I've seen many takes on Batman's origin story--hell, I've privately tried writing my...moreOriginally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...
I've seen many takes on Batman's origin story--hell, I've privately tried writing my own, just to see if I could do a good job--and it's always a titanic undertaking. You have to have the character down cold before you can really move along to plotting and interpreting everything else. Batman: Year One, while not my absolute favorite re-telling of the Dark Knight's initial forays into crime-fighting, is nevertheless one of the milestone stories in the mythos. It is also undeniably a damn good story overall, because it explores Jim Gordon's life as in-depth as it does Batman's.
Bruce Wayne, having been studying a range of skills abroad for the last dozen years or so, returns to Gotham to begin his war on crime and attain some measure of revenge for his parents' murder when he was a child. Gordon has just transferred to Gotham from the Chicago police force, and quickly comes to understand that he's come to a highly corrupt--and dangerous--city. As Bruce gradually evolves his identity as the Batman, Gordon soon receives orders from his superiors to bring the Batman in at any cost. Using threats and blackmail against Gordon, whose own behavior hasn't been completely sterling, the top cops in the GCPD have a mob goon kidnap Gordon's newborn son. While Gordon manages to catch up to and tussle with the mobster, Bruce manages to rescue the child from a fatal fall from a bridge. He hands the baby to Gordon, and is not wearing his costume, but Gordon, who's lost his glasses, says he's "practically blind" without them, and urges Bruce to leave before the authorities arrive. Soon after, as the corrupt Commissioner Loeb is slowly forced to resign from the police force, Gordon waits on the rooftops for a friend to help him solve a crime involving someone named the Joker. It appears the alliance between Batman and Gordon has finally solidified, and Gotham will never be quite the same again.
While there are a virtually endless supply of things I could say about the writing here, this is one of those stories that I remember mainly for particular scenes in the narrative. I'll go over just a few of my favorites and explain why I like them so much.
Assault and Counter-Assault: Gordon's attempts to clean up corruption do not go well on the GCPD. His superior, Commissioner Loeb, orders Gordon's partner Detective Flass and several others to beat him up. Flass personally threatens Gordon's pregnant wife Barbara. What does Gordon do while he's recovering? Instead of going to the hospital, he tracks down Flass, waits for him to leave alone, then hands him a baseball bat before beating the living snot out of him, taking his clothes, and leaving him naked and handcuffed in the snow. The fact that Flass is younger, bigger, and a former Green Beret makes his beating at the hands of an injured and pissed-off Gordon all the more satisfying to watch. After this scene, I perished any thoughts of Gordon being any kind of pushover, forever.
Dinnertime Debut: Wow. While the corrupt fat cats wine and dine themselves at the mayor's mansion, Batman appears to them, crashing through a window and telling them that their long feast upon Gotham's wealth and spirit is nearing its end. Just before that scene, you see Loeb telling Gordon that the Batman is not a high priority target for the police. Now that he and his fellow fat cats and mob bosses have just been threatened by him, what does he say to Gordon in the next panels? "No excuses... that vigilante goes under--instantly--or it's your job!" Amazing what a little focus can do, isn't it?
Fight Against the GCPD: Deprived of his utility belt and trapped in an abandoned tenement by the Gotham Police, Batman is injured, cornered, and surrounded by a squad of heavily armed men. Using his wits, resourcefulness, and more than a few lucky distractions, he turns the tables on the SWAT team, summons a swarm of bats and escapes from them, having only injured a couple of them. This scene basically establishes that not only is Batman strong and physically intimidating, but also that he's cunning, intelligent and resourceful enough to take on an entire squadron of highly trained men. After getting shot up by them, he makes the cops look like complete idiots. Because that's just how bad-ass Batman actually is.
So, there's a few of the reasons that I like the writing in this story. There are also touches that I didn't particularly care for. Selina's origin, which didn't feel like it needed any tweaking before this story, comes to mind. Not only do I find her former calling as a prostitute a little off-putting, but I'm just not sure she figures heavily enough into the narrative for that kind of interpretation. I mean, really, how often does she appear? She's on the sidelines for most of the story, and dons the Catwoman costume in a manner that strikes me as reactionary and trite.
