“Year One” (issues #404-407)
writer: Frank Miller
artist: David Mazzucchelli
published by DC Comics

Book infoThe year 1986 proved to be a pivotal year in the modern era of comics. Back in the halcyon days when comics cost only 75 cents (and I remember being upset by that price jump), several books came out that changed the face of comics. Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Dark Knight Returns. Man of Steel. Watchmen. Swamp Thing. This was a great time to be collecting comic books. Frank Miller, fresh on the heels of his seminal The Dark Knight Returns, turned to the main title, Batman, to write basically a mini-series within the series called “Year One.” Between these two works (along with Alan Moore’s Watchmen), interest in comic books was revitalized, even among non-comic book readers. In fact, so much interest was stirred about Batman that the Batman movie, long languishing in “development hell”, was put onto a fast track, coming out just a few years later (1989).

Years later, this book is serving as the inspiration for relaunching the Batman movie franchise as Batman Begins prepares for its debut. (And, by the way, a Watchmen movie is currently in the works.)

This “Year One” story arc spawned a series of “Year One” issues. The premise was simple: what was it like during the first year that the given super-hero donned the tights? The issues examined the emotions that drove them to pursue the life of a hero as well as letting the reader in as they were figuring out their method. Basically, they focused on their purpose, but working it out often proved to be messy.

Miller returns Batman to his roots, including David Mazzucchelli’s Bob Kane (creator of Batman)-inspired rendition. The story is simple: Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City after a twelve year absence after his parents’ death at the hands of a mugger; the event that triggered his war on crime. During that time, he’d traveled the world, training in martial arts and developing detective skills. The idea for Batman hasn’t occurred to him. After a botched attempt to attack the problem as “just another guy”, he’s inspired by the crashing of a bat through his window. Understanding the power of superstition, symbol, and myth, he crafts the image and legend of Batman.

However, the story isn’t about him alone. It is also about Lieutenant James Gordon, the future Commissioner Gordon. New to the Gotham City, he finds that he has to deal with a corrupt commissioner, a corrupt police force, and crime families. All while juggling his marriage to his expecting wife. So while Bruce Wayne is figuring out how to be Batman, Lt. Gordon is figuring out “what it takes to be a cop in Gotham City.”

“You’ve eaten Gotham’s wealth. Its spirit. Your feast is nearly over.” –Batman.

Gotham City, for all intents and purposes, is like man’s battle against his sin nature: all temptations and corruption. You see, there are no splashy villains in the story (though we do see Selina Kyle don her Catwoman gear in response to the appearance of a man running around as a bat). Instead there is only the corruption: the relentless, seemingly unstoppable, enemy within.

It never fails to amaze me how the stories of heroes echo the story of Christ.

Here you have a city, a world, caught up in the despair of its own iniquities. A man appears on the scene—before years of experience turn him into the cool, all-knowing, martial arts expert—who’s a “lucky amateur,” but still seems more than a man. He becomes a symbol of hope. He takes quite a beating and more than a few bullets, wounded for their transgressions. But even as he’s about his mission to “cleanup a city that likes being dirty,” he realizes that he can’t do it alone. He needs allies. A united trinity of a lawyer (a pre-Two Face Harvey Dent), a cop (Lt. James Gordon), and a vigilante (Bruce Wayne).

So, as Batman goes about his mission, others join him and in so doing, Gotham City finds out what a difference a few good men can make. Frank Miller triumphs in this bout of simple, yet powerful, story-telling.