Batman: Year One

This is one of the books that is rumored to be the seed for the final Christopher Nolan Batman movie. Rumor also has it that Christian Bale dines on the still beating hearts of virgins, so bring your salt shaker.

You can scroll down to where I say Let’s go! to read the read-along commentary first, or you can read the meta introduction to Frank Miller first. That choice is yours.

I’m going to get this part out of the way ahead of time. You’ve all read the book now, so I can’t bias the noobs before they even engage that material—

The author of this book is Frank Miller.  He’s a very polarizing guy at this point. There was once a time when he was kind of an unassailable (arguable) titan of Batman. He wrote the Dark Knight series which is so influential it changed the face of Batman forever.  So influential you might know that title from the movie of the same name made by Christopher Nolan.

Anyway, once upon a time, Frank Miller was treated like a god by certain segments of Batman fans. Today…this is not true.  He’s become something of a joke, to be very honest. Ok, not something of…uh, he’s a punchline.  So if you find yourself in a conversation with someone about this comic and they sniff derisively and mutter Frank Miller, you have now seen some of the evidence of what they’re mocking.

Digression 1: A big part of what people hate about him is what made him popular to begin with. He took comics in a gritty noir kind of direction which was really needed as an antidote to the campy ridiculousness that was prevailing at the time.  The problem with gritty noir is that it doesn’t work for every story, and, let’s be frank here, gritty noir narratives are no friends of the ladies.  Miller is criticized for using sexualized insults for women (bitch, slut, whore) and for taking away the agency of all his female characters like a boss.   You will have to decide whether those criticisms are valid or not for yourself, because I’ve got a whole OTHER beef with this dude.  In the early aughts he penned a book called All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder.  This was the worst Batbook I had ever read at that time.  It was so bad, in fact, that it became a sort of meme with comics fans. If you’ve ever heard someone say “I’m the goddamned Batman!”, this book is where that originated. (He was talking to Robin, btw, his 9 year old sidekick, oof.)

So basically, Frank Miller’s a douche, and yet this book is still seminal.


Let’s go!

Personally, I’m not thrilled with the dual narration from Inspector Gordon and Bruce in the first few panels. It’s confusing, and if you’ve never read a comic (and this comic must have been intended for that audience), you have no damned idea who these people are or what’s going on with the different fonts and bubbles  So, hello, crash course—the different fonts tell you that these are the thoughts of different people. Sometimes it’s an omniscience 3rd POV, sometimes it’s the people in the artwork, sometimes you never figure out who’s talking (this last thing happens more than it should).

The artwork looks dated because it is.

So (future) Inspector Gordon’s in Gotham to clean up the corrupt Gotham City PD.  Bruce has returned home from fucking off wherever he was (according to Chris Nolan, China).  We’ve established that Gotham is a crime infested shithole.  That sounds familiar, right? This book was written before Giuliani became Mayor, so there’s some oh-so-subtle social commentary going on here.

Remember what I said about Frank Miller? Yeah, hey, meet Selina Kyle, the whore. Gargling with scotch helps.

Bruce, after fucking up royally, alights on the idea  that the only way to fix what’s broken in Gotham is to put the fear of god into the bad guys. Hmmmmm, sure, why not. No one said he was sane. Oh, look, he’s talking to his dead father about passive suicide!

Isn’t it convenient for Miller to condense the entire backstory to two pages? Witnessed his parent’s brutal death, went nuts, has a butler SAS-trained nanny, LOOK A BAT!  Now, let’s get back to the whores and beatdowns.

Insp Gordon isn’t married to Batgirl, btw. This is a completely different Barbara Gordon. Because that’s not confusing. At all. I suppose if you know enough that one of the Batgirls was named Barbara Gordon you worked this out. If you have no idea what a Batgirl is, we’ll get to that in a couple weeks.

The line where Batman says “the costume worked better than I hoped” makes me chortle like a Pokemon. Yes, Bruce, it’s kind of weird how dressing up in a deranged, skin-tight costume with a dang cape unsettles the criminal element. Who knew?

Miller just glosses over where the name came from.  Who came up with this name? How did they know he was inspired by bats? I’m not sure bats would be the first thing I’d leap to if I saw that outfit. Probably I’d have named him “Deranged Lunatic.”

On May 19th Bruce decided to get serious. Because up until this point he was just playing around. With the suit and the vigilante justice. NOW he’s going to get serious, y’all.  I guess that’s the Backpack of Seriousness he’s donning.

