Batman: Year One, is my favourite Batman comic. It features Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli producing their second best work. David Mazzuchelli is the single most underrated superhero artist and as good as anyone else the genre has ever produced. Frank Miller, on his day (which, sadly, seems to be nearly 3 decades hence), writes operatic and mythic superheroes like no other. Together they created the best Daredevil comic ever and the best Batman comic. And the one that forms much of the basis of Batman Begins.
Batman: Year One is the story of Batman before he was the Batman, as he becomes the Batman and his first interactions with the denizens of Gotham. The great scene in Batman Begins where Batman is beseiged by the SWAT team before escaping under the cover of bats. Except it’s done even better in the comic.
In the comic we see Bruce returning from years away to work out how to utilise his training to fight crime in Gotham. He tries but makes a mess of it, eventually coming face to face with a bat and deciding on his new identity.
As he sets about fighting crime he allies himself with the DA, Harvey Dent (another event utilised by Nolan throughout his trilogy) and a police captain called James Gordon. It is through Gordon’s eyes we see much of the comic, with him providing the human counterbalance to the insanity of Gotham and also the mythic introduction of a masked vigilante. It is Gordon’s mistakes, failings and successes that provide much of the emotional heart of the story. And it is this iteration of Gordon that I most clearly see in Gary Oldman’s portrayal of the character.
As well as being inspirational, the comic is brilliant in its own right. Miller is a master of efficiency throughout, using different character’s voices and creating a world of pervasive corruption where hope and nobility are in short supply. His Batman is still learning and his Gordon looks for redemption. But, more than this, he knows when to let Mazzuchelli tell the story without any words.
David Mazzuchelli uses a slightly paired down style here, with a deceptively simple line. There is an economy in his work that is incredible, but also a level of thought and craft that I am only now coming to appreciate. The pacing is slightly unusual in superhero comics, which is largely down to panel placement and shot selection. He marries traditional superhero proportions and techniques, with brilliant pacing and storytelling and something akin to Alex Toth’s finishing. It’s breathtaking work and would carry the comic all by itself, even if it wasn’t brilliant to begin with.