Saturday, February 13, 2010

Out of the Vault- Batman: Year One

At some point, I'm going to have to do an in-depth examination of Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, since I keep referring to it as a seminal moment in comics history and seem to compare it to almost every comic I feature from the 80's. But in honor of Movie Monday finally reaching Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins," I figured first I'd cover the "Batman: Year One" storyline, published in Batman #404-#407 in 1987.

"Batman: Year One," written by Miller and drawn by David Mazzucchelli, was a brilliant prequel by Miller that fit into the continuity of his non-canon Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, while also being generic enough to serve as a canon post-Crisis reboot of Batman in the same way that John Byrne had rebooted Superman.

The story begins with honest cop James Gordon transferring to Gotham PD, while millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham after several years' absence. Gordon is trying to overcome a reputation as a snitch for testifying against crooked cops in Chicago, while Bruce is on a mysterious mission. Gordon is met at the airport by his new partner, Flass.

Yeah, Flass is crooked, all right. But he fits in just perfectly with the rest of Gotham's elite, including Police Commissioner Loeb.

Basically, Gordon plans to clean up the streets by working within the law, while Wayne plans to clean up the streets by working outside the law. At one point in the first issue, Wayne adopts the disguise of a war vet and ends up getting in a fight with a pimp and some prostitutes, including dominatrix Selina Kyle...

A moment that was loosely referenced in "Batman Begins."

Wayne decides that he needs to find a way to make people too frightened to fight back and adopts his trademark bat costume, while Gordon is attacked by Flass and a bunch of other crooked cops. Gordon then takes his revenge in a moment of kick-ass that is really cool, and yet feels more like Marv from Sin City than Commissioner Gordon from Batman.

There follows a really interesting moral dilemma for Gordon, as he pursues the Batman, who breaks the law while pursuing justice, while Gordon tries to stop Batman in the name of law, not justice. Mazzucchelli draws a great early Batman, looking tough, yet vulnerable in his tights, without the full utility belt of the later crimefighter.

This scene was also referenced in "Batman Begins," in the scene where Batman uses a gimmick in his boot heel to summon a horde of bats.

And at the same time, Gordon is working closely with a pretty female detective named Sarah Essen, while neglecting his pregnant wife Barbara. Which brings a whole new perspective to the older Gordon in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, who is married to and deeply in love with wife Sarah.

Miller pulls off a great trick here, bringing depth and maturity to Gordon while making the early Batman feel real and vulnerable. It's an amazing piece of work, made all the more amazing when you see the utter shit he did later in his career, like "The Spirit."

Next week, it's another Miller-fest, with a twist--you choose the book. Should it be Batman: The Dark Night Returns, or Hard Boiled, or DK2? You name it, I'll play it.

1 comment:

Mary Robinette Kowal said...

Hi Tony, forgive me for using your comment thread this way, but the email address I have for you is bouncing. Would you mind emailing me? I think my email will show up for you.