In 1987, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli produced the renowned origin story of DC Comic’s Dark Knight in Batman: Year One. The comic told the dark and gritty tale of police detective James Gordon and the returning millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, as they both tried to adapt to their new roles as the guardians of Gotham City. It was a gripping adventure which, by letting audiences see the amateur flaws and mistakes both of them made in the beginning of their careers, was able to humanize both characters in a way that had never been done before. The story also gave insight into the early relationship between the Dark Knight and characters like Harvey Dent, who would later be known as Two Face (they used to be friends, you know) and Selina Kyle. But now, for your viewing pleasure, DC Universe Animated Original Movies has brought us a fully animated version of this classic story. So how does it stand up when compared to the comics?
The story starts out slow, with Bruce Wayne looking down on Gotham as he makes his returning plane ride from his worldly travels and years of training, ready to make a difference. Meanwhile, Gordon takes a train ride to his first day of work as a Gotham City cop as he wrestles with the thought of him and his wife Barbara bringing a child into the harsh and unforgiving world around him. From there, things pick up quickly, and without spoiling anything for you, rest assured that there are plenty of satisfying and intense action scenes, along with countless iconic Batman moments for you to behold here. Any Batman fanboy will surely have numerable, smile inducing, moments in which you silently (or loudly) exclaim, “That’s so awesome!”
Also, if you have seen the Christopher Nolan film: Batman Begins, watching this will show many of you just how strongly Nolan’s work has been influenced by the old comics. While we of course have to send our undying thanks to Bob Kane for his original concept from the 1939 Detective comics, it was really stories like Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, along with the stories by brilliant minds like Alan Moore (The Killing Joke) and Jim Starlin (The Cult) that really helped shape Batman into the gritty, dark hero that we know him as today. In this sense, Batman: Year One is a must see for anyone looking to get into the character. Thus, I would also like to suggest that while this animated film could be watched at anytime in your Batman fanboy (or girl) career, the experience is truly at its best if you are already familiar with other Batman stories. If you were new to Batman mythos, the mistakes that Bruce makes would seem less surprising, and the focus on characters like Jim Gordon, Selina Kyle, and Harvey Dent would seem less enchanting and intriguing.
Assuming that you have never been exposed to the original comic (which surprisingly, not all Batman fans have), this film is a great place to start. Not only does the art style beautifully echo Mazzuchelli’s work to a T, this version of the story also features some impressive voice talent from stars such as Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranstron, taking on the role of Jim Gordon. This is some of Frank Miller’s story telling at its best, and Tab Murphy has made an admirable adaptation for the screenplay. You can still sense Miller’s dark and raw style throughout the film, especially in those scenes of brutally satisfying revenge and justice. However, in contrast, things can seem slow at times; the animation speed isn’t the best, and the monotone performance of Ben McKenzie (that dude from The O.C.) as Batman was a bit of a let down. Maybe I am just used to Kevin Conroy…
In closing, this is an awesome Batman film that shouldn’t be missed. It would make a perfect holiday gift for any fan of the pointy ears, although I wouldn’t really recommend it for young children, as there are some scenes implying prostitution and other crude acts. The animation isn’t anything to write home about, but the art, story, voice acting, and action scenes are all top notch. This has never been my favorite Batman story, but it is still one of the best (If any readers are interested, leave a comment, and I will gladly type up a ‘top 5 Batman stories’ piece for you all to enjoy). Do yourself a favor, rent this, or go pick a copy of this and find out the true history behind Commissioner Gordon and Gotham’s Dark Knight.
Ryan’s Recommended Viewing:
Opening Weekend – At The Theater – Rent It – Watch It On Cable – Stay Away! – 4 out of 5