The amazing thing about Batman: Year One is that it’s much more a tale of Jim Gordon than the Batman. Ask most any comic-book fan who’s read and loves Year One, and they’ll remember every great Batman moment. It’s like the collective conscious has fooled itself into believing Batman bursts through every page of this fantastic tale. In fact, Batman gets about half the screen time here, perhaps even less, but each moment is made memorable. Writer Frank Miller does not waste a single panel.
Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham parallels Jim Gordon’s arrival from Chicago. At the time, Gotham is a mess of corruption. The commissioner is owned by the mob, most of the police are too. Gordon is one of the few good cops. I imagine Miller watchedSerpico before writing Year One, as the journey of these two cops trying to clean up their departments is remarkably similar in some respects.
The path of Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon begin far apart, but over the course of the four-issue story, the two paths come together. It isn’t until the very end that Gordon and Batman see eye-to-eye. This is a story of how that relationship was forged, of how two men came to the dirtiest, crummiest city in America with the hope of doing some good.
Gordon’s journey is used to illustrate the corruption in Gotham, of the grime and darkness as viewed from the man on the streets. Batman’s tale is more of the transformation from man to myth, of how the harshness of Gotham forced Bruce Wayne to put on a bat costume. Mixed together, they make for a incredible exploration of the Batman mythos.
What’s shocking, reading Year One so many years later, is how little of this story actually has stayed in continuity. Selina Kyle is no longer a reformed whore, Gordon has never again shown that he can actually kick some ass and Batman is hardly human any longer. Miller offers some rather heavy hints that Gordon knows Bruce Wayne is Batman. After an unmasked Bruce Wayne saves the life of Gordon’s newborn son, the future Commissioner gets a long hard look at the Batman. Many have interpreted Gordon’s line, “You know, I’m practically blind without my glasses,” to indicate that he couldn’t actually tell who the savior was. Those folks are just plain wrong.
Gordon is offering plausible denial. If nothing else, his wife (whom Gordon brought with him when he interrogated Wayne about possibly being the Baman) got two good looks at Bruce in action. The power of Gordon’s knowledge over the years hold much more significance than the ignorance portrayed in later years.
Year One was a clear influence for Jeph Loeb’s Long Halloween and Dark Victory as the inspiration for some of Loeb’s stories can be seen here. It’s nice to see someone appreciated Year One enough to spawn two brilliant stories in its honor.
You know that saying, “If you read just one book, this is the one to read”? Well, that applies to Batman: Year One. It’s not only one of the most important comics ever written, it’s also among the best.