Andy’s Read Pile: Batman Year One & Other Bat-thoughts

GhostAndy

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One thing for sure that I have to get better at here as the “Host with the Most” of Ghosts of the Stratosphere is making sure we are plugging our Pateron.

Yes, believe it or not, we really don’t make a lot of money delivering all the terrific daily content here at gotstratosphere.com and sometimes, we look to our loyal fan base to help us out by showing their support and generosity by helping fund our continued mission to educate the masses on comic book culture through supporting our Pateron account. However, like any good quid pro quo, the Ghosts to deliver the goods to those that would take a few moments to show their monetary support by giving some exclusive content to those fans.

One of the biggest things we do is providing bonus episodes of our podcast that are not released on any other podcasting service. Not only that, but we do attempt to give some pretty choice content in these shows to make it worth your pennies. Such was the case with our most recent bonus episode, in which we took a page out of our “Rookie Read Pile” playbook and decided to review the extremely well known Batman story “Batman: Year One” written by the legendary comic book hall of famers of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli.

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In my opinion, this is one of the Top 5 best stories out there about the Caped Crusader, and arguably in my Top 25 books every self respecting comic book fan should read before they die. As you might hear if you sign up for our Patreon and give the episode a listen, I do spend some time discussing whether or not this book or Frank Miller’s other world famous Batman tale “The Dark Knight Returns” is better in terms of being comic masterpiece, which I gotta say is one hell of a good question.

What I can say though without giving away my answer is that these two books represent book ends to the career of one of the most famous superheroes in all of pop culture. So if you are a fan of the Dark Knight Returns and you haven’t read “Batman: Year One” yet, then you owe it to yourself to do so, because they are like opposite sides of the same coin. If you dig the older war weary version of Batman you get in that story, then it’s equally important to see how the tale begins. Those early victories and defeats that helped mold Batman into the character we know him as.

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I can definitely remember that this was one of the first books that really got me excited about Batman as a character. The scenes in particular from issue 3 in which Batman has to escape the firebombed slum that’s been surrounded by police are some of the very best in comics. The very definition of gripping, suspenseful storytelling especially given Bats has to elude a squadron of elite armored cops without his signature utility belt, all while nursing two pretty bad bullet wounds.

And it’s not like Batman stories in later years, in which it’s all but concluded from the start that Batman will win out because “he’s the best at everything”. This story proves what I’ve said for years that in giving Batman mortal weakness and frailty, in making him not the world’s greatest tactician/ninja/tech guru/giant penny collector, you make him so much more interesting as a character.

That true heroism comes not from defeating the baddies through sheer overwhelming power, but in the more quiet reserved moments where the deck is truly stacked against you, but somehow you persevere in the face of that. Hard earned victory that comes often from making good on previous mistakes, that’s the real good stuff. And the Batman we get in this story delivers that in spades.

He makes tons of missteps that we really wouldn’t equate with someone as “dominant” as the Caped Crusader such as that scene where he stops the burglars from stealing the TV set. But in making them, we are reminded that he is human under that cowl, and when he sits there out of breath wishing that fight went better than it did, we can relate to all those times in our lives where we bit off a little more than we could chew.

 

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Plus the fact that actually coming  through these trials by fire successfully, it helps cement his legend around Gotham as some sort of near mythical super being. Its no wonder that the scene in which Batman calls the swarm of bats to help cover his escape was adapted for the Christian Bale “Batman Begins” movie decades later because it does prove the point that Batman is so much more than just some guy jumping off rooftops in his pajamas. Everything is done on purpose, everything is deliberate and thought out.

Even situations in which Batman is up against the wall, he sees opportunities to turn this defeat into a potential victory by clouding his escape in an angry throng of bats by the use of technology that nobody would be aware of. He could have used drone dropped smoke bombs or super sonic noise to distract his pursuers, but he uses bats because he is ever building his brand.

There’s no wonder Bruce Wayne is a successful owner of a billion dollar empire. He’s a super shrewd business man, taking pages out of playbooks of the corporate sector to ensure his image is always at the forefront of people’s minds, even if that image that’s specifically designed to strike fear into criminals as a cowardly and superstitious lot.