Also, in the final action scene, why the hell is Bruce Wayne not in costume? Perhaps I missed something important, but I don't recall any circumstance keeping him from donning the costume so he could rescue Gordon's family in anonymity. He just shows up on a motorcycle, wearing body armor and a helmet, which of course falls off. What was the reasoning there, Frank?
Art-wise, I'm only marginally impressed. Mazzucchelli's style is fine for what it is, it's just not what I would consider a dynamic or very interesting one for superhero comics--though I suppose you could technically argue that this really isn't a superhero story. It does feel very noir and gritty, with the bold lines and the liberal use of shadow, but the flat coloring and relatively simple line work feels like this is something we should have seen in the decades prior to the late 80s. I won't deny that it supports this story wonderfully, it's just not my cup of tea personally.
Overall, Batman: Year One is an important piece of work in the Batman mythos, as well as comics in general. I don't personally like some of Frank Miller's reinterpretations, but others are spot-on and really make the narrative pop with excitement. Batman fans of all stripes need to read this story, and I think anyone who likes crime stories in generally will be pleasantly surprised at this comic book story. Highly recommended.(less)
Okay, the tagline on this cover really sold me: "Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-...moreOriginally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...
Okay, the tagline on this cover really sold me: "Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl." Yeah, because there are a million of those in comics. Or storytelling in general.
So we know the protagonist, at least, is a refreshing change of pace.
The rest of the story, it turns out, offers a diverse array of refreshing characters, situations, and themes, making Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword both entertaining in its execution and instructive in its assertion that imagination, bravery, and a willingness to follow your own path despite what others think are qualities that will serve a young girl well.
Mirka is an 11-year-old girl in Hereville, an isolated, Orthodox Jewish rural community, whose spunkiness and disregard for her village's norms make her instantly likable and worries her friends and family. When she discovers a tall, strange-looking house in the forest, she and her friends encounter a large, mean-spirited pig who becomes a minor bane on Mirka after he sees her stealing a grape from his garden. In outwitting the magical animal, she is presented with a quest from the pig's owner and is granted the option of pursuing a troll to win her own sword with which to fight evil. Mirka must decide if the risk is worth the reward, and weigh it against her personal safety, the perceptions of her own strict community, and the memory of her deceased mother.
There's really no arguing that Hereville is a charming, unique and overall very heartwarming story. The character is both engaging and an ideal target for conflict because of her unconventional nature in an Orthodox Jewish community, and her magical encounters add a generous dash of fantasy to a home life for which she otherwise exhibits little enthusiasm. I had slight problems with some of the choices made in the story, particularly Mirka's decision to beat up her brother Zindel and threaten him when he tried to keep her from searching for the troll. But this is overshadowed by the overall upbeat tone of the narrative, where her quest for self-discovery--and a sword--become her all-encompassing goal.
Barry Deutsch has also written some very amusing and memorable characters for this story. My personal favorite was Fruma, Mirka's argumentative and wise stepmother, whose penchant for verbal sparring and discussion is notorious among the children. The talking pig with whom Mirka gets into a sustained feud is also highly entertaining, as he is not only gruff and grumpy, but emerges as the major test of Mirka's willpower and grit. Finally, there's the troll with whom Mirka duels, who is unconventional not only in appearance but also in speech and manner. I won't spoil much about him, but I think he was a delight to read in this story as well.
As for the art, I was actually pleasantly surprised at how it struck me in some places. It's mostly simple and cartoony in places, but at particular moments of strong emotion or surprise, the style changes, becoming more detailed and really making the reader take notice. Of particular note are the moments when Mirka first sees the large house, and the fight between her and Zindel, when you can clearly see how intensely and viciously angry the siblings are at one another in the heat of the argument. All in all, very good work here.
