Batman: Year One

Batman: Year One

I got this comic a little while ago. I had wanted to put some space between all the other Batman posts I was doing. Seems I totally forgot to write about it after my large break early on and my desire to get some movies on here too. Now is as good a time as any to talk about Batman: Year One.

As the title implies, this is the first year Batman comes into being. Not exactly an origin story, as it’s been years since the death of his parents after a mugging goes about as bad as it possibly could. Since then, Bruce has been training his body and building his reputation as a young billionaire obsessed with wine, parties, and women.

On his first outing into the bad part of Gotham, he intends only to get a feel for the criminal element who now inhabit his home city. He disguises himself as a thug with a scar, but hopes to only walk around and observe. He knows he’s not quite trained enough and still new to this, but he still can’t help himself when he sees a prostitute being pushed around by her angry pimp, and he jumps into the middle of things. He soon realizes that the swarms of street wise criminals aren’t afraid of a tough guy when there are so many of them to jump him, and things go very badly for him indeed. He needs an edge. He needs them to fear him. But not just any fear. As Bruce puts it, he needs to put the “fear of God” into them. It is then that he finally gets his dramatic realization to use the bat as his inspiration.

Batman: Year One was written by Frank Miller, the same writer as The Dark Knight Returns, but this time with a different artist, David Mazzucchelli. In fact it was his success with The Dark Knight Returns, Batman’s “swan song” story, that made DC look to Miller for a more detailed look into the beginnings of one of their flagship characters the following year. Because of this, you’ll notice the art is a little older looking than what many may be accustomed to, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without flair. It’s not so old that it looks like the Silver Age comics that inspired the Adam West tv series. By this point Batman had already become the darker character that we know today. I liked how the art often has a painted quality to it, and makes excellent use of shadows thanks to David Mazzucchelli’s work.

I found Batman: Year One to be a very mature and serious feeling book. While The Dark Knight Returns was still mature in the sense that lots of people die, it still had that “comic book” feel like when Batman shows up on site with a giant absurd looking tank. Year One instead has a much more grounded feel to it. This also might be largely to do with the fact that he doesn’t actually deal with any of his regular cast of rogues. Instead, his first task as the Batman is to clean up Gotham of the overwhelmingly corrupt police department.

He’s not alone in his fight though, as G.C.P.D. recently hired a young new Lieutenant named James Gordon. Unbeknownst to each other, they are working together to take down the corrupt agency with one working on the inside, while the other puts on pressure from the outside. They don’t see each other as allies at first, but by the end they seem to have an understanding of sorts. While Batman’s beginnings are interesting, and the reason many will pick up this comic, I actually found the story of James Gordon’s rise through the ranks even more interesting. Not only was it pretty much entirely new to me, but to get this level of detail was just fascinating to me. All the while that Batman is dealing with criminals and running from a trigger happy police force, Gordon is also being assaulted by crooked cops and dealing with threats to his newly pregnant wife. I almost found this more intense simply because Gordon is just a regular man.

It’s hard to rank Batman: Year One against other Batman comics like The Dark Knight Returns because it has such a different feel when compared to all the others I’ve read. It feels just as much of a crime and detective book as it does a crime-fighting superhero book. The art and tone are also so much more grounded in reality compared to other titles with the likes of Two-Face, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy and the occasional flying person. This story is about mob bosses, crooked cops, and two men trying to fix their city in the only way they each know how. Definitely worth reading! Pick it up if you get the chance.

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The Dark Knight Returns – The Best Batman Story Ever Told?

The Dark Knight Returns – The Best Batman Story Ever Told?

Don’t confuse the similar titles, this isn’t the comic version of Nolan’s latest movie. While there may be a story beat or two taken from The Dark Knight Returns, this is a totally different tale! Written by Frank Miller in 1986, the same year asĀ Watchmen, this tale is widely considered one of the best Batman comics ever written. It’s taken me the better part of two weeks to find the time to read through this wordy Batman story, but boy was it worth it.

Set in the future, crime is running rampant having gone unchecked for the past decade. You see, there are no more superheroes. It’s never entirely explained, but basically heat from citizens groups eventually put more and more pressure on the government to put an end to those who were now seen as violent vigilantes. Before long, all the heroes had retired, and none rose up to take their place. In the past 10 years, Gotham has not fared well at all. A new gang called The Mutants has risen up, almost like an army, and is only a hair’s width away from basically running Gotham. With politicians too afraid to stand up to them, and the police force too undermanned to stop them, the elderly Bruce Wayne, now nearing 60 years of age, can finally take no more and he once again dons the cape and cowl, heading out into the night.

