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"The people of Gotham have a hero, makes them feel safe".,
This review is from: Batman: Year One - Deluxe Edition (Paperback)
Frank Miller is widely attributed with rescuing Batman from the pop-culture dungeon. After being viewed as a camp parody of himself for so long, Batman fans were given the gritty Batman which had been missing for too long and whereas Dark Knight Returns looked at a middle-aged Batman coming out from retirement, Year One covers the birth of Batman and also introduces James Gordon.
The book begins with Lieutenant Gordon and Bruce Wayne arriving in Gotham. Gordon arrives by train, travel-weary and disgusted by the ugly city - it's clear he doesn't want to stay here. Bruce Wayne on the other hand is flying in, but would rather be on the less luxurious train where he can be "closer ...to the enemy". The first few pages jump between Wayne's return from a trip overseas (where he attracts a gossiping media scrum interested in rumours of a foreign romance) and Gordon's initiation into the Gotham police department. Perhaps the most striking thing about Batman: Year One is that Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego don't dominate the story, James Gordon's own circumstances get most page space and it's a great way to introduce us to the dark side of Gotham. Gordon is an honest man stuck in a corrupt police force where he faces constant resistance, resentment of his job is interspersed with the better moments from his life, feeling his unborn child kicking for instance. You immediately feel sympathy for him, putting his pregnant wife's needs before his own he is willing to endure a wretched time in a city he hates in order for her to be happy. It's not a fairy-tale romance either and Miller stress-tests their relationship, the strength of this book is how the characters feel real, instead of focusing purely on action he creates drama.
What really brings the characters to life is their narration, we read their thoughts and it creates a tense atmosphere while giving them depth, instead of just seeing events we understand their fears and the logic behind their decisions. By making the characters feel as though they really exist, any peril they find themselves in is much more effective - Batman could easily get a bullet in the head, Gordon could become a forgotten victim of organised corruption, they are both incredibly vulnerable but they also hold so much power, together they could really make a difference.
Observing Bruce Wayne donning the costume for the first time invokes a great sense of nostalgia, even though it's decades after he first appeared in a comic. This is a post-modern Bruce Wayne, he's media savvy and uses his celebrity status to manipulate the press - it provides him with an alibi as he initiates his plan to become a vigilante. But he's just a man, an ordinary guy, his plans are failing because the city doesn't fear him. He realises he needs to be something else, a symbol - reflections which were used to great effect in Chris Nolan's excellent Batman Begins and provide us with the creation of something truly iconic. Bat-fans will appreciate the inclusion of other characters from the DC universe, and not just those usually associated with Gotham - there are a couple of great Superman related comments ("you'll take up flying next, like that fellow in Metropolis") and Alfred delivers some brilliant lines - "Shall I fetch your tights?". I've read some unfair criticism of the artwork here, it might look a bit basic compared to some modern comics where the detail of every over-exaggerated muscle is clearly visible, but it's gloriously grimy and shows the city for what it is. Personally I found the artwork to be of a high quality, with buildings, cars and people all drawn well. The colours are quite bright compared to older editions but they don't look overly cartoony - this is a mature graphic novel which can be enjoyed by almost any age, but older readers will probably identify more with many of the themes explored. I found Dark Knight Returns to be slightly inaccessible with the way it jumped between events often with no bridge or explanation between them, but this is a fluid story and is a prime example of the art forms ability to explore much more than just kicks and kapows.
In a nutshell: I was expecting the origins of Batman, and it's an interesting story - but it's the parallel story of James Gordon which propels this book from good to excellent. If you're new to Batman comics then this is the ideal place to start, you can witness the creation of the two Gotham custodians and understand their motives. And the very end hints at exciting things to come...