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Comic Book / Batman: Year One

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"Without warning it comes... crashing through the window of your study... and mine... I have seen it before... somewhere... it frightened me... as a boy... frightened me... Yes, father. I shall become a bat."
Bruce Wayne

"Batman: Year One" is a four-issue story arc, by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, of the regular Batman title (issues 404 through 407), published in 1987 by DC Comics.

The storyline follows the first year Batman begins to operate in Gotham from his disastrous first attempt in Gotham's red light district, to the battles with crime lords and corrupt cops alike, and even the first appearance of other people in tights and masks in Gotham. It also has (in Batman #404) the first appearances of mob boss Carmine "The Roman" Falcone, who would go on to have prominent roles in The Long Halloween and Batman Begins, and Catwoman's protegee Holly Robinson, who would later become the second Catwoman.

Batman: Year One is unique in the following: It was deemed the official origin story for Batman Post-Crisis, and remained canon despite other Cosmic Retcons until the New 52, where it would eventually be replaced by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Zero Year. It is also canon to the "Dark Knight Universe", an Alternate Continuity comprised of Miller's other Batman stories, including All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, Dark Knight: The Last Crusade, The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and Dark Knight III: The Master Race.

After the launch of DC Rebirth, Zero Year initially remained in canon as the de facto origin story. However, at least parts of Year One would be made canon once again. Over time, Year One was referred to more and more, and now it seems that Zero Year is referred to in broad strokes and Year One is the canon origin, also being heavily referred to in the lead-up to Detective Comics #1000.

This comic heavily influenced Batman Begins, and Batman: Arkham Origins took some elements from it. In 2011, an animated adaptation in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line was released; the adaptation is almost word-for-word.

Chronologically, it is followed by a sequel story arc, Batman Year Two.

This mini-series contains examples of:

