New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic books, explaining their background, reviewing them, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. The title is a reference to a former university project that I carried on as its own site for several years before laying it to rest.
I’m still in a Bat-mood, and will eventually review some more Bat-films, but in the meantime, I’ve been reading some Bat-comics; today’s being the early days of the Bat-man, Year One.
Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Frank Miller
Art by: David Mazzucchelli
Collects: Batman #404 – 407
WHAT’s the STORY?
As with many big stories from DC comics, the birth of Year One stems from DC’s continuity getting too convoluted (that’ll happen if you try to tell several intertwining continuous stories for several decades). As a result, a few years prior to this story being published, DC put out Crisis on Infinite Earths in an effort to reset their history.
In the wake of this first Crisis (there would be many more to come), many of DC’s characters had their origins retold to fit this new streamlined continuity. Superman got Man of Steel, and Batman got Year One.
The men behind Year One were riding high at this time for several reasons. Writer Frank Miller had just written the genre-defining Dark Knight Returns (which I personally think is overrated but we’ll get to that at a later date), and prior to that, alongside artist David Mazzucchelli, had also created the influential Daredevil story Born Again. Teaming up once more, the pair crafted a story based on the early days of Batman’s crime-fighting crusade; retelling the origins of his superhero identity, as well as showcasing his first interactions with the likes of Jim Gordon and Selina Kyle, who would go on to become the Gotham City Police Commissioner and Catwoman, respectively. The story is told primarily from Gordon’s perspective, thus making it just as much his origin story as it is Batman’s.
Real Name: Bruce Thomas Wayne
Affiliation: The Justice League
First Appearance: Detective Comics #27 (March 1939)
As a child, Bruce Wayne wanted for nothing – the son of some of the wealthiest and most respected people in Gotham City, Thomas and Martha Wayne, Bruce was, in essence, heir to the throne of Gotham. But all that changed when Bruce’s parents were gunned down in front of him, instilling in him a deep hatred for criminals that would hang over his entire life. Committing himself to become skilled in multiple disciplines such as combat and detective work, Bruce used the wealth and resources of the company he inherited from his father to become the vigilante known as the Batman. A figure of fear, Bruce now wages a war against crime with his trusty Batmobile and high-tech armoury of weapons, assisted by his loyal butler and father-figure Alfred, police commissioner Jim Gordon and his extended ‘Bat-family’ of sidekicks like Robin.
Real Name: Selina Kyle
Affiliation: Gotham City Sirens
First Appearance: Batman #1 (March 1940)
The daughter of a notorious crime boss, Rex ‘The Lion’ Calabrese, Selena Calabrese was always tied to the criminal underworld despite her father abandoning her. Placed into foster care, Selena learned to fend for herself and began dabbling in criminal activities such as theft and prostitution. Inspired by an early meeting in the streets with a Bruce Wayne-in-training, and later by the appearance of the Batman, Selina began training herself, taking her thievery to the next level as the masked criminal Catwoman. However, from her continued encounters with the Batman, a romantic spark developed, and although still firmly entrenched in her criminal ways, Selina did start to occasionally fight by Batman’s side as a vigilante of sorts. Unable to stop thieving, but plagued with a good heart, Catwoman dances the line between hero and villain all the while struggling with the duty of being Batman’s one true love.
WHAT’s THE PLOT?
Having returned from several years abroad, Bruce Wayne prepares to start his war on crime and clean up Gotham City but quickly realises that to do so he must become more than a man in order to gain the upper hand on his enemies.
Meanwhile, Jim Gordon is transferred to Gotham City, where he is forced to deal with corrupt cops, an office affair and a mysterious ‘giant bat’ that has begun plaguing his new city, all the while trying to support his pregnant wife.
WHAT’s THE VERDICT?
Batman’s an interesting character in that I’m not really sure if there is one thing that makes him appeal to audiences as much as he does. If we talk film Batmen for a second, many are quite partial to Christian Bale’s gadget wielding, tank-driving brawler Batman, who can only really hold his own against human enemies. But then others are also quite fond of Ben Affleck’s more comic-book-y bruiser Batman, who can clear a room with ease and go a few rounds with Superman (I’m talking Batman specifically here, not the films he was in).
Then, there are those who are still nostalgic for the goofier, rubber-coated antics of the Keaton era Batman, who, if we’re being honest, was just a guy with no excess of skill in a crazy costume.
The Batman in Year One is particularly fascinating because he’s at the beginning of his career, but he has facets that could see him evolve into any of these sorts of Batmen (almost as if these movies were in part inspired by this and other similar comics, crazy, huh?). So whatever sort of Batman you’re partial too, you’ll probably dig this one.
He’s not clearing rooms with ease yet because he’s extremely new to the whole vigilante thing. And yet, he demonstrates the stealth that Bale’s Batman possess, the strength of Batfleck (as evidenced by him punching people through brick walls) and the theatricality of the Keaton Batman. Although this origin takes place over four hundred issues into the Batman title, it shows a wealth of possibility from which to build upon.
Furthermore, it demonstrates the mystique of Batman by telling a story from Jim Gordon’s perspective. This is particularly effective because in my opinion Batman (and many other heroes, for that matter) can only progress so far for them to retain their eternal storytelling possibility. Spider-Man, for instance, will often take leaps and bounds ahead in his career, only to get fired, or have his job blown up, forcing him to return to the role of poor photographer. By telling the story from Jim Gordon’s POV, you have the opportunity to actually build character – telling the story of Batman’s early days, but in a way that still leaves Batman somewhat of an open book.
Furthermore, Frank Miller nails the script as he focuses on Gordon – the character is only human, he’s heroic, but has flaws, and thus is inherently more relatable than a rich boy running around rooftops dressed as a bat. Through Gordon, we get to explore a Gotham City that is, at the time, unfamiliar to Batman; grimy and corrupt, something we’re often told Gotham is but (in the films at least) not always shown.
The art is also excellent. Mazzucchelli demonstrates a beautiful minimalist style that really hammers down how bleak a place Gotham City is, while also giving him the ability to focus on the action and drama as he gives the background just enough detail to be impressive, but without taking away from the key aspects of the story.
All-in-all, I give Year One: