October 29, 2011

Batman: Year One, an old favorite

This review was written for the 2012 edition of
Season's Readings, Durham County Library's annual book of reviews and recommendations. Past editions may be viewed at http://www.durhamcountylibrary.org/readers/sr.php.

Update: Durham County Library patrons may find Batman: Year One on the Graphic Novel shelf under the call number Miller, F. And be sure to check out Season's Readings, now available at all library locations!

Batman is probably the least superhero-like superhero: his only inherent science fiction or fantasy qualities are his super-spy gizmos and his improbable strength and coordination. Batman: Year One embraces this plausibility and fills it out with genuine humanity, albeit the humanity of someone who's a little crazy. It is the Batman archetype that has been used ever since its publication in 1986, including Christian Bale's performance in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Year One is a character-driven crime story featuring Bruce Wayne's transformation into the intensely moral but highly unethical vigilante crimefighter that we've come to love. Equally compelling -- maybe more -- is the book's depiction of James Gordon, Batman's eventual friend-on-the-inside, whose journey to becoming Police Captain mirrors Wayne's. It's also a portrait of a harsh but believable Gotham City and its inhabitants; brief appearances by Gotham residents Harvey Dent (Two-Face, but not in this story) and Selena Kyle (Catwoman, but only just) make the portrait extra rewarding.

David Mazzucchelli's pencils and inks and Richmond Lewis's colors, completely repainted for this edition, are beautifully matched, and their artwork is a perfect partner for what is arguably Frank Miller's finest writing. Both art and writing are thankfully free of the cliches found elsewhere, even in Miller's own earlier and later works.

Checking out Batman: Year One from Durham County Library as a boy was one of my earliest encounters with the grand potential of the comics medium. It is still a work that I come back to again and again, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Update: David Mazzucchelli is very unhappy with the new "deluxe" edition of Year One, according to The Comics Journal.

Image source: http://cdn.screenrant.com/wp-content/uploads/Batman-Year-One-voice-cast.jpg,
© DC Comics

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