  • The '70s: While the book itself was written in the '80s, the story is set roughly ten years prior to the present day, landing it somewhere in the late '70s. Gotham City here is very similar to late 70's New York (especially the red light district) as seen through Taxi Driver and Miller's earlier work on Daredevil.
  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: Holly has an unusual way of talking to "Se-LI-na."
  • Amazon Chaser: Gordon notes that Essen's "arms are strong. Her whole body's strong."
  • Answer Cut: When Gordon willingly confronts a crazed gunman unarmed, he internally hopes that his wife isn't watching the event on television, but knows she probably is. Sure enough, the dialogue boxes are right next to a panel showing her watching him on television in a live news report.
  • Author Appeal: Catwoman starts out as a prostitute. Yup, it's a Frank Miller comic, alright. Distressingly, Holly is also one, and she's only thirteen, if that. Bruce himself is more than a little disturbed by that. note 
  • Ax-Crazy: Branden and the GCPD SWAT team. They once put down a riot in Gotham's Not-Central-Park. Didn't even leave the statues standing. Their SOP seems to be: kill everything with fire.
  • Badass Boast:
    • Batman's speech while he's "convincing" Skeevers to testify against Detective Flass.
      Batman: You can never escape me. Bullets don't harm me. Nothing harms me. But I know pain. I know pain. Sometimes I share it... With someone like you.
    • And also:
      Batman: Ladies. Gentlemen. You have eaten well. You've eaten Gotham's wealth. Its spirit. Your feast is nearly over. From this moment on - none of you are safe.
    • Gordon's internal monologue deserves special mention as well:
      Gordon: He's had Green Beret training. It's been a while since I had to take out a Green Beret. *tosses Flass a baseball bat* Figure I should give him a handicap.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: At the start of the story, Gotham Police Department is made entirely of these, from the Commissioner on down. Lieutenant Gordon and his team seem to be the only cops who are doing what they're supposed to be doing...
  • Batter Up!: Gordon gets ambushed by a group of dirty cops who beat him to a pulp with baseball bats. Later on, Gordon confronts Flass with a bat of his own... but instead of attacking him with it, he tosses it to him and kicks his ass bare handed.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Carmine Falcone and Commissioner Loeb.
  • Big "NO!": Gordon does this when his baby, little Jim Jr. is thrown off a bridge. (Fortunately, Bruce pulls a Big Damn Heroes and jumps after him, saving him in the nick of time, without his costume).
  • Big Sister Instinct: Selina toward Holly.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The bad guys are bad, but the good guys have their own problems. Even Gordon, The Last DJ, has problems with infidelity.
  • Blood Knight: SWAT leader Branden, who borders on Psycho for Hire.
    • This is probably the only time Frank Miller doesn't make Batman this.
  • Breaking the Bonds: After Bruce gets shot and arrested, he comes to in a police car. He tells them to stop the car, and when they don't listen, he breaks his handcuffs effortlessly.
  • Brick Joke: After Gordon easily beats the crap out of Flass, he knows Flass has too big an ego to tattle and will probably say something like he got ganged up on by ten people. Later in the story, Flass recounts his encounter with Batman; the exposition is paired with a flashback showing what actually happened showing us that, yup, Flass makes himself look much better and Batman far more powerful.
  • The Bronze Age of Comic Books: Was written at the very end of it. This story arc, along with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (also by Miller) and Watchmen (by Alan Moore) are often credited with starting The Dark Age of Comic Books.
  • Can Always Spot a Cop: Downplayed with Bruce's first night out crimefighting. Stan the pimp can tell he's someone in disguise, though he (understandably) mistakes Bruce for a vice cop instead of an independent vigilante.
    That crazy vet bit...thas old, man.
    • Later on, Batman himself plays the trope straight, identifying all the cops in a sting (meant to catch him) by name.
  • Cat Scare: Causing one officer to open up with a machine gun.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: This is the story with the famous training scene that showed Bruce with borderline superhuman strength. He's able to break a tree with the power of his kicks and destroys a stack of bricks with an open handed strike of some sort... and from the way the scene is drawn, it looks like Bruce is destroying those bricks with a thrust of his fingers.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Bruce Wayne karate-kicking the tree in the first issue is later brought to mind in issue three, to be used a few pages later.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: A borderline case - as usual, Miller uses a lot of news broadcasts to further/hand-wave certain plot developments, but these are more for the readers' convenience; few if any of the characters are shown directly responding to them.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: In the extras, it's shown that David Mazzucchelli based Bruce Wayne's appearance from actor Gregory Peck.
