolts (with the help of She-Hulk) gave me a foothold for the weirder concepts of Marvel, for less than popular characters and for the tone and atmosphere of the modern Marvel landscape.
Mark Millar’s Civil War
Up until this comic, I was still very selective about which comic books I was reading. But after the Marvel Civil War, I was trying to read everything. This was the first major comic book crossover that I read, outside of the X-Men line. It introduced me to the modern versions of Iron Man and Iron Man, got me reading series like the Punisher and Moon Knight, made me interested in Black Panther and Thor, and got me picking up titles I had dropped like Spider-Man and the New Avengers. The concept of Marvel heroes going against each other over identity rights changed everything and set the universe up for a very focused story arch. When the smoke cleared, I was ready to expand my horizons to characters I had never heard of and try new things. I was in the trenches of Marvel.
Unfortunately, I can’t get into every comic that helped make me a Marvel fan. I didn’t mention The Ultimates, which got me into the Avengers cast, or Ultimate Spider-Man, which grew with me, or any of the Hulk, Exiles, Runaway, Doctor Strange or Young Avengers comics I was getting into, or the mini-series like Infinite Gauntlet, Annihilation, Age of Apocalypse or Marvel 1602. The point I tried to make is there are certain, landmark titles that helped create the Marvel fan inside of me, and many more that kept me that way.
Make Mine Marvel!