Another condensed little spread of traditional Batman comics themes appears out of nowhere: POOOOOOOOOM, Batman looming ominously while cleverly backlit, ominously pontificating at criminals.  There are about six pages in this book that could have just been the whole comic and saved us all the time.

On June 2nd we learn that Miller projects his sexist bullshit onto the characters he writes.

June is a pretty crappy month, really. I guess it gets too hot to not act like a complete douche in Gotham City in June.  Luckily, there’s a cool spot under Lt Gordon’s desk for Bruce to chill in.  I can’t even handle the Gordon cheating on his pregnant wife thread, so I’m going to skip it.

On Southland, John Cooper once said that a cop is someone who runs towards the sound of gunfire instead of away.  Gotham City’s so hardcore that the National Guard taking out Batman is a street festival.

~Batcave interlude *music plays* I guess the payoff on that really boring, long action sequence is the batpocalypse Bruce unleashes. SPOILER Later, he realizes adopting random kids to use as a diversionary tactic in battle is much easier.

Bruce being Brucey the lothario almost always makes me laugh.  His evaporated bottle of wine, y’all.  This whole segment is pretty solid with Gordon seeing through Bruce’s act (which isn’t mainstream canon, btw) and Alfred being dry as a bone with his humor.  PS: the flying guy in Metropolis is Superman. DUN DUN DUN!

On September 3rd, Bruce discovers his lifelong love affair with Selina Kyle, Alfred reads the paper in his slippers while Bruce works out, and Alfred manages to crack wise. It was a good day. Well, not for the Gordon family, but for the rest of us. Nice socks, Bruce. If this Stately Wayne Manor interlude had been the backbone of the comic rather than the Lt Gordon the Dick plot then the book would have been much more engaging.  Who can get enough of Bruce pretending not to get Alfred’s jokes? Of their odd domestic situation?  Of Bruce doing one-handed push ups while grousing about OTHER vigilantes mucking up his illegal activities? Sigh.

If you’re shaking the box wondering where the rest is, yes, there’s a Year Two. However, this is about as much Frank Miller as I can take in concentrated form, so we’ll be moving on. Feel free to read the whole series on your own to maximize your ability to win arguments about Frank Miller’s characterization of the main Bat characters. You will have at least one of these in your career as a comics geek.

You have now read a Frank Miller Batman series. You’re swiftly  on your way to being a comics expert.  Cultivate your smug face.

I promise next time will be much much smoother of a ride.  Now, get your hands on Robin: Year One by Chuck Dixon aka How Did I Live So Long Without Dick Grayson in My Life?

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  • Okay, so basically this is TWoP, but comic’s style? LOL. Cool. I’m not sure after reading this whether or not you liked it (or liked it despite yourself) but I gotta say… I really dug this comic. I’m not even saying your wrong about anything you say (sexist, check, skipping pages to get back to the plot, check) but that I dug it anyway. It’s perhaps my inherent love of Batman dictating that rather than the writing.

    I gotta say though, I think what I came away from this novel with was a new appreciation of Gordon, rather than Batman. I know it’s a Batman novel, but to me this thing was all about Gordon. I kept skipping the Batman parts to get back to Gordon.

    Can I vote for your take on Kevin Smith’s Green Arrows? Because again, some of that was shit but by and large I LOVED IT SO MUCH, and I’d be interested to see what you say.

    • Kassie

      I liked B: Y1 when I originally read it, and that was a very long time ago. I just reread it to write this for the first time in…idk, five years? At least that long, probably a lot longer. Now I’m a lot more critical of it in light of my opinions on Batman and the body of Miller’s entire career. If this wasn’t the exact same voice as Miller uses in every book, I’d like it more, I suppose. I think everyone should read it. I guess I’m neutral more than anything else. I don’t want to set it on fire, but I don’t love it either.

      As far as KS’s GA: that is on the list, for SURE. I’m a massive Arrow fan, and what better intro for people who don’t know them than that?

      Thanks for hanging out, man.

  • Frank Miller lost his mind a while ago and since that point, nothing the man has written has been readable at all. He always had a homoerotic fixation going and he ‘s the original (and still champ imo) of “women in the fridge”, but now his storied don’t even make any sense.