  • Collector of the Strange: Much to Catwoman's chagrin, Commissioner Loeb has a $40,000 collection of...Peanuts memorabilia. It's a character point for him: He loves the honesty of Peanuts even though he's immensely dishonest!
  • The Commissioner Gordon: One of the subplots is of Lieutenant Gordon coming to trust Batman and become this.
  • Continuity Nod: "Hmf. I suppose you'll be taking up flying next, like that fellow in Metropolis."
  • Creator Cameo: While perhaps not the first to do it, this story is likely the Trope Codifier for various Gotham landmarks named after past Batman creators (usually from decades ago), namedropping (Jerry) Robinson Park, the (Bill) Finger Memorial, and the (Dick) Sprang Mission.
  • Decoy Protagonist: While Batman is still a main character and his early days protecting Gotham are explored, Gordon's conflict with his corrupt fellow officers gets a lot more focus in this story, to the point that even Bruce's first night out as Batman is glossed over.
  • Dirty Cop: The Gotham City Police Department is swimming with them, although Detective Flass is the most obvious example. Gordon's refusal to go dirty nets him a lot of enemies among his coworkers very quickly.
  • Drama-Preserving Handicap: When the police bomb the abandoned apartment building Batman is sheltering in, the blast ignites the thermite in Batman's utility belt, forcing him to discard it, so he only has the meagre number of gadgets in his boots and his wits to survive against the heavily-armed SWAT officers gunning for him.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Catwoman's first heist results in Batman getting the credit. Her second heist does net her credit... as Batman's assistant.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Bruce makes a point of bringing this up in his internal monologue when he decides to rescue the corrupt cops from their burning car after he escapes from it:
    Bruce: Scum, maybe, but even scum have families.
  • First-Name Basis: Gordon realizes his affair is getting too serious when he starts calling her Sarah instead of Essen.
  • The Fettered: Both Batman and Gordon.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: the collected hardcover and paperback editions are completely re-colored by the original colorist, Richmond Lewis. The original colors are more vivid, pulpy, and in line with standard comic printing at the time. The new colors are much darker and moodier, and use a far wider color palette.
  • Happy Ending Override: Per later writers, Jim Gordon's family life goes straight down the shitter in subsequent years. Despite the marriage counselor, his wife ultimately leaves him - in Greg Rucka's retelling, she doesn't even do it to his face. Those who ship him with Sarah - and indeed, The Dark Knight Returns did introduce Sarah as future!Gordon's wife - probably won't feel much better knowing that Sarah gets killed by the Joker. Oh, and that adorable little baby boy Batman saved? Grows up to be one of America's most vicious serial killers.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: About Selina's outfit.
    Holly: "I mean it's pretty queer — I mean —"
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: Two words—dominatrix Catwoman. The fact that such appeared in a Frank Miller comic isn't surprising.
  • Hero of Another Story: While Batman and Jim Gordon are the mains, Assistant D.A. Harvey Dent makes a few appearances here and there, and is mentioned to have been (trying) to combat Gotham's corruption long before either of them. He's secretly working in cahoots with Batman.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: Gordon shoots Bruce Wayne, who he mistakes for one of the men kidnapping his son, and steals his motorbike to chase after them. Bruce then steals a bike and pedals like mad after Gordon.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Selina Kyle, who mostly seems to be a dominatrix-for-hire, is protective toward the younger Holly Robinson and already likes cats.
  • Iconic Attribute Adoption Moment: This sees Batman initially strike out crime-fighting disguised as a common thug, and doesn't assume his cape and cowl until after his first outing goes horribly wrong. He realizes a big part of it is because the criminals weren't at all afraid or intimidated by him, so he decides to up his theatricality...
  • Idle Rich: Bruce cultivates this image as a cover, since who would suspect lazy, good-for-nothing Bruce Wayne with, well, Batman? Gordon however is not convinced.
  • Insane Equals Violent: A one-off criminal is a paranoid schizophrenic recently released from Arkham Asylum that kidnaps three children at gunpoint. He's making some sort of demands to the police while holding a gun to the head of one kid, but because he's utterly delusional, none of his demands make any sense.
  • Instant Sedation: Some kind of tranquilizer gun Batman uses to knock out the chauffeurs at the socialite party he sneaks into. There's also Batman's blowgun in the apartment shootout scene.
  • It's Personal: Falcone wants Batman hunted down and killed for tying him up in his underwear inside his own home.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • In a poor attempt to act affable, Flass gets rid of a frail Buddhist monk who's nagging Gordon for donations by picking up the monk by the collar and tossing him aside like a rag-doll. He also beats up a kid allegedly to disarm him of a switchblade. It's a comb.