Overall, I found this to be a worthwhile and entertaining read, with a strong message about following your own path in the face of opposition from others. Raina Telgemeier says that comics need more positive girl characters, and I not only agree with her, but also believe like her that this book is a prime example of that assertion. Children of all ages should enjoy this, as well as those who like fantasy and folklore, strong girl characters, and stories about family. Highly recommended.(less)
"Do you know what my people call this past year? The Long Halloween... my nephew was the first one to die. On Halloween night. It could have stopped t...more"Do you know what my people call this past year? The Long Halloween... my nephew was the first one to die. On Halloween night. It could have stopped there. But, it didn't. And we both know why. You and the cops just let it continues because he was killing our people. Mia famiglia! And you stand here and act like your hands are clean." -- Carmine Falcone to Batman
In Gotham, several months after the events in Batman: Year One, a killer starts knocking off Falcone family mobsters on specific holidays throughout the year, starting on Halloween. He leaves a card and calls himself Holiday. Batman forms an alliance with Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, and occasionally Catwoman, to find and bring Holiday to justice.
Subplots include Batman wondering about Catwoman's loyalties; Harvey Dent's tragic eventual disfigurement and transformation into Two-Face, one of Batman's most dangerous foes; turf wars between the Falcone and Maroni families; and Calendar Man's involvement in trying to catch a killer who, like him, is themed around holidays. Denizens of Batman's rogues gallery make feature appearances, including the Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Riddler, Mad Hatter, and Solomon Grundy.
This was an engrossing read, which kept me interested throughout the entire tale even as various elements were introduced and, at times, seemed to take away from the story. Not the case in hindsight, though without a clear idea of the overall narrative, it was easy to occasionally get confused. It's clear to see where parts of the story influenced Christopher Nolan's Batman movie, particularly those scenes involving Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and they work well both as sequential art and in transfer, with some occasional tweaks, to the medium of film.
The idea that crossing a moral line is very easy to do takes center stage near the end of the story, with two examples. Batman, who barely manages to pull back from the edge upon discovering and confronting Holiday, only seems to do so with the help of Jim Gordon. Two-Face, on the other hand, is alone, and plainly crosses the line in the name of "doing what must be done" after his horrific transformation, killing two people responsible for his turmoil. The message here is clear: be careful not to cross the moral threshold, lest you become the very thing you despise. It is wonderfully set up and built on throughout the story, and the payoff at the climax yields dividends for the reader.
There is also the implication that belief can be a powerful force, be it for either good or ill. At the introduction of the story, when Bruce Wayne, in a scene taken directly from the first Godfather film, tells Carmine Falcone he believes in Gotham City, he is obliquely referencing one of the reasons he fights crime as Batman. The same line is applied to another character (names withheld for spoiler purposes) at the tail end of the story, when someone involved in the Holiday killings cites belief in another character as justification for their involvement. It's a chilling turn of events, which totally took me by surprise, but which also solidifies its impact and ties the threads of the story together nicely.
I read this right before reading Hush, which I didn't realize until afterwards was also written by Jeph Loeb. I have to hand it to the man, he has a talent for weaving a lengthy narrative and keeping it interesting the entire way. He also seems to enjoy spotlighting the villains in the rogues gallery briefly before moving on to the next one!
Artwork in comics tends to be very subjective, and Sale's art works very well with the narrative here, for me. He maintains the iconic look of the characters while leaving just enough room for exaggerations that still support the overall tone of the story (the number and length of teeth the Joker has, the length of Batman's cape in certain shots). Things do seem rather flat and cartoony at times, which is why I'd get sick of looking at it constantly, but it works well with the plot and characterization in the story. It has a very noir feel to it, which is definitely supported by the art style. Wright's use of flat colors can likewise be a bit off-putting at times, but actually help the artwork maintain symbiosis with the story.
Overall, a very good read. The writing is tight, the artwork is pretty good, and both work to make a graphic novel worthy of your time. Highly recommended.(less)