Top positive review
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A great retelling of Batman's origin
on May 11, 2005
Batman is a character I've always enjoyed, but I've only recently started getting into the Batman comics. After reading Frank Miller's exceptional "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" graphic novel, I really wanted to acquire more Batman comics that depicted the characters in a similar manner: as deep, well-thought-out characters that you really feel emotionally attached to by the end of the story. The problem was that, being new to comics, I was tossed into a sea of nearly endless Batman comics, and I didn't really know where to begin.
Well, where better to start than at the very beginning?
Batman: Year One is the story of Batman's first year in Gotham City after returning from training abroad, making it the perfect book for someone unfamiliar with Batman's origins, or just looking for a fresh take on the classic story. But the book is as much about the origins of Jim Gordon, who will later become the famed police commissioner of Gotham City, as it is about Batman's beginning. The story hinges on Gordon's attempts to clean up a police force that is corrupt to its very core, and his encounters with the Batman that finally lead up to a climactic confrontation that brings both men together in their fight against crime.
Firse of all, the packaging and presentation of the story is top-notch. The book is hard bound and comes with a very nice partial sleeve that makes it look very classy. The cover itself depicts a simple black and white drawing of Batman that is quite effective for portraying what the book is about. Each chapter of the story opens with the origin comic book cover from each issue, and they are very vivid and clean. There are many extras, from an amusing illustrated afterword by the artist, David Mazzuccelli, and many pages of preliminary and promotional artwork. In the end, I felt that some of these features could have probably been dropped in favor of a slightly lower price tag, but they are nice additions that give the book a more "deluxe edition" feel.
The artwork in the story is very good. I really like David Mazzuccelli's style. He's really not entirely different from Miller himself in that his artwork isn't terribly elaborate, but is supremely effective in telling a story. Mazzuccelli really has a strength when it comes to facial expressions. You can really see how the characters feel by the looks on their faces, particularly in the more emotional spots of the book. The backgrounds and characters are beautiful, though, and the colors are very nice and vivid. The artwork brilliantly aids in telling the dark story of Batman's birth and Gordon's struggles.
The storyline is nothing short of superb as well. I've held Frank Miller in high regard ever since reading "The Dark Knight Returns", and this book is written in a very similar style. You can tell that Miller really likes using internal monologues to convey the thoughts and feelings of the characters, and they are very effective and give the story a depth that other comics don't have. The story progresses logically and is very readable. It's a great retelling of the familiar story of Batman's beginning infused with an almost literary style.
Miller is an expert at characterization. I was amazed at how much depth and likeability he could give even minor characters. A character that I found myself sympathizing with and surprisingly liking is Gordon's wife Barbara. With only powerful artwork and a few lines, I felt that she was portrayed very powerfully and believably, making her a great character that further enhances the personality and depth of Gordon. You can tell that Miller really likes Jim Gordon, as he is given more characterization than anyone else in the story. I really felt connected to the character by the end of the story, because he is so remarkably human, and not totally unlike myself. He makes mistakes, but he is in the end a good person, and I think this is what makes him so appealing, perhaps even more than Batman himself. This is not to say that the characterization of Batman is lacking in the story; quite the contrary, in fact. Bruce Wayne is also portrayed as a man who has his fair share of problems that he is trying to overcome in his never-ending fight to purge Gotham of corruption. The deep characterizations are what really make this book shine.
The only gripe I have with the storyline and characterizations is a subplot involving Catwoman in the story. While she is brilliantly portrayed, I ended up feeling as if her role in the story didn't have much meaning other than to set her up as a potential romantic interest of Batman in the future as well as a recognized rogue and thief. But her actions have relatively little bearing on where the story goes. The subplot is still enjoyable, and in the end it doesn't detract from the overall greatness of the storyline.
Some may be disappointed by the utter lack of classic Batman villains in the story. There is no Joker, no Two-Face, no Riddler, no Scarecrow, no one. Instead, Batman fights criminals that don't seem very different from the ones we find in real life. He is combating thugs and the corruption at the heart of the Gotham City: the politicians and police officers that are on the take and are part of the problem instead of the solution. I felt this gave the comic more credibility, but some will undoubtedly be disappointed that Batman isn't fighting one of his famous and colorful enemies. In fact, the only mention of one such villain in the entire book is in the very last panel on the very last page of the very last chapter.
The only major problem I have with the overall graphic novel is that it is short. The story itself is only around ninety pages. But they are a great ninety pages, and you won't be disappointed with them. But you will be left wishing that the story wouldn't end, making the length of the story the comic's greatest shortcoming.
This graphic novel is definitely a must-have for Batman fanatics, and I would heartily recommend it to people who are new to the world of Batman. After all, what better way is there to get into the world of the Dark Knight than by reading the story of where it all began?