    • Not to mention Loeb's decision to try to corral Batman... by firebombing a building full of winos.
    • There also a near-literal example, combined with a Pet the Dog for Batman. SWAT agent Pratt gets annoyed and tries to shoot the cat used as a Cat Scare. Not much later, Batman punches him through a wall over it.
  • Knight in Sour Armour: Gordon. He's the only good cop is a city with insanely high crime rates and only violent, corrupt cops. Even when his life and his family are threatened by his coworkers he refuses to give in.
  • The Mafia: Since this is Batman's first year out, none of his iconic Rogues Gallery has shown up yet. Thus, these guys take the role of the bad guys.
  • Mama Bear: When a pimp is abusing Holly Bruce tries to intervene. When he attacks the pimp Holly stabs him with a knife. When Bruce knocks her aside Selina leaps from the hotel room to kick his ass.
  • Mythology Gag: The title of the first chapter: "Who I Am and How I Came to Be" is a reference to the title of the original Batman origin story: "The Legend of the Batman: Who He Is and How He Came to Be".
  • More Dakka: Branden and the other SWAT members' response to basically anything is to bomb and blast it as much as they can; it doesn't matter to them how many innocents or even their own team mates get caught in the crossfire.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: Branden and his SWAT team are often referred to as this, Gordon even calls them "Gestapo".
  • Neck Snap: Catwoman does this to a random mook using her legs, which is somewhat of a character violation as in the modern-day comics Catwoman almost never kills.
  • "Nighthawks" Shot: The diner that becomes a sort of Good-Guy Bar to Gordon and Sarah Essen. Eventually it's revealed the place is, in fact, named Hopper's.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:
    • Wayne takes on a pimp selling underage girls in the Red Light District, and the girl he's pimping stabs him in retaliation. Then everyone else proceeds to gang up on this outsider who's attacking one of their own.
    • Batman saves a homeless woman from getting hit by an out-of-control truck, and is rewarded with the Trigger-Happy cops opening fire and nearly killing him. Several more homeless people end up being killed by the police as acceptable losses as they try to kill Batman.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: The two primary antagonists of the story, the corrupt Commissioner Loeb and the mob boss Carmine Falcone. Neither is even close to a physical match for Batman, or even Gordon for that matter, but they both have many followers willing to carry out their violent orders.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The reaction of Falcone crime family and corrupt officials when Batman tells them he's coming after them.
    • Gordon has this reaction twice in the story. First when he hears Branden has been called in to deal with a crazed gunman holding three children hostile, and second when he finds out Flass and Loeb have photos of his infidelity.
  • Original Position Fallacy: At a dinner party at Falcone's mansion, Commissioner Loeb assures Falcone and a group of Gotham's elites that Batman is actually good for them in the long run: a vigilante beating up a few street-level thugs and drug dealers helps the city's inhabitants to feel safe, "and the safer they feel, the fewer questions they ask". Then Batman crashes the party and tells the assembled elites that he holds all of them accountable for Gotham's misery, promising that "none of [them] are safe." First thing the next morning:
    Loeb: No excuses, Gordon! That vigilante bastard goes down instantly, or it's your job!"
  • Papa Wolf: Do not mess with Jim Gordon's son.
  • Painting the Medium: Gordon's narration has a printed font on a yellow background, while Batman's is cursive on white.
  • Le Parkour: Bruce Wayne relies on it while pursuing some kidnappers across the city, during the day.
  • Period Piece: Not for the original mini-series, which was written in the mid-80s, but for the animated adaptation which is incredibly faithful; it's been more than a generation since Hare Krishnas offered people literature at train stations or airports, for example.
  • Predatory Prostitute: Catwoman herself starts out as one of these, which is why she provides the page image, a Hell-Bent for Leather dominatrix living in Gotham City's Red Light District who doesn't hesitate to jump in when she witnesses a brawl break out on the street between Bruce Wayne and several other people.
  • Pretty in Mink: Martha Wayne wears a white fur coat (it's when she gets shot, but otherwise counts).
  • Real Is Brown: The comic portrays a much more realistic and gritty retelling of Batman's origin, and uses a far more muted colour palette than the norm at the time (or since, for that matter), with very dark and greyish watercolour hues.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The plot point of the Gotham city police dropping a bomb on a building from a helicopter seems like the sort of outlandish thing you could only expect from a Frank Miller comic book, but it actually happened in Philadelphia two years before the comic was released.
  • Recycled In Space: Gordon's part in the story plays like Serpico, a sole honest cop trying to clean up a corrupt department, but with Batman.
  • Resigned in Disgrace: This befalls Loeb at the end after Flass testifies against him.