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But this story is so much more than the building of Batman’s legacy, but also of those “co workers” that he would eventually enlist to help him in his never ending war against crime.  In addition to being Batman’s coming out party, this series is also a reestablishment of how competent and inherently bad ass the once and future Commissioner, James Gordon actually is as a law enforcement official.

Far from a picture perfect person given the fact that he cheats on his wife through the course of the story, Jim Gordon does paint the near perfect picture of a police officer, with his refusal to take bribes, his refusal to accept vigilantism (at least at first), and most importantly his refusal to be bullied by those in power to sacrifice his principles (the refusal coming in the form of that ass whooping he gives a former Green Beret who made the mistake of challenging his authority).

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In fact, I would argue that Alan Moore’s seminal Joker story, “The Killing Joke” doesn’t work without the foundations that Year One sets up in establishing Commissioner Gordon’s innate belief in the law.

Sure, you might have gotten the notion that Commissioner Gordon was a by the book lawman from other Batman related materials, but Year One really drives home the fact that even from early on in his career, James Gordon never took the “easy way” when it came to enforcing the law, and that innate belief in the sanctity of his mission would see him through even the darkest days. Days where your daughter is shot and raped by the Joker, while you are chained and tortured by sideshow freaks.

Honestly, the only character included in Year One that doesn’t really get a fair shake is the Catwoman.

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I always thought the inclusion of her being some sort of dominatrix style prostitute in her former life was pretty cliche even for a Batman story. And although, Batman mentions that she must have taken Karate at some point, this story really doesn’t give her credit for the massive amount of training it must have took to become Gotham’s most elite cat burglar.

I mean we are talking about a woman who leaped from rooftop to rooftop, eluding the world’s most preeminent detective in death defying fashion, all without most if not all of the technological gadgets with gave Batman a leg up on the competition,  and the best we can come up with is “She must have taken Karate”?

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It’s like what they used to say about Ginger Rogers. She had to be twice as good of a dancer to Fred Astaire just simply because she had to do everything he had do to, except backwards and in 6 inch heels. That’s pretty much Catwoman, having to do everything Batman does with a just a bullwhip and thigh high stripper boots.

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That’s why I always like the more polished and sophisticated Selena Kyle we get in Jeph Loeb’s Long Halloween series. It makes more sense for her to be a mysterious seductress who has even more secrets than Bruce Wayne does, given her chosen profession and again the insane amount of skill it would take to pull it off.

Speaking of which, in closing, the other awesome thing about Batman: Year One is the fact that it sort of created this entire movement among modern writers and artists to reexamine Batman’s early years for the first times in decades. It was like a spark of excitement which is not dissimilar to the feeling fans would get when they first started up the Ultimate Universe line over at Marvel. A chance to dump the hang ups of previous continuity while at the same time as celebrating it by using the good parts as the impetus of the reboot.

As a result, over the course of the next couple of years, we would have tons of really great stories pop up that attempt to retell these “rookie”esque adventures of Batman, including Matt Wagner’s Batman and the Monster Men and Batman and the Mad Monk, both retellings of the Batman’s original battles with Dr. Hugo Strange and the evil vampire like cult leader, The Monk.

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From there you have the Man Who Laughs, a retelling of the Joker origin by Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke.

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That bleeds into all of those previous mentioned Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale masterpieces like Long Halloween, Dark Victory, Haunted Night, and the criminally underrated Catwoman series: When in Rome.

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Not only that but you also have such great stories which could easily fit into those early years such as Batman: Year Two by Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis and of course our good friend Russ Bruan’s Batman: Venom.

 

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Yes, Batman: Year One has so many great things going for it, that’s it’s hard for me to not to sit here and gush about it ad nauseam. But if I did that, there would be no reason for any of you to listen to that bonus podcast episode available right now on our Patreon.  So with that, let me just plug it one more time.

Go out to our Patreon right now and for a limited time for the low, low price of only $1, you will get not only the bonus show for the month of February which includes the official GotS review of Batman: Year One with not only my thoughts but also fellow co host, Rob Stewart’s, on this seminal