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?