  • Save the Day, Turn Away: Batman saves Gordon's baby without his mask. Gordon says he's blind without his glasses, and tells Batman to flee the scene before the cops arrive.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Gordon is shown with these when he's pissed off.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: The thief boy about to fall to his death according to Batman.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Batman, out of costume, just saved Gordon's infant son's life and hands him the child. Even though he's personally met and spoken to Bruce Wayne, Gordon blames the loss of his glasses for his (claimed) inability to recognize the man he's talking to and standing two feet away from.
  • Self-Imposed Challenge: In-Universe. When Gordon gets revenge on Flass for beating him up, he throws Flass a baseball bat because he decides he needs a handicap. He still easily beats Flass with his bare hands.
  • Sequel Hook: The last few frames is of Gordon revealing he received a letter from a guy calling himself "The Joker" who is threatening to poison Gotham's water supply.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Ironically, the corrupt Detective Flass and Commissioner Loeb seem to be the only cops that don't smoke.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: The book feels more like "Gordon: Year One" than "Batman: Year One," since Gordon's story makes up the bulk of the comic.
  • Stupid Evil: Batman jumps in on three teenagers robbing an apartment through the balcony. Unfortunately his Terror Hero persona is too effective and scares one of them so much he falls over the railing. Batman barely manages to catch him by the ankle, but rather than being thankful that Batman saved their friend from plummeting to his death, the other two robbers take the opportunity to start pummeling Batman, even through he's the only thing keeping the third from falling twenty stories. Some friends...
  • Super Hero Origin: The point of the story is to show off the origins of Batman, Gordon, and Catwoman (although the latter has been retconned out and in of continuity).
  • SWAT Team: Brandon and his squad are less police officers than a bunch of trigger happy goons enforcing Commissioner Loeb's will. Of course, the bunch of them are all completely outclassed by Batman.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The arrival of Gordon and Bruce to Gotham, in the begining of the story. Gordon arrives in train, and thinks he should have taken a plane... and Bruce arrives in plane, and thinks he should have taken the train.
  • Talkative Loon: Albert Blume, a paranoid schizophrenic who holds three children hostage in chapter two.
    Blume: Spider nasty don't noise it—no lunch. No lunch.
  • Terror Hero: This comic shows how Bruce took up the persona of Batman. When he first set out to clean up the streets as a vigilante, he fails miserably because criminals aren't afraid of him. While pondering what he should do, a bat crashes through his window and lands on a bust of his father. This inspires him to cloak himself as this creature of the night to terrify his enemies, just as bats frightened him as a child.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Branden and his other SWAT officers have this as their response to basically anything they're called in to deal with. Gordon recalls an incident where they put down a park riot so violently that not even the statues were left standing. When Loeb calls in Branden to deal with Batman, his first action is to carpet bomb the apartment building Batman is in, five times.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Gordon struggles with the fact that he should be pursuing the obviously righteous Batman, who is, according to the law, a criminal.
  • Trigger-Happy: Lt. Branden and his SWAT team who even end up shooting fellow police officers.
    Holly: Selina! Things are blowing up near the park!
    Selina: Maybe Branden's cornered a jaywalker.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The series details not only Bruce Wayne's becoming Batman, but By-the-Book Cop Jim Gordon becoming The Commissioner Gordon.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: In chapter two, Flass is narrating the story while Batman attacks him for taking money from drug dealers. Naturally, what he says and what happens are polar opposites. When Gordon beats him up earlier in Chapter 1, he thinks that Flass will doubtless make up a story about twenty attackers and never admit the truth.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: After Bruce protects Holly from her violent pimp, she stabs Bruce in the leg.
  • Verbal Tic:
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Bruce's first night home to Gotham, he patrols the streets "just for recon". It quickly turns into an epic screw-up where the prostitutes he thinks he's protecting attack him, the cops shoot him without question, and he nearly bleeds to death.
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: This happens to Catwoman when she robs Commissioner Loeb's home. His only "valuables" are his large collection of Peanuts memorabillia, which Catwoman realizes no fence is going to want.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Bruce shows no hesitance in laying punches on Selina when she attacks him.
  • Wretched Hive: This story portrays Gotham at its dirtiest.