After collaborating together for the Born Again story line in Daredevil, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli joined forces in the pages of the Batman comic book. Batman: Year One is a much shorter work than Born Again (it has only four chapters whereas Born Again has twice that amount), but in many ways it is a stronger work. Mazzucchelli's artwork is just as illustrative and realistic as before, but Miller's script is much tighter and less fantastic than his Daredevil story. This may be because it is a revisionist retelling of Batman's origin, an attempt to give the major character(s) more depth and realism.
Batman: Year One begins with two central characters arriving to Gotham City. The first is Lt. James Gordon who arrives by train (his wife is coming by plane). The train is filled with passengers, the seats are covered with graffiti, and the train car is dark. Gordon is transferring from Chicago leaving a controversy involving another police officer. The other arrival is Bruce Wayne, returning from traveling abroad. He arrives by plane, to a waiting media, who speculate about his return.
The January they arrive to Gotham, it is a city ruled by powerful, corrupted men. Crime is rampant. Bruce Wayne, whose parents were killed in a street mugging, has come to avenge their deaths. He just doesn't know how he will do it. He sets up an alibi and hits the streets to observe the criminal element. Wayne picks a fight with a pimp, and ends up arrested and nearly killed. He drives home, and questions how he can make criminals fear him.
A bat flies through the study window, settling on the bust of his father and he has his answer.
Meanwhile, James Gordon is too honest for Police Commissioner Loeb. He and his partner, Detective Flass, don't get along. Flass gets kickbacks from drug dealers. He beats suspects. He and a gang of cops beat Gordon and threaten his wife if he doesn't stop pushing for honesty in the department. Gordon retaliates, but this doesn't help his position on the Gotham Police Department.
Bruce Wayne becomes the Batman, and his first outing goes poorly. He scares his foes, but he's inexperienced. As he gains proficiency he moves up the criminal ladder from pusher to supplier, from supplier to crime boss. In Gotham this is "The Roman" Falcone. Batman makes a series of assaults on Falcone, who pressures Commissioner Loeb to catch Batman, who hands that job over to James Gordon. Gordon, who has won widespread public support for his honesty and his courage, goes after Batman wholeheartedly. Batman, after all is a vigilante, and Gordon feels an obligation to catch him.
This is the underlying basis of the story, how Gordon and Batman's relationship develops as Batman grows in his first year as a crime fighter. It culminates in Batman saving Gordon's infant son's life during a kidnapping attempt by the Roman's nephew. The Roman and Loeb previously try to get Gordon into line by blackmailing him over a romance he has with homicide detective Sarah Essen. That doesn't work, and the kidnapping is then attempted. A drug supplier who is "encouraged" by Batman to testify against Flass prompts Flass to testify against Commissioner Loeb. Gordon and Batman become partners in their war against crime.
The story also chronicles Catwoman's first appearance in Gotham, as well as Gordon's troubled marriage to his wife Barbara. It develops Batman from a "lucky amateur" to an experienced hero. It shows how power can be a corrupting force, and how it can also be a force of change. The narration is powerful, and the story stands as one of the best Batman stories of all time. As a testament of its power, it has influenced many stories based on the events contained within its pages, including Catwoman: Her Sister's Keeper and Batman: The Long Halloween.
Text (c) LCB 2000
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