Batman Year One – Trade Paperback, 1987.
Written by Frank Miller, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, colored by Richmond Lewis, and lettered by Todd Klein.
A good number, if not the vast majority, of readers coming to this volume will have been exposed to enough Batman through various media, to have a reasonable idea of the character and his story. And interestingly, this volume seeks to add very little to that. In 1986 DC’s Editorial Board decided that their three biggest players, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, needed to be updated for the modern reader. For Superman and Wonder Woman this meant a revamp on their origins, but for Batman the task was harder – his origin story was already strong and had stood the test of time. Altering it would be potentially damaging to the character and alienating to the fan-base. Step in Frank Miller tasked with creating a story true to the original at the same time as bringing something new and exciting to print.
What we get then is a great, if well-known origin story, done in such a way as to make it fresh and interesting without making massive changes to the original idea. This has the effect of making it both appealing to long-time fans and accessible to new ones, and is definitely a great gift for those looking for way into Batman comics.
The setting, Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham and his subsequent launching of his Batman identity, is the beginning of his journey and as such requires that the villains are various members of the police, local government and crime bosses, whose corruption rules the city. This being the case, we are treated to an added dimension, the arrival of Jim Gordon in Gotham and his struggle with the corruption he faces around him that will eventually (beyond the scope of this volume) lead to him and Batman becoming allies. This setting and these criminals work well in establishing why Batman was needed in Gotham before the advent of any counterpart villains.
Wayne’s preparations to become Batman are interesting, though they may feel a little dated compared to more recent incarnations of the same. Even so there is enough of the new here to maintain interest, in fact this is moreover the origin story of three characters, Batman, Gordon and Catwoman, with arguably Wayne’s as the least interesting for the fact that it has been told so often. Gordon’s storylines of his move to Gotham, conflicts with his colleagues and extramarital romance and concerns over he and his pregnant wife raising a child in Gotham are gripping. They also ground and juxtapose the fantastical element of Batman’s story, showing what living in Gotham is really like, as well as the opposing elements of Gordon’s despair and Batman’s promise of hope. This can also be said of the inclusion of prostitute Selina Kyle’s origins as Catwoman, which is a great asset to this volume. An enjoyable story which shows her creation as reaction to the appearance of Batman, which is always something intriguing to touch on in Batman lore – whether his very existence is responsible for the creation of many in his vogue’s gallery.
Visually, it’s gritty and dark – very reflective of the story and writing and also of the Gotham in which it is set – a bleak, future-less city of desolation. My only criticism would be that some of the lettering, where made to look like handwriting, is incredibly difficult to read and on at least one occasion I had to give up on deciphering part of a sentence entirely.
In summary, considering we’ve had two massive Batman screen incarnations in the form of Michael Keaton and Christina Bale since this was first issued (and noteworthy is the fact that many elements in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy are drawn from this volume), Batman Year One stands the test of time as an excellent telling of aspects of the origin of Batman. It has the added dimension of paralleling Wayne’s journey with Jim Gordon’s arrival in Gotham, which is just as interesting and revealing a story as Batman’s and lays the tracks of their future working relationship. And the further inclusion of Catwoman is fantastic. The Joker teaser ending is a wonderful touch and a treat for fans both old and new.