Title: Batman: Year One
Writers/Artists: Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Colorist: Richmond Lewis
Letterist: Todd Klein
Editor: Denny O'Neil
Lo, I have tempted the Fates with my defiance. I have reared back and spat mightily into the wind, and the wind did turn a bored, amused glance in my direction, and now I have loogie in my eye.
In other words, yes, I tried to read something else by Frank Miller, and now I do want to punch him in the throat.
Batman: Year One explores the origins of Batman and what compelled a grown man, let alone a pampered billionaire, to put on a bat suit and turn vigilante. The first Chris Nolan film hews pretty closely to this text, down to the cliffhanger at the ending, with the major exclusion of Catwoman. For which I can only be grateful: Nolan has his issues with female characters but at least he didn't turn Catwoman into a dominatrix prostitute.
I find it a very, very sad commentary on the state of our media entertainment that I'm grateful to a director whose female characters were all whimpering mothers, traitors, or strong and dead. Because at least he didn't turn them into whores, too.
Frank Miller has no such hesitations. Every single woman in Batman: Year One is a whore, except for Barbara Gordon, Jim Gordon's pregnant wife whose only action in the story is to make him coffee and be upset by his philandering (but of course stands by her man), and Detective Sarah Essen, Jim Gordon's woman on the side whose only action in the story is to light his cigarettes and be upset when Jim Gordon goes back to his wife. All the other women in the story occupy the East End, which Bruce Wayne contemptuously calls "the worst of it": the establishing panel shows a plethora of XXX theatres, low-grade hotels, and topless bars. Which, really, Frank Miller? That's the "worst of it"? Not where people are being murdered or beaten by cops, but the red light district? Your Puritannical issues with sex, let me show you them.
The women here range from 13-year-old hooker Holly to Selina Kyle pre-Catwoman, who reward Bruce's attempts to rescue them from their cruel pimp by stabbing him in the leg. Which, okay, if some random guy karate-kicked a pimp, perhaps his hookers really would respond by defending their abuser from someone who might turn out to be a worse scumbag. But then Selina gets inspired by Batman's vigilante acts to start her own line of costumed adventures, and punches out their pimp before dragging Holly away from a life of rape and exploitation. Which begs the question, why the hell didn't she do that long ago? It's clear that Selina knows karate and can handle herself, yet for an indeterminate period of time she chose - instead of burglary or hell, even bare-knuckled boxing - to work as a prostitute and allow Holly to do the same.
Because in Frank Miller's universe, women are just naturally whores.
Okay. Setting his monstrous issues with women aside - Bruce Wayne is somewhat less psychotic in Year One than he is in The Dark Knight Returns. In fact, he's almost human as he stumbles his way towards a cape. He makes mistakes; he almost breaks his cardinal rule and kills someone; he (*sigh*) smacks women around. The process of him selecting the visage of a bat man is nigh-mystical: at a crucial juncture, one of those flying rodents improbably busts through a window like Miller's version of an angel bursting through parted clouds. (I, for one, had no idea that bat's skulls were that thick.) The story has no main villain, beyond the corrupt police force, though Harvey Dent makes an appearance in his pre-Two Face form; it's really a story of man versus himself, as Wayne struggles to overcome his own shortcomings and weaknesses. This is probably the most accessible Batman I've ever seen.
The only other main character in the story is Jim Gordon, who gropes his way towards his own legendary role as The One Good Cop in a sea of corruption. And grope he does, having an illicit affair with one of his fellow detectives. Whereas Bruce Wayne suffers bullet wounds and broken limbs for his failings, though, Jim Gordon suffers his own conscience. The city punishes Batman; Jim Gordon punishes himself. The two of them don't meet in the context of the story - though Gordon spends the last panel waiting on a rooftop for his new "friend" to arrive - and that seems strangely appropriate. In Miller's Batman, Gordon is more of an alter-ego to Batman than Bruce Wayne, who's a shell persona propped up to give Batman an alibi and unlimited funding. It's no mistake that Bruce Wayne has never had a steady girlfriend. Gordon is the one with family and a potential son and an actual job; he is imminently human, and until he makes the leap to working with Batman instead of hunting him down, Batman truly is a criminal vigilante. Jim Gordon makes Batman a superhero by being the well-intentioned, noble human who can go so far and only do so much before he has to call in outside help. He makes Batman necessary.
I somewhat prefer the artwork of The Dark Knight Returns, particularly the coloring. TDKR had darker, crisper hues; B: Y1 looks distinctly 80's, lots of purple and pink. I also missed having a Robin around, but I understand the necessity of keeping Batman isolated.
Now about Catwoman...