    This shortpacked strip pretty much says it all: (scroll down)

    Also, I might have misread what you meant, but Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, aka Oracle is Gorgon’s neice, not wife. (which apparently has been retconned so that she is now his daughter, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    • Kassie

      In this comic, Gordon’s WIFE is named Barbara. I know Babs is his daughter now, that was my (unclear) point.

      Yes, that comic is a thing of beauty, I agree.

    • Sunnyd_lite

      A2Zmom — great comic! *grin*

  • So Gordon is married to his daughter? Well, that’s kind of gross.

    At this point, I refuse to read anything by Miller because I don’t want to encourage him.

    • Kassie

      This book was back before her was FRANK MILLER. You can get it in a format that won’t encourage him, trust me.

  • Tui

    Apparently you do just need to read some Frank Miller if you’re a Batfan, because shockingly I really enjoyed this. I say shockingly because apart from laughing at the oblig. all star batman & robin scans and then memes, and of course TDKR, I’ve always avoided Miller’s work on the grounds that his reputation preceded him and I didn’t need to give comics another reason to raise my blood pressure. However, I found this pretty readable and I guess his reputation at least came from somewhere solid, even though I can tell pretty quickly that it was the kind of thing that is cool once, but as a solid theme in your work is pretty awful. The grimdark is also not my favourite and I REALLY wasn’t wild about the cheating storyline – this is Jim Gordon! No! (Also IAW your thoughts on Barbara Gordon. also she even looks like Babs. I thought Babs’ biodad was supposed to be Jim’s brother? Did I get that wrong?)

    Sidebar: Someone I know on Twitter is coincidentally reading Batcomics for the first time and she just said: “Maybe the Catwoman movie would have been better if Selina had been a prostitute”. I screamed and linked her here, haha. So you speak for me on that. WHORES WHORES WHORES WHORES WHORES. Also what is going on with Holly here? I can’t tell if she’s supposed to be actually 12, or if she’s supposed to be older and just really damaged? Are they sharing a bed? What?

    Anyway. I actually really like the art. Yeah, it’s of its era, but it’s the best kind of of its era, like Frank Lloyd Wright buildings or, like, vintage dresses. Plus, in a way, being dated really works for the content – I’m not sure if that’s deliberate or not, was it dated for art at the time, does it look deliberately nostalgic? IDK enough about comic art trends, I was born in 1987 which means I probably wasn’t even conceived when this shit was being drawn. But as a Year One comic, an extended flashback, I like it. I’m kind of so-so on the way it picked up the social mores of, apparently, the 50s – isn’t all of Batman’s career to date supposed to have taken place over 10 years, and it’s the eternal present? So you’re writing in 1987, the earliest Bats could have started Batting is 1977 – but, I mean, this comic may as well star Don Draper as Jim Gordon, what with the way he basically sexually harasses a woman into a new job in a new city. and cheating on his pregnant wife. Yeah, I don’t know, on the one hand I liked Jim in this, on the other hand I’m like, really? Isn’t what’s great about Jim his moral fibre? But Miller seems to think that as long as you’re not corrupt the other stuff is just fine. I don’t know.

    ALFRED IN THIS IS AMAZING. Full stop, I adored this Alfred, he’s completely epic. Bruce made me laugh. I mean, I know when Bruce is sitting around bleeding to death talking to his dead dad’s painting (why not dead mom’s painting?) it’s supposed to be serious, not funny, but I have never been able to take Bruce’s drama seriously and I never will. The perfect melodrama. Some of the stuff that’s an article of faith for me, e.g. Batman not maiming, he obviously changed that up, but hard to tell if that’s because this is when Bruce didn’t really know how to be Batman properly – like that little stunt in the beginning when he meets Holly. Going for a walk to get beat up? Awesome, B, really planned ahead there. That is not a Batman stunt and I sort of love it for that.

    (Do you know who this is from LJ by the way? starts with L, dumb pretentious french name.)

    • Kassie

      Babs was originally Jim’s niece but she’s his daughter now? Or was his daughter at some point, I have no idea what’s going on with that in current continuity.

      I agree with needing to read some of Miller’s earlier work to know where he got his rep. You haven’t read Dark Knight? You really really need to. Not for enjoyment but because you just just really have to. (There’s a girl Robin! On rollerskates!)

      Yeah, I just skipped over the “wait, is Selina a lesbian hooker?” aspect of that story line. I mean, why invite that kind of pain into my life. (I think they’re supposed to be lesbian hookers.)

