Saturday, January 26, 2013

Batman: Year One - Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli with Richmond Lewis

The opening page has something very titillating:

by Slam Bradley
Gossip diva Vicki Vale got her legendary, notoriously firm, shapely fanny tossed into the hoosegow yet again after trying to lift an estimated $11,320.00 worth of merchandise from the Sprang.  The cutie klepto pled guilty.  After paying for the loot and promising on a whole big heap of bibles to seek counseling, she got off with a wink and nod to the judge.
Leave us say the dame knows how to wink.
One juror says she even blew a kiss to the horny old fart.
You can't make this crap up!

It is with something of a heavy heart that I cannot recommend Batman: Year One as highly as some of the previous comic books reviewed here.  Make no mistake--Year One is a good read--but I came into it expecting The Long Halloween to get blown out of the water.  Now, Year One may be a "more perfect" and "concise" work than The Long Halloween (and indeed lacks the "triple-twist" which perhaps undermines the rest of the story of Halloween) but it is not as creative or imaginative as Red Son, Watchmen, or The Dark Knight Returns.  In short, the last review (of The Long Halloween) included a statement by Jeph Loeb that Year One was the true masterpiece in the Batman graphic novel world (even though The Dark Knight Returns possessed the greater cultural cache).  I cannot agree with him.

There is really very little to complain about here, and so this review will likely be short.  The story opens and closes with Lieutenant Jim Gordon.  He and Batman share equal billing in this volume--Gordon may even get higher billing.  This could be a flaw of the book--that Batman's character is not as well-developed as you would expect for his "origin" story.  Bruce Wayne does appear, on the second page, returning to Gotham City after 12 years "abroad."  He has not yet become Batman, and (while I do seem to be dismissing the praise this book has received) there are a few excellent scenes where he takes his first stabs at crime-fighting.

Bruce Wayne appears in public as a "playboy" who is given to drunken excess and womanizing.  This is all a ploy to detract attention from his new role.  In his first "fighting scene" he walks through Gotham's red-light district and gets solicited by a very young looking prostitute, who is also not very experienced.  Her pimp explains that she is doing it all wrong, and that she is picking out the "wrong" type of client--that Wayne in his disguise (which is really just a scar he makes across his face) could be "vice."  Selina watches from a window above, making catty comments: "Oh.  Geez...Can't be Vice.  We're Paid up.  Just some idiot out to get himself killed....You know what I hate most about men, skunk?  Never met one."  (11)

Selina (or Catwoman) makes a couple appearances and, as usual, establishes herself as neither an ally or enemy of Batman--though certainly leaning towards the former.

This book is not really about Batman so much as it is about Gordon and the corruption of the Gotham City Police Department.  D.A. Harvey Dent does not get a much bigger role than a few choice scenes.  The Mayor of Gotham and the Commissioner are corrupt.  Many police officers are just as bad as the criminals, and are in fact in cahoots with the criminals (Carmine "The Roman" Falcone--who is a major character in The Long Halloween, makes a brief appearance towards the end of this story).

It is mainly about Gordon fighting corruption within the Department, but also about Batman's fumbling first attempts, which are quite entertaining:
"The costume works--better than I'd hoped.  They freeze and stare and give me all the time in the world...I come in close on the one who looks the strongest--throw him a growl I've brought all the way from Africa----and suddenly everything falls to pieces.  The one to my left calls for his mother----to my right the other collects his senses and leaps to position--he'll be trouble----the strong one gets scared--too scared--No----I'm no killer----he screams like a girl----can't be older than fifteen----a child--just a child----the one I was worried about takes his shot----he's trained--kick's got power--" (31)

Probably the strongest part of the book is Chapter Three: Black Dawn, in which Batman is trapped in an enclosed area and surrounded by cops who are intent on killing him.  He uses a device that he has not yet tested out on these conditions.  This is probably the best scene in the entire book, in terms of Batman action. And that is a lot of what this book is about--action and fighting sequences.  I would have liked to see more character development.

Lieutenant Gordon, as noted, gets the majority of that.  In fact, there are a few nice panels that certainly bring the paintings of Edward Hopper to mind (and are referenced accordingly) and show that Gordon is certainly not perfect, either.  This is the first time (maybe the only time) that he takes a somewhat immoral tack, and for that alone it is significant.  By the end of the story, Gordon has made a few strides in his war on crime, and has befriended Batman (at something of an arm's length) and is waiting for help because someone named the Joker has poisoned the Gotham reservoir.

So, the opening page, which seems to identify this book as The Dark Knight Returns Pt. 2 sadly does not come to pass.  Vicki Vale is just a name, not a journalist as in the Tim Burton film.  We don't get to see her, or her apparent fall from grace.  There is no Robin, male or female.  There are no bad guys who are trying to hide their identity.  There is just police corruption.  So in one sense this book is the "most realistic" of the Batman comic books, but that quality also makes it the most mundane.  It is well-done on the whole, but lacks the sort of excitement and imaginative excess that the other pieces boast.  It is not long and it is probably worth reading--many others seem to view it as the epitome of the "Batman renaissance" in the comic book world, so I suggest you check it out before buying into my view.  But I can't help the way I feel--for my money, The Dark Knight Returns is the book that will really "knock your socks off"--Year One will just serve as a nice ottoman as you relax by your fire.

No comments: