Graphic Novel Reads: Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, Richmond Lewis

The darker, edgier Batman origin story that inspired the superhero crossover from frivolous teenage stuff to grim adult themes, Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One (1987) remains a kickass, gold standard graphic novel, an ultra-engaging retelling of Batman/Bruce Wayne’s error prone, almost fatal first steps to becoming Gotham’s vigilante no.1.

Miller sticks to the fabulous story and dialogues, lets David Mazzucchelli travel the classic comic book illustration road, while Richmond Lewis splashes textured, layered colouring.

Miller, against the tide

Miller had already made a name for DC Comics with the formula defying Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986), featuring a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne returning from retirement to fight off mutants and Harvey Dent.

Already obliged by contract to work on a Batman origin revamp series, Miller makes the crucial decision to not illustrate, the elaborate Mazzucchelli drawings are now legendary, especially the Sergio Leone-like close profiles. This is more like a perfect tweaking of Batman’s origins, relatedly-human, grimy, frizzling with big city blues.     

James Gordon, badass!

A modern parallel to Batman’s first year on the job, is not exactly like Peter Parker’s almost embarrassing teenage errors in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but is no smooth sailing either. 

Bruce Wayne’s first crime-fighting attempt almost ends in disaster, leading to his arrest and a close call to exposing his secret identity.   

Apart from a wonderful Catwoman origin story, corrupt policemen, fiendish villains, my utmost favourite is James Gordon, the incorruptible, courageous policeman, who is not without his faults.

In fact, the compelling parallel monologues are of Wayne and Gordon, letting us see things from their perspective, their nature to do good and what they have to sacrifice to rid Gotham of crime.  

Miller gives Gordon a badass persona – vulnerable, noble, headstrong, and the daring of giving it back as good as he gets! By his protective air, Gordon can easily be mistaken for Batman-in-standing.

The breathtaking bridge climax is one among many stellar moments. The siege to worm out Batman, the spectacular action centerspread.

Realism rocks! 

The tragedy of living in corruption-ridden cities, greed, depression, paranoia, Gotham is a mirror to a world where laughter and carefreeness are mega casualties.

That Bruce Wayne is extremely vulnerable is neatly conveyed, causing instant audience connect with Batman’s failures, frustrations and victories. 

This is no superpower-blasting, alien nemesis world, but a world we identify with, a world that is coming apart in chaos and crime, a world we live and breathe in every day.  

But for some illustrated wee bits that are not detailed, can’t find many glitches in this telling, still awed on repeat reads, by the imaginative, sturdy storyboarding, crunchy realistic dialogues, melancholy setting, and almost pitch perfect characterization.

Definitive, iconic, Batman: Year One remains a pathbreaking classic that led to the gritty Christopher Nolan Batman movie trilogy.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

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