Bat-mania: Batman: Year One

Guest Post

“A richly thrilling crime saga,” concludes Rotten Tomatoes about The Dark Knight.

The truth, no doubt but where did the noir-ish Batman come from? Certainly there were some elements in Batman: The Dailies 1943-1946, which I reviewed a few months back, but from the start, Batman was always a detective and lacking superpowers he has to use cunning, as well as a smattering of clever gadgets, to get the best of the villains. Well, the answer to that lies in the dark, dank and moody Batman: Year One. From the onset is raining and depicts the arrival of Chicago native Lieutenant James Gordon, who is praying that his wife, Barbara, is not pregnant and that they will not have to enduring raising a child in crime infested Gotham.

Let us step back for a moment. Chester Gould, creator of Dick Tracy, the noir-strip that had a significant influence on Batman, always unofficially set Tracy in Chicago, where he lived and the Windy City was Gotham in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Year One, like Tracy, is about crime. Gotham is dirty up and down, from prostitution, gangs and drugs in the Eastern End to up and down the police force, even as high as Commissioner Gillian Loeb who brings Gordon in because of his ability to keep the media away from his mishaps while on duty. The Commissioner is dirty and sees this is as an invaluable asset.

Gordon, meanwhile, is actually on a crusade to fight crime and so is none other than Bruce Wayne. If you could not tell by the title, this is an origin story that chronicles the first year of Batman and Gordon’s careers. Wayne is but just 25, having returned from being abroad for 13 years. He has learned and seen many things, of note formidable martial arts training and has had many experiences that will service him as a crime fighter.

On the surface, he is just spoiled rich kid Wayne, cruising around town in his Porsche. He picks a fight with a pimp that goes awry. Hauled away in the back of a police cruiser, the shot and bleeding Bruce, dressed like a “drifter” in an Army jacket, dirty clothes and a prosthetic scar on his face, he causes the car to flip. In his treatment from the police, I see a little bit of the John Rambo from First Blood and in his treatment from thugs, motive and attire, I see bit of Travis Bickle, from Scorsese’s study of personal madness, Taxi Driver. Then at home that night, depressed, pondering, he sees a bat crash through his window and thus gains inspiration to become Batman.

Loeb loves the press Batman gets as the Dark Knight is cleaning up the streets but is pressured by his peers from the crime community to haul the Caped Crusader in, due to a disruption he has caused in business. Gordon has been assigned to the case.

Not much later, Batman luckily escapes from a burning slum and the entirety of the SWAT team and Gordon feels a sense of sympathy for Bats since the incident started with the saving of an old lady crossing the street.

Wayne knows he has an ally in Gordon, someone he needs on the inside to trust and gain information from. As Batman, Wayne planted a bug on the Roman, a gangster familiar to Nolan Bat-fans as Carmine Falcone and subsequently found out that they were planning to hold the Lieutenant’s newborn son hostage. Wayne, out on a motorcycle since it is daytime, also a key link to the Nolan Bat-flicks, miraculously saves the Gordon’s young son, who gets thrown off a bridge in a struggle. The book ends in this dramatic, thrilling, conclusion.

Throughout the book, Wayne uses his playboy and rich and famous person lifestyle to cover his Batman tracks. Gordon and his partner, the very Kim Basinger-ish looking Sgt Essen are onto Wayne as being Batman from the onset, but the Dark Knight is just a little slicker than they are. Though Gordon is having an affair with Essen, he is not intimidated by the threat of exposure and discloses his affair to Barbara who forgives him. Essen is transferred to another department.

A not terribly-long read, Year One imperative for anyone who likes the Nolan Bat-movies, noir, crime, or Batman in general. Understanding the Gordon-Wayne interdependence is key to the Bat-universe and this book is like no other I have read so far in depicting how deep these two go.

Also of note, there is a meddling young DA by the name of Harvey Dent who appears in a few panels. And a sultry, butt-kicking Catwoman makes a surprise appearance! But you’ll just have to pick up the book to find out more! I just thought I’d put that out there. That’s what she said.

Batman:Year One
Words: Frank Miller
Art: David Mazzucchelli
DC Comics, 2007