FEATURE: "Batman: Year One" Review

The definitive Batman origin story gets a faithful animated revisit

It's rare to find a person who doesn't know the origin of Batman.  He's a cultural icon, right up there with Superman and Spider-Man, with popularity that probably surpasses both those comic legends.

 

For those who don't know the details, the fast-and-dirty of it is this: as a boy, Bruce Wayne watched his parents get murdered in front of him.  Vowing to rid his city of this criminal disease, he travelled the world for over a decade, training his mind and body to their limits.  Returning to Gotham City, he donned the guise of the Batman, a fearsome predator striking from the shadows to tear down Gotham's criminal hierarchy.

 

So now you know why everybody loves Batman, strange visitor to our humble world.  Please take this news back to your alien planet so they can also share in the joy of Batman.

 

But in all honesty, Batman: Year One isn't really a Batman story.  Oh, Bruce Wayne plays a very important part and we get to see his early struggles before he's a feared urban legend, but really, Year One is Jim Gordon's story.  No, not the goofy always-getting-kidnapped Gordon from the Adam West TV series or the Schumacher movies.  Not even the dependable moral compass Commissioner from Batman: The Animated Series or the Christopher Nolan films.

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No, fresh-off-the-train Year One Lieutenant Gordon beats an armed Green Beret to a pulp with his bare hands and fearlessly takes on the corruption that's destroying Gotham's police force.  He even chases down this strange vigilante dressed up as a bat who's taking on criminals in their own strongholds and swears to put this nut in a cell before somebody gets killed.  But something is different about this "Batman," how he readily saves innocents from everyday peril in addition to tirelessly seeking out crime and crushing it under his boot.

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Bruce Wayne's homecoming is more than just getting hunted by the GCPD and finding a friend and ally in Gordon.  It's full of painful trial and error, learning that training is no substitute for actual experience.  For everyone who says Batman is infallible, he's too good at what he does, well... he wasn't always that way.  For me, that's the draw of Year One as a story--it humanizes Batman, who despite his lack of superpowers is one of the least relatable characters in comics.  He's smart, resourceful, and dangerous, and his (perfect) social skills are just a front for the sociopath in a bat suit.  In Year One, we see Batman get his ass kicked by a couple of common thugs, something inconceivable today.  Batman has to work for every victory he gets, and we see him slowly developing into the legend we know him as.

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These two "first year in Gotham" origins intertwine in a story heavy with politics, drama, and emotion, making the movie feel far more in-depth than its little-over-an-hour runtime would suggest.  It doesn't waste any time with its story, skillfully adapting the original Frank Miller (Sin City, 300) script to the screen, getting every major action scene and every memorable quote intact.  As DC's animated features have done in the past, it also translates the original art of David Mazzucchelli and Richmond Lewis into animation, literally making the movie look like Mazzucchelli and Lewis' art coming to life with its pastel colors and soft lines.

 

DC Universe Animated Originals has had a few especially good films as of late, including Green Lantern: First Flight, the two Superman/Batman movies, Wonder Woman, and Batman: Under the Red Hood.  Add Batman: Year One to that list.  It might possibly the best of the bunch.

 

 

Batman: Year One is available on DVD, Blu-ray combo pack, and in digital form on October 18th.

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