By: Super Mark

Dear Frank Miller,

Hey, it’s me again. We’re now in the second part of my Open Letter to you. Last time, I reviewed “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”. This time, I’ll be reviewing “Batman: Year One”.

Aaahh, the 80’s. Those were the days, weren’t they?
“Batman: Year One” was published in 1987, roughly one year after “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”. While it wasn’t the first Batman story you’ve written, I personally consider it to be your greatest. It has been the benchmark origin story for the caped crusader for over two decades, and it continues to remain so even after Superman’s own origin has been rebooted four times over. Even now, I can certainly see how the more recent Batman movies (specifically, “Batman Begins”) have been inspired by “Year One”.  After reading this, I saw just how much you actually get the character.

(Sorry, used to get.)

You wrote this piece, which is great. You’ve just gotten high accolades for “The Dark Knight Returns”, and right now you’re at the top of your game. And yet, you surrendered the artist’s brush to David Mazzucchelli, which was a surprisingly wise move on your part, because he seems uniquely capable of invoking the look and feel of the late 1930s. It was almost as if Bob Kane and Bill Finger, the original creators of Batman, had somehow given their blessings.

It’s a retelling of the origin story, Bruce Wayne’s parents get murdered, he’s on a quest for vengeance, and all that jazz. But then again, we already know that story. Still, there’s a quite a few new elements in here that really resonate to the modern audience. You’ve got a pre-costume Bruce Wayne delivering some rough justice to an abusive pimp. You’ve got a Batman who preys on criminals and corrupted officials alike. You’ve even got a bonus origin story of Catwoman thrown in there for good measure (although seriously, dude, what’s with all of your female protagonists being prostitutes?)

At the same time, it’s revisiting the theme of vigilantism that was prevalent in “Dark Knight Returns”. Thus, “Year One” is equally a prequel to DKR as it is an origin story. It’s actually even more effective in exploring that theme than DKR. It showcases Batman in his growing pains, when not only that, but the Batman’s path of vigilantism is compared and contrasted to Jim Gordon’s path of law enforcement.

That is where your true insight into Batman’s secret origin lies, in how Bruce Wayne’s journey parallels with Jim Gordon. “Year One” is every bit the future commissioner’s origin story as it is the future Dark Knight, if not even more so.

By allowing us to follow Gordon, we get to see an everyman’s point of view of just how far Gotham has gone to Hell. It is by far the scummiest hole in the DC Universe, and to see an everyday cop struggle with the corruption and fighting in his own way for a better place to support his family-to-be makes him just as much the superhero Batman is.

One of the most insightful scenes is when Jim Gordon comes face-to-face with an unmasked Batman after the superhero just saved his son’s life. After spending most of this series either trying to hunt him down or uncover his true identity, he says “You know, I’m practically blind without my glasses.”

Is he telling the truth? Or is he offering plausible deniability? It’s just speculation at this point, but the beauty of it is that it allows us the readers the freedom to do so.

Since reading this I personally like to think that Gordon has always known Batman’s secret identity. It adds depth to his character, and it portrays him as a competent much more astute police officer than he lets on. So in my mind’s eye, Jim Gordon has always known that Batman is secretly Bruce Wayne, he just refuses to admit it.

For that, Miller, I salute you.

Overall Grade: 9/10

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