The Dark Knight Returns shows a dark and corrupt world, with the terrified citizens of Gotham more likely to be victims of muggings, rape, or murder than not. Police Commissioner Gordon is on the verge of retiring, and The Mutants constantly send him death threats. We get some good insights into Gordon’s thoughts, fears, and worries as he thinks what it will be like for his replacement, and the horror that his beloved city has become before his eyes.

While The Dark Knight Returns has plenty of satisfying action, with lots of bat gizmos and gadgets, this book is much more of a character piece. We constantly get internal thought monologues by many of the characters, much like I just described for Comm. Gordon. Also in this book is the introduction of a new Robin, a very young 13-year-old girl named Carrie. The contrast between this new dynamic duo is massive, but they just work in so many ways. Batman is far more fatherly to Carrie than I’ve ever known him to be for other Robins, often interupting his own scoldings of her disobedience with concern that she’s also careful while they scurry along the rooftops of Gotham. One of my favorite back-and-forth bits between the two is how Batman constantly threatens to fire her for not listening, and yet he never does.

The story takes some cool twists and we see some interesting cameos by other DC characters, both villains and friends. The main arc of The Dark Knight Returns is about whether or not Batman’s return is causing more harm than good. You get new gangs popping up who idolize Batman, but take their vigilante-isms to extremes, often even assaulting the would be victims they saved simply because they didn’t stand up to their attackers! Then you get cases like The Joker, who for the past 8-10 years has been nearly comatose, unresponsive, and basically completely harmless… until he sees Batman in the TV news broadcasts in the asylum. As he watches, his previously expressionless lips curl into his familiar hideous grin.

Along with Joker, you can expect to see small stories with Two-Face, lots with the Mutant gang, and even Superman makes a significant appearance. Another cool thing to note, is that this book was written several years before the telephone poll death of Jason Todd. Within the pages of The Dark Knight Returns, vague comments are made about what happened to Jason, and it’s clear that it was bad, but it’s never mentioned what happened. It’s kinda cool how things lined up like that in the end.

I’m just going to wrap this up by saying that if you like Batman, this is a MUST READ. Essentially, everything you could ever want from a Batman story, practically everything you may have ever dreamed you might see one day, you’ll find in this book. Because this book is set waaay into the future, Frank Miller basically had free reign to do whatever he wanted with any of the characters. I really liked how vulnerable he made Batman seem even though he’s packing some serious muscles and kicking ass. They definitely make it clear his advanced age isn’t making it easy for ol’ Bruce. Just like comics from back in the day, this book is much more wordy than what you may be used to, but it leads to a crap ton of story and character depth crammed into a manageable sized book filled with a cool and unique art style. I’m not sure how else to convince you to read this. Just get it!

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

After hearing about the shooting at the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Denver, Colorado, I found myself unsure when, or even if, I would go out to see Nolan’s latest Batman flick. I haven’t been very excited for the movie, and the news of the tragedy definitely put a damper on what little desire I had left to see it. I resigned myself to the idea that I would go see it if friends reached out and invited me, but I had next to no drive to go see it alone, or to reach out and make the plans with friends myself. As chance would have it, I was invited out, and I didn’t want to turn them down.

To say my expectations were low would be an understatement. It’s not that I thought the movie would suck, or even be bad, I just felt there was no way it could live up to The Dark Knight, let alone all the hype that’s been crammed down my throat for years. I just didn’t find the new characters of Bane (Tom Hardy) or Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) to be very interesting, and the trailers didn’t sell me on it. So the question is, were my low expectations enough to make the film blow me away? Did the tainted feelings I have from the shooting influence my viewing experience? Ultimately, did I enjoy the film?

To cut to the chase, I found both good and bad things about The Dark Knight Rises. I had such low expectations, that I could even say I had none. I was actually apathetic about even seeing the film, which, as a comic book superhero fan, I’ve never experienced before. And believe me, it’s a really weird feeling to have, especially after having loved Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight. The last thing I ever wanted to do was to end up finding bad things about Nolan’s Batman series.

