I’ll admit, I feel like I’m being thrown in at the deep end a little bit here.  Frank Miller’s Batman, indeed.  When my friend/boss Travis told me he was looking to do an overview of some Batman stories by Frank Miller and Jeph Loeb, I was honestly really excited.  Not only have both of those men written some of my favorite Batman storylines ever but they were also some of the most hugely influential on my own work.  I was all excited until Travis then said ‘So you’re going to do YEAR ONE for the Frank Miller series of books?  Cool?  Cool *Travis runs away laugh manically*.

Well, damn.

What do you say about a book that is so hugely influential that it is not only considered one of the best Batman stories ever (arguably THE best) but one of the best comics ever produced (arguably THE best?).  People have been talking about BATMAN: YEAR ONE since its release in 1987 and they frankly, have never stopped.  There have been other stories that covered Batman’s origins before and since but none I think have made the impact that the Miller year one did.

There’s a lot of ground to cover so I figure I’ll start at the comic’s background.  The storyline came about when DC required a new take on Batman’s origin following their major storyline, ‘CRISES ON INFINITE EARTH’S’ which was intended to not only simplify their dense continuity but usher their iconic characters into a new age.  Characters were given bold new interpretations that have nowadays, mostly become the status quo and some major creators got a much needed new vision brought to them.

CLICK: From past to present, check out a review for the latest issue of Batman here!

Batman was a character who was still recovering from the campy TV show from 20 years prior and was returning to the characters dark roots.  Gone were the colourful costumes and the red telephone that connected him to Commissioner Gordon, here was the Dark Knight returned and who better to write his renewed origin than the man who’d written DARK KNIGHT RETURNS a year prior?

To pair with Batman’s Omega, Frank Miller, who was at this point already a big deal due to the aforementioned DARK KNIGHT RETURNS but also DAREDEVIL at Marvel, was tasked to write Batman’s Alpha story.  Unlike DARK KNIGHT RETURNS which Miller wrote and drew, he was paired with comic artist David Mazzuchelli, who he would later team up with again to deliver the equally classic and influential ‘BORN AGAIN’ storyline in DAREDEVIL.

Why Miller did not choose to draw the story himself, I am not sure of.  I can only think that perhaps they wanted a look to the book that differentiated it from DARK KNIGHT RETURNS which is something that Mazzuchelli delivers in spades.  The art quality in the book is incredible and does an amazing job of drawing the reader in.  I’m not sure what else Mazzuchelli may have done apart from BATMAN: YEAR ONE and BORN AGAIN, but his art is stunning on both books.  He delivers high quality work that is equally on par with the writing that Miller delivers on both works.

I’m digressing however, we’re not talking about Born Again, not today anyway.  We’re talking about BATMAN: YEAR ONE.  The comic runs only over 4 parts, which I think is amazing in itself.  For a comic to make such an impact in 4 issues is quite a feat and there is probably more story in each subsequent part than some modern stories tell in 6-8 issue story arcs.

READ: For a look at Miller’s other definitive Batman tale, look at DARK KNIGHT returns here!

The story itself does exactly what it says on the tin, so to speak.  It covers the period of Batman’s first year in crime fighting along with dates of how the year progresses.  I really like the coverage of the dates in the book as it really feels like you’re going over the entire year with not only Batman but also the entire supporting cast.

Speaking of the supporting cast, although YEAR ONE is a Batman story first and foremost, it is also partially a Jim Gordon story.  Although this isn’t in continuity anymore, YEAR ONE depicts Jim Gordon as a cop coming from Chicago to Gotham after some controversy in his career.  It’s basically seen as a punishment because Gotham is well…Gotham.  Even before the days of psychopathic clowns, masters of fear and strangely attractive plant lady’s, Gotham is no picnic.

What Miller does is reimagines Gotham as a corrupt cesspool of the city that clearly needs help.  The mob who run the story are led by Carmine ‘The Ramone’ Falcone, and they rule the city by having the police force and even the mayor’s office in their pocket.  It is this level of dirt in the city that makes Gotham such a crime-ridden city, and although in previous interpretations it seemed that the police were just incompetent, here they are just corrupt.

So largely YEAR ONE is not just about how Batman gets started but how he comes to build a relationship with Jim Gordon which, even today is one of the best comic friendships ever.  There’s a lot of other ground to cover in YEAR ONE, including characters like ‘The Roman’ that was a major part of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman stories but has also recently reappeared as part of the major weekly event ‘BATMAN: ETERNAL’.  There’s also characters like Commissioner Loeb (no connection to the writer as far as I’m aware) who also featured in those aforementioned stories, but has also seen himself adapted to other media inspired by this influential story (more on that later).

YEAR ONE shows a Batman who, unlike his DARK KNIGHT RETURNS interpretation, is not as confident and is obviously far more untested.  Here we see his first true attempts at crime fighting, as well as his first battles with police, which has some callbacks to his fights with the force in DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.  There’s also a lot of other reflections on Miller’s other major Batman work, such as a callback to Batman referring himself to as ‘lucky’ when he narrowly avoids getting shot or wounded.  These are small scenes that are easy to miss but to me, really elevate the story.  There’s also a brilliant moment (one of my favorite in comics ever) where Batman is in battle with the police force.  When they try to hit him with a spray of bullets and hit his cape they speculate that he is some otherworldly being who cannot be killed.  It’s a brilliant moment where you see the legend of ‘the Batman’ start to finally take hold.  There’s also his ingenious method of escape from the police that was copied and pasted for Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’.

