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!
I’ve been in a huge Batman mood lately. I’m rewatching Batman: The Animated Series (which hopefully will go all the way to Justice League Unlimited). I also started listening to Fatman on Batman with Kevin Smith and that’s been rekindling my whole love affair with the character. The thing about Batman, for me, is that my interest in him doesn’t stem from the comics. Where I feel in love with the X-Men and Daredevil through the old stories, Batman is a character who encompasses every form of media and I was introduced to through cartoons, movies and video games.
But when I did get into the comics, I got into them hard. I started with No Man’s Land, but then started into the classics, Year One, Dark Knight Returns and the Long Halloween. I haven’t stopped since either, and the amount of Batman comics I’ve read is second only to the X-Men.
But I want to read them again.
It’s been maybe a decade since I read my first Batman comics and I haven’t reread most of them since. Now it’s time to go back. So, I’m going to reread all the old classics, my favorites and the new stuff. Below, is my reading order from top to bottom.
The Man Who Laughs
Quick Looks Part One
The Long Halloween
The Killing Joke
Death in the Family
No Man’s Land
Under the Red Hood
Batman and Son
Heart of Hush
Whatever Happened to the Cape Crusader?
The Court of Owls
Death of the Family
The Dark Knight Returns
I’m reading them in story-chronological, not publication order. This lets me end with the Dark Knight Returns, which seems to make sense for the whole plan. Also, there are some key stories that I don’t feel like rereading because I didn’t like them (Knightfall) or they don’t seem as important (The Cult), but I’m still going to comment on them when they would come up chronologically. This way, I don’t have to get through Grant Morrison’s crap again.
As a note, if you haven’t read them, don’t expect a full summary of the stories. One thing I can’t stand about most rereads/rewatches is that they spend 85% of the text explaining the episode, and then add a quip comment or two.
Also, my lovely wife will be (hopefully) reading them too and commenting. It’s going to be her first time through each of them, so we get another perspective on how the books have aged and other neat bits. So, most likely, this will be a regular (weekly) production on the blog. Feel free to read along and comment as I work through this list.