The Batman: Year One comic book series is one of the most important arcs in Batman’s history, but is it one of the best?
After telling a potential future in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller went back to tell the character’s origin in Batman: Year One.
Miller’s comic has been incredibly well received since it was released in 1987 and it is easy to see why. It continues Miller’s dark and gritty take on the character, but takes Bruce Wayne back to his first year as a vigilante.
In addition to Batman’s origin, we also see the beginning days of James Gordon in Gotham. In many ways, this is Jim Gordon’s year one story as much as it is Batman’s.
Comic Books Collected: Batman Issues #404-407
Written by: Frank Miller
Inker and Penciller: David Mazzucchelli
Colorist: Richmond Lewis
Key Characters and Organizations:
Commissioner Gillian Loeb
The official synopsis of Batman: Year One Deluxe Edition, from DC Comics:
One of the most important and critically acclaimed Batman adventures ever — written by Frank Miller (BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS) with art by David Mazzuchelli (Daredevil) — returns as a deluxe hardcover designed by Chip Kidd. In addition to telling the entire dramatic story of Batman’s first year fighting crime, this collection includes new introductions by Miller and Mazzucchelli, loads of reproductions of original pencils, promotional art, unseen Mazzucchelli Batman art, Richmond Lewis’s color samples, script pages and other surprises. This will be the must-have hardcover of the season!
It only seems like we have seen Batman’s origin dozens of times in comics, movies, and TV. In reality, there was little consensus on the definitive comic book origin of Batman before Year One was released. This was an iconic story from the time it was released and has been copied countless times.
Personally, I feel I was slightly let down by this comic. However, I think this was largely due to the fact that I first read it in 2013. I had already seen Batman Begins, Mask of the Phantasm, and many other interpretations of Batman’s origin. While I feel those movies told a better story with Batman’s origin, it would be foolish to not recognize the thematic and plot similarities. Put simply, those movies would not have been what they were without Year One.
I only wish I could have read this story before seeing those movies. It’s easy to see why this would have been considered so important in the 1980s. Miller’s work on Batman at this time is one of the main reasons for the character’s resurgence in popular culture, along with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film.
As far as plot goes, it is a pretty straightforward tale if you already know what Batman’s first days were like. This story added plenty of new to the character at the time it was released. However, it has been picked over so much for other adaptations since then that I felt like I had already read it.
The story shows us many, but certainly not all, of Batman’s main characters in their first day “on the job”. The main character’s origins are that of Bruce Wayne, James Gordon, and Selina Kyle. Miller’s work on Batman from the 80s is always a treat to read, although I don’t always enjoy his work on Gordon and Kyle.
Still, it is always cool to see an interpretation of the beginning of their story. Prime Miller writing The Dark Knight is always worth reading. I do wish we could have seen more of Bruce Wayne in non crime-fighting mode, though. Gordon might have a more prominent role than even Batman in this story. It’s great to see Gordon’s origin, but he rides the good cop/bad cop line too much for my taste.
There are a few other interesting side characters, usually Gordon’s colleagues. If you want a classic Batman vs. Bat-villain battle, you might be a little let down. The villain isn’t the strongest part of the story. That makes sense to me though, because it is Gotham’s crime in general that makes Batman and Gordon’s role so vital.
The art throughout the book is very solid and helps to convey the mood of the story being told. It helps to set the tone for a dark and gritty tale that is fitting from Batman. It also helps to put you into the city of Gotham. The city looks dirty, grimy, and filled with organized crime. The artwork makes it so we aren’t just told how Gotham is a dark place, but we actually get to see it too.
The Animated Movie
An animated film based on the run, titled Batman: Year One, was released in 2011. The film very closes follows the book and features a strong voice cast. Included in the cast are Ben McKenzie as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Bryan Cranston as James Gordon, and Eliza Dushku as Selina Kyle.
Other Year One Comics
Whenever a comic title is successful, companies try to pounce on that success. So, of course, plenty of “Year One” titles have been released in the years that have followed. It’s easy to see why. A clean mini-series telling the first days of popular characters is sure to be a hot-seller. However, none have become as iconic as Batman’s. Few have become the definitive origin of the character, with Green Arrow: Year One being a notable exception.
Batman: Year One isn’t my favorite Batman comic book ever made, but it is still an enjoyable read. With some of the most iconic moments in Batman’s history, it is a must-read for any Bat-fan or DC Comics buff. While Batman’s origin may have been done better since this story, all modern day origins for the character have been based off of this comic arc.