Batman’s origin has been told many times in his 75-plus year history. Each telling and retelling has added a new wrinkle to it. But which is the definitive origin? For me, and many others, it’s got to be Batman: Year One. Written by the legendary Frank Miller, art by the masterful David Mazzucchelli, and colours by Richmond Lewis, this 1986 story tells the Batman origin and the events around it.
Before Year One, Batman’s origin had been told many times before. Usually in done-in-one stories. But with Year One the origin is expanded to be told over four issues. There’s a lot more room to flesh out the ideas and let them breathe. In film terms, it’s like Batman Begins instead of the origin told in the 1989 Batman movie.
Miller can tell more than the broad strokes of the origin to shed some light on Batman’s early days. We see a Batman who is skilled but inexperienced. He makes mistakes and isn’t able to read the plays as well as the Batman we all know. This is best shown through a fight Batman has with some robbers on a fire escape. His inexperience gets him into trouble when he comes at the situation from the wrong angle, risking the life of one of the robbers and receiving a beating at the same time. But throughout the story we see Batman develop into the one we’re more familiar with, along with his ingenuity and heroics.
Jim Gordon plays a sizeable role in Year One. Year One reveals the role a young lieutenant Gordon played in cleaning up Gotham’s corrupt police force. Gordon is a man who stands by the law and does whatever it takes to clean up the city, even when he becomes a target of their corruption. In the process, his morals are tested when he’s forced into questionable actions.
We also see glimpses of Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) in her early days. She’s smart and independent and takes shit from nobody. While she isn’t a huge focus in the story, we do see intermittent glimpses of her as she slowly transforms into Catwoman, as inspired in a way by the work of Batman.
I can’t talk about this Batman classic without mentioning David Mazzucchelli’s masterful art. His work is ahead of its time, implementing a softer approach to the tight inking of the era. These lines help the art flow and have a dynamic quality to them.
The flow of Batman’s cape is a perfect example of this. Mazzucchelli is very aware of how it should behave and treats it as an extension of Batman. It flows behind when he runs, but at many times is wrapped around him as a form of protection. The soft lines also allow greater character expression, as they can be used both thickly or more subtle to portray certain characters. Even Batman face is expressive, even though most of it is covered with a mask. The way Batman’s mouth is drawn in conjunction with the shape of his white eyes allows the reader to know what he’s feeling.
Mazzucchelli’s art is accompanied by Richmond Lewis’ masterful colours. Her muted tones are ideal for the gritty narrative with heavy uses of browns, greys and blues throughout. The use of reds gives this great neon glow which helps amplify the danger of the situations as to the show some of the more undesirable elements of Gotham City.
Batman: Year One is a story that has stood the test of time to stay rigid throughout the multiple continuity changes which DC Comics have done over the past 30 years. It is heavily referenced, especially with Scott Snyder’s Black Mirror story, and has also been the inspiration for stories in other mediums – most evident in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.
Overall, Batman Year One is the definitive Batman origin. By taking what had come before, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli have explored more facets of Batman in his early days along with some of Gotham’s other residents. These inclusions have defined their characterisation and created the backbone for other stories ever since.
Batman: Year One is collected in a trade paperback and hardcover and can be found at all good comic book stores. It is also available digitally from Comixology, DC Comics app, Kindle, Google Play and iTunes store.