      I completely agree about Miller’s take on Gordon. Wtf is even going on here with the morality of cheating on your pregnant wife with your coworker you’re sexually harassing? I think that sums Miller up pretty well, actually–let’s take the most morally consistent character in a book about how humans are heroes because they’re ethical and turn him into THIS. No. Just no, dude. Way to miss the message in one of the original comics. When keeping it real goes wrong…

      I laughed pretty hard at your commentary about the adventure in being beat down Bruce has in the beginning and the craycray monologuing. Oh yeah.

      I will take issue with the idea Bruce doesn’t main, though. We’ll revisit that in other books.

      If you liked Alfred here, you’re going to love him in the next book.
      If you’re antipodean, then yes.

      • The fact that Jim Gordon has been turned into a douche is enough right there for me to refuse to read this.

        I actually like my Batman dark – intense and just this side of crazy. Miller’s problem is he equates dark with every male being a jackass who enjoys beating up women and every woman deserving to be raped and/or killed.

        • Kassie

          I like Batman a bit unhinged myself, because let’s face it, HE IS. There’s a big leap between that and KILL ALL THE WHORES, though.

          I don’t even think FM probably even thought the cheating on the pregnant wife bit was douchey. All men do that, amirite?

          • I just hope Miller isn’t married. I can’t even imagine (shudders).

  • Tui

    You need to increase the comment threading ability on your wordpress, bro (this is how you do that: go to the dashboard, scroll to the bottom of the left-hand sidebars, go to Discussion under Settings, click “enable threaded comments to 10 levels” (or however many levels)).

    For some reason I feel like she’s still technically his niece but like, his *adopted* daughter? His biological son showed up in something I read recently (BoP? I have no idea, I was flicking through it in my FLCS, it was maybe Detective). All I know is, since no-one gives a crap about Gordon’s actual son, it pissed me off in TDK when Nolan was like, a son! That’s what Gordon really needs to be relatable! No! We want to see baby Batgirl! GIVE THE FANS WHAT WE WANT. man, I really didn’t like a lot of that movie. Anyway, it all makes sense if Batman: Year One is what he was thinking about, I guess. (Although nothing explains his INEXPLICABLE ROBIN HATRED since, indeed, I have read The Dark Knight Returns and of course everything about Carrie Kelly is great. You know how I feel about girl Robins.)

    It’s like, I don’t want to sound like I’m anti lesbian hooker, because I think of myself as a person generally pro lesbian and pro-prostitute – I think this is a case where that Shortpacked column is most expressive, because there’s nothing wrong with sex workers; there’s something wrong with being obsessed with sex workers and giving basically every woman in your work a backstory in sex work.

    let’s take the most morally consistent character in a book about how humans are heroes because they’re ethical and turn him into THIS.

    See also: whatever the hell is going on with Superman in TDKR (I really have to re-read it, I actually own it in a trade on account of my mum doing that thing where she’s like, “Tui likes comics … I will go into a comic shop and ask what people like that are into”. So she bought me Frank Miller, sigh.)

    I am looking forward to it! Chuck Dixon! (And yeah, that’s me. My first name isn’t obviously connected to my LJ name so I never know who knows it.)

    • Kassie

      Bro, I do not see the settings toggle AT ALL. I will answer the rest of your comment in a mo after I freak out to Laura about fixing this.

      • Tui

        But look, it’s fixed now! I can reply on this level and all! So don’t freak out! it’s not that important anyway, I’m just a whiner!

        • Kassie

          Isn’t the idea in TDKR that Batman HAS to fight because Superman has become a toady to an immoral government? That’s that book, isn’t it? I can’t really remember either. Isn’t the “plot” that the hyper-masculine Batman must defeat the ALIEN interloper who’s too dumb to realize that he’s being manipulated? I think that was the plot of all of the Superman/Batman action for a while, so it might be something else I’m thinking of.

          I’m pretty sure Nolan’s ~vision is a mash up of the B: Year by Year books and TLH. Which makes sense because they’re both pretty iconic (and from around the same time period? I think?).

  • I liked DKR. And I understand Nolan’s refusal to add Robin in.

    To the general public Robin equals Dick Grayson. The world that Nolan has created just doesn’t fit Dick’s optimistic nature (and I say this as someone who’s favorite character by a mile is Dick.)

    • Kassie

      Yes, I agree with you. Dick just doesn’t fit into that gritty “realism” mindset. He’s just too bright red and green for that world.