Starting with the characters and acting, I’m pleased to say I didn’t hate Bane and Catwoman as I thought I might. I’ve never been a fan of Anne Hatheway, but I remember Nolan’s crazy casting choice of Heath Ledger as The Joker, and look how that turned out! Because of that I decided I wouldn’t make any early judgement calls, as I’m sure Nolan saw something special in her, which is why he picked her for the role. While I haven’t seen her in much, I’ll still say that I think this is some of her best work at bringing a character to life. Still, I can’t help but think there must have been someone better for the role. She wasn’t bad, but she still fell a little flat for me. As for Tom Hardy as Bane, I’m amazed at how much he bulked up to monstrous proportions for this role. Even in Warrior (2011) he wasn’t this big! Regarding his performance… I’m not even sure how much of it I really saw.

While I eventually got used to Bane’s weird mask, I could never get used to his voice, which just never sounded like it was actually coming from the character. I know early test audiences complained about not being able to understand anything Bane said. As I understand it, they went in, cleaned up the audio distortion on his voice, and dubbed it back into the movie. I think this, combined with the mask that hides most of any actual performance Hardy could do, besides punching people, gave me a hard time getting into the character. Again, he wasn’t bad, but the vocals definitely became distracting, and made the performance feel hollow to me.

The other problem I had for most of the movie, was that I just never felt like I was having fun. I was still pretty indifferent to most of what was going on, and I just never felt any tension or thrills. Long story short, I was bored for most of the film. The pacing was very slow and drawn out, and it just got to me. Now I didn’t say I thought the WHOLE film was boring, it wasn’t. The last 5-10 minutes were pretty amazing!

I guess I just have a lot of nitpicks about a good movie, which is definitely not as good as the previous installment. While call backs to all the other movies were very good, it really just made how glaring the lack of The Joker was, which is of course unavoidable. I’m quite certain though, that had Heath Ledger not passed away, he would have had a very large role in this film. Also, and this could just be me because I know a little about the Batman characters in the comics, is that a lot of the twists they tried to do here simply fell short and were entirely predicable for me, and I had guessed almost all of them very early on. This certainly didn’t help the story in terms of excitement for me. I’d go into more depth here, but no one likes spoilers.

It’s so hard to pin down my feelings for this film, or mainly why I didn’t like it more. I know in my brain that this is a good movie, but I just don’t feel it in my heart. It has a lot going for it, and I feel I’m definitely going to be on the outside of the crowd with my opinion. I think The Dark Knight Rises would have been more enjoyable to me if it had a few more elements that just felt missing. For a character known as the world’s greatest detective, the almost non existent amount of detective-ing was sorely missed. Also, when I think back about it, there was a surprising lack of Batman in his own movie. He’s only really in a handful of scenes, and they often had flaws to me. And I’m sorry, but I really just didn’t think his big new toy was very cool. Maybe if the trailers hadn’t spoiled it.

I’ve kind of been avoiding talking about my feelings regarding the shootings so far. I had heard in a witness report that about 35 minutes into the movie, the gunman started attacking at the same time a shootout was going on on screen. About that length of time into the movie, when a fight breaks out, I definitely thought of the shooting and had a horrible gut wrenching cringe as I thought about the horror that happened to those people. As the movie progressed, I did forget about it, but to say it may have had no effect on my feelings would probably be a lie.

I think most people will really like The Dark Knight Rises, but I just didn’t really have a good time. I didn’t like Bane’s voice, the lack of Batman in all my favorite ways, and I think they could have had a better Catwoman than with Anne Hathaway, although she wasn’t terrible. The slow drawn out pace of the film, and predictable twists to anyone who knows the Batman comics made the film tired and boring for me. I’m really quite sad I didn’t have a blast with this film, especially considering how low my expectations were. Personally, I think this is the least enjoyable of Nolan’s Batman films. I think I just prefer it when Batman is dealing with smaller scale problems like the mob, or thugs in dark alleys, and generally scaring the crap out of the people that he’s hunting. The film isn’t without its flaws, but I think for anyone who enjoyed the previous two Batman films, unlike me, you’ll probably find something to like.

Please feel free to leave a comment. I’m interested to know what other thought of The Dark Knight Rises. Was this your favourite Batman movie? Let me know!