CLICK: To hear our thoughts on the NEW movie Batman, look over here!

There are a lot of great moments in the story that I could spend all day going over.  The infamous Mob dinner scene, the ending referencing the Joker, Gordon confronting Bruce Wayne about being the vigilante and many others I’m probably forgetting.  If you’ve read the story (which I would safely assume the vast majority of you have) you’ll know them and if you haven’t, go and read them because I’m jealous that you get to discover them for the first time.

One other moment I would like to mention is close to the end.  Batman saves Gordon and his son and loses his mask in the process.  While they speak underneath the bridge, Gordon clearly sees Batman without his mask but claims he can’t see a thing without his glasses.  It’s a brilliant moment that you can take either as Gordon being genuine or lying through his teeth.  The subject about how much Gordon truly knows about Batman is hotly debated and given that it was depicted in DARK KNIGHT RETURNS that the future Commissioner knew all along, we know what side of the debate Miller falls on.  He doesn’t force the point here but you can take it either way.  This also delivers some major set up for Gordon’s son, which current bat writer Scott Snyder would take advantage of some 24 years later.

Before I talk about the continued influence that BATMAN: YEAR ONE has, I want to talk a little about another major Batman character that makes an appearance in the form of Selena Kyle, who Batfans everywhere know better as Catwoman.  Although no major Bat rogue’s appear in YEAR ONE (The Joker is briefly mentioned at the end), Miller decides to include Catwoman in his story by showing some of her early days as a thief.  It is Selena’s appearance in this story that I feel is the weakest part of YEAR ONE overall.  Now don’t get me wrong, her dialogue is written well but it is her apparent role as a prostitute I never felt comfortable with.  Miller had shown Selena in DARK KNIGHT RETURNS as an aging Madam well past her physical prime; it is clear that the writer intended for this to be yet another callback.

There is some ambiguity as to how ‘involved’ Selena gets involved with her clients and it is definitely in Catwoman’s character to get what she wants but her depiction as a prostitute is not something I find easy to swallow.  Selena is a very intelligent woman who respects her own self above all others and even though, yes she is very poor, I can’t quite see her selling her body for monetary gain.  Some of her dialogue in her initial appearance, while strong otherwise throughout the story, is a bit off.  It is more reminiscent of the back and forth that will become Miller’s norm in years to come in his later works such as SIN CITY and ALL STAR BATMAN.

READ: Miller’s next Batman story!

It’s a brief blemish on an otherwise near perfect book but one I think warrants mentioning, though some people may not care about what it is Selena gets up to in her spare time.  I will say that since Loeb and Sale’s follow up to this in the form of LONG HALLOWEEN and DARK VICTORY featured Selena in a major way; the pair went a long way to explain her characters actions and fill her out.  In those two storylines, as well as the spinoff ‘WHEN IN ROME’, Loeb and Sale do fantastic work with the character that upon retrospect when reading this along with YEAR ONE makes Selena’s depiction here, easier to bare.

That leads me nicely into how much of an impact this story had, not only on the characters, but on other works and even other media.  The story led to the creation of the Bat title ‘LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT’ which also took place over the early period of Batman’s career.  That title led to some of the first pairings of Loeb and Sale on the character which led to THE LONG HALOWEEN and DARK VICTORY, which I pair with this story.

Of course, as well as serving as the official canon for Batman’s origin until FLASHPOINT in 2011, the story also serves as the first part of Miller’s own strange Batman continuity which includes ‘ALL STAR BATMAN’, ‘DARK KNIGHT RETURNS’, ‘DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN’ the upcoming ‘DARK KNIGHT: MASTER RACE’.

How much of that you want to take on board is of course, personal preference.  With DC comics, there are many frequent changes to what does and what does not count.  In regards to this, I always advise to take the story on its own merits, but if you can pair it with something else (even if its not obvious to anyone else or officially connected) that enhances your enjoyment of the story, then I don’t see why you shouldn’t.

CLICK: Want some Joker to go with your Batman? Check out our look back at Death Of The Family

Along with the obvious, YEAR ONE’S influence is vast and probably incalculable.  Its impact on Batman in the comics can be seen over the 28 or so years since the storyline occurred, but this influence probably extends over a lot of other books completely unrelated to the character.

The comic has also had major influence on other media as well.  It was going to be the subject of its own adaption as a movie during the gap in Batman films between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins with a script by Miller but like most of the projects during that time, it never came to light.  There is a lot of the story in Batman Begins but also in Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm, the Batman Arkham games, and finally an animated adaption of the story released some years ago that received a lot of good press and critical acclaim, particularly due to actor Bryan Cranston’s voice performance as Gordon.

I think it’s probably impossible to go every aspect of this storyline and the impact it had in one article.  It’s one of those lightning in a bottle moments that most creators can only dream of attaining but of which Miller seemed to make a habit during this period.  The story continues to receive multiple new printings and people are still talking about it (like now) far after its closing lines were written.  This will,  I think, always be a book we look back to as not only fans, but as those that want to be creators themselves.

LISTEN: To hear about some of MY influences as a creator, listen to this podcast!

It might not be the in-continuity origin any longer, but BATMAN: YEAR ONE is something that transcends silly matters like what counts and what doesn’t.  There is something special in those pages and there will be a lot of stories that try to equal it.  I think it is a story that not only reimagined a legend but has also become a legend in and of itself.

Stay tuned next week for the next chapter in ComicsVerse’s Frank Miller Trilogy!  Next week, Travis Czap takes you inside ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN!

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