Sunday, April 1, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Batman: Year One

Batman: Year One 

Year One was originally published as a four part miniseries in 1987. It has since been collected three times, and adapted into an animated movie. My review is of the deluxe edition paperback.

              Batman: Year One is an origin story for three of the most important characters in Batman lore: Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon, and Selina Kyle (Catwoman.) The four part story arc doesn't have a particularly compelling villain, but Selina is an excellent foil to Bruce Wayne, and Jim Gordon is a significantly more complex character than in the movies/most other comics. This book features excellent, meaningful fight scenes as Batman struggles to become the crime fighting super hero that we know and love, and phenomenal artwork that brings the mean streets of Gotham to life.
            The most appealing aspect of the story is the manner in which Jim Gordon is portrayed. New to the Gotham police force, Gordon struggles to reign in the rampant corruption while trying to curve the significant crime rate of the city. His quest to clean up the police forces gets him into more trouble than any super villain in this particular comic,  Interestingly, Gordon isn't a perfect character here. Despite being married with a child, he nearly has a relationship with a fellow officer, Essen, and their growing desire for one another forces her to leave the city. By the end of the book, his relationship is under serious strain, and this help lends the otherwise aloof character some much needed humanity. Gordon, through the significance of his actions and depth of his characterization, could easily be viewed as the hero of the comic, despite what the title would lead you to believe.
            The reason Gordon accomplishes more is because Batman is new to the whole crime fighting thing. His first attempt at patrolling the mean streets of Gotham ends in disaster, as he nearly dies despite his martial arts training. This forces him to re think his strategy and develop the Batman persona. Despite the new suit and a re worked strategy, Batman is challenged by even garden variety bad guys. The fights do characterize him nicely, showing his desire to never actually kill the people he is trying to apprehend, and a more stealth oriented approach than usual. Batman isn't tested with a super villain in this particular comic, but Year One isn't really about yet another showdown with the Joker or whomever- the goal here is to bring Bruce Wayne's origins to life, and this comic manages exactly that. The story contains the usual death of Bruce's parents, and the expected motivations, but his exact thought processes are fleshed out in an extremely endearing way. A moment in which Bruce contemplates death after being badly wounded in a fight with a pimp is one of the most poignant in the entire comic, and actually serves as the genesis of the Batman alter ego.
            Our third major character, Selina Kyle, is the antithesis of Batman, despite the fact that she isn't really a villain. She is presented here as an angry, desperate prostitute who is looking for a way to escape the life of poverty and abuse that her profession cultivates. She becomes the Catwoman in order to get wealthy, stealing from wealthy people in Gotham. Her story is easily the least important, but as a contrast to everything Bruce Wayne stands for and is motivated by, the character works really well.
            As for the art, it is a very subtle style that captures the atmosphere of Batman's world very nicely, and actually does an equally good job of telling the story in words and in the artwork itself. The most noticeable way that the artists create the seedy, depressing environment of Gotham is by using a mix of almost exclusively dark colors, creating brooding shadows, and placing nearly every action sequence, and most scenes in general, in the nighttime. 
One of my favorite pages of the comic, and arguably the most important to boot.
            There is a really good mix of explosive action sequences and more static scenes that take place in our character's homes throughout the comic. These scenes are important for the story, but they are also surprisingly good at adding to the tone of the art in this comic. They are universally dark in coloring, and they give us important insights into the domestic struggles of each character.

           As for the action scenes, they are punctuated by stream of consciousness text boxes, brutal fistfights (both Batman and Jim Gordon take their licks in this comic) and The text boxes are short and to the point, they are effective illustrators of what each point of view character is thinking, and completely unobtrusive. The action is fast paced, and our heroes do things that characterize them very well.  If there is one criticism about the artwork, it is that Batman's suit still looks pretty cartoonish, and decidedly out of place in the otherwise realistic story. Sure, there is nothing realistic about a bat costume, but artists since this comic have done a great job at making the costume feel more sleek, modern, and intimidating.
The book does an excellent job of capturing Gotham at night.
            Facial expressions are also top notch. Gordon's relationship with Essen really comes to life through the careful way in which their faces are presented. The style isn't the most realistic, and nothing like more recent Batman comics, but it is absolutely phenomenal at what it sets out to do. The artwork here represents a true high point for the genre, a point where the art is just as thoughtful and important to the final product as the story is.
            Batman: Year One is an absolutely essential comic. Featuring great origin stories for three of the most important characters in Batman lore, and great old school artwork. Even people who aren't fans of superhero comics will want to give this book a chance- it focuses more on Jim Gordon than anybody, and he doesn't have any powers to speak of. Batman is also presented as being far from the heights of his power like what is shown in the movies and most other comic books, with this book being more about his growth as a character than his power as a hero.
Final Score

1 comment:

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