It’s amazing when you think about not only how many different approaches Batman can handle, but also how many seminal stories are attached to the character. Whenever you get or got into comics, these stories are tent poles that changed the game. You either read them as they happen or feel their influence later on down the line.
When I came to Batman around the time of Knightfall, I was experiencing the latter. That would have been around 1992, six years after Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and five after the “Year One” story was published in Batman. To say those were wildly influential stories for the character would still be an understatement. I’m far from an expert, but it seems like Frank Miller was continuing many of the elements developed in the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams era, but I can’t say that for certain because of my limited experience. Anyway, this was a more serious take on Batman.
But like I said, that take on the character was very much the norm when I started reading those comics and, even though it was held up on the same level as Dark Knight Returns, I must admit that I’d only read it once before last week when I thought it would be a good idea to read Miller’s Batbooks in chronological order (as far as the character goes, not real time). I was going to start with Year One, then check out All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder and then end with DKR and maybe Dark Knight Strikes Again if I could easily get my hands on it. There was a big hitch in that plan, but I’ll get to that later. The point is that I hadn’t read Year One in a long time, but really enjoyed the experience this time around.
If you’re reading this blog you probably already know the basic story of Year One, it’s a look at Batman’s first year in Gotham playing hero. While he’s trying to figure out the best way to run around in disguise, fight criminals without killing them and striking fear in the hearts of men, Selina Kyle is giving up her career as a whore to become a thief and Jim Gordon’s doing his best to clean up Gotham and its police force.
In fact — and I’m sure this has been said before — this book is far more Jim Gordon’s Year One (In Gotham) than it is a Batman story. Sure, Miller puts you inside Batman’s cowl as he figures out this crime fighting thing, but the far more interesting story being told here is of the morally imperfect man trying to do the right thing in his day job as a cop. He takes his lumps, gives as good as he gets and worries about raising his unborn child in such a terrible city. At the same time, he’s stepping out on his wife with Detective Sarah Essen. It’s uncomfortable reading that no matter what, but even more so if you were reading when I was and know that Gordon eventually gets with Essen.
The emotional weight of the books comes across from Miller’s subtle writing, but also from Dave Mazzucchelli’s pencils. He’s an artist that I don’t have much experience with, but I was struck by how the art felt equally loose and detailed. I’m not quite sure if that makes any sense, but I think it has something to do with the thick lines used and the warm yet muted color pallet used throughout the book.
All-Star Batman And Robin, The Boy Wonder (DC)
Written by Frank Miller, drawn by Jim Lee
Collects All-Star Batman And Robin #1-9
I had a great time getting back to this seminal work and will add my name to the nearly infinitely long list of people who think it should be required reading for comic fans. It’s just such a great piece of comic book creation that it made my look at All-Star Batman And Robin, The Boy Wonder come off as skewed.
My intention was to see how Miller’s version of Batman grew from Year One to All-Star and into Dark Knight, but I found that comparing the two books did no favors for All-Star. While Year One is very subtle and nuanced, there’s no room for any of that in this other book jam packed with loudmouthed extras and sociopathic heroes. When my buddy Sean Collins reviewed the book in 2009, I had just re-read it and liked it. But this time around I flipped back to the negative side. I get that it’s parody and over the top, but I think there are too many elements of the basic Batman character left out of the proceedings that it’s not actually a Batman comic anymore. This time it felt kind of like one of those Mark Millar comics where he takes a basic superhero concept, “turns it on its ear,” adds profanity and sells a million copies. I’m not a fan of those books. Jim Lee’s artwork sure is pretty though.
I’m probably completely wrong on this because I’m also not a DKR scholar by any means, but the complete shift in tone from Year One to All-Star threw me for a loop. I think I could probably still enjoy this book on its own, separate from any other Batman, but right now, I’m going to put it aside and move on to something else.