Bat To Basics
Tripwire kicks off its daily recommendation of 100 graphic novels people should read with Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, reviewed by its editor-in-chief Joel Meadows…
Batman: Year One
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: David Mazzucchelli
Colourist: Richmond Lewis
In the 1980s, Frank Miller owned mainstream superhero comics. His career began in 1979 when he took over as writer-artist on Marvel’s Daredevil title and created his own niche during four years on that book, later with artist Klaus Janson. He then went on to create Ronin, a dystopian sci-fi adventure he wrote and drew for DC in 1983. Of course he is probably still best known for writer and pencilling Batman The Dark Knight Returns in 1986-1987. He returned to the Dark Knight Detective with this four issue story that ran in Batman from 404 to 407, with him retelling Batman’s origin collaborating again with his Daredevil: Born Again partner, David Mazzucchelli.
Batman: Year One does tell a story that most people who are fans of Batman are familiar with but Miller with Mazzucchelli introduce new elements to the mythos, offering a kinetic, noirish take on Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. It is its seeming simplicity that marks it out as one of the finest Batman stories of the modern era. Miller understands economy of language and creates characters just through a few lines which seem at first glance to be just throwaway but they are so much more. The world that Miller throws policeman James Gordon into is a demi-monde of bent coppers, bizarre prostitutes and the concept that he is one of the only straight policemen in the city is one that works really well here. Year One is sweeping and cinematic in its writing and plot. Miller draws on things like Friedkin’s The French Connection and even Scorsese’s Taxi Driver to bring his unique vision of Gotham to life.
And it’s not just Miller here who lends so much to the overall richness of the story. Mazzucchelli is magnificent with his elegant lines and amazing storytelling and composition adding to Miller’s new take on Batman’s genesis. There are so many pages here that demand more than a cursory glance, forcing the reader to look deeply at his lines. His Batman is a German expressionist set of marks on the page, fluid and always moving. As he displayed on Daredevil: Born Again, Mazzucchelli is the master of simplicity with every stroke there for a reason. You can’t imagine anyone else, even Miller himself, illustrating this story.
The colouring by Richmond Lewis is also a major player here too with her work lending so much to Mazzucchelli’s lines. The palette she picks is perfect, using a range of subtle colours. Lewis is the artist’s wife which may explain why they work so effortlessly together.
I was blown away by it when I first read when it initially came out back in 1987 and Batman: Year One is still an important, exquisite modern superhero tale created by two people who work so well in concert with each other. If people haven’t read it, it’s the perfect Batman graphic novel to immerse yourself in while you are stuck inside. Miller was rarely better and it cemented Mazzucchelli’s reputation as one of the finest practitioners of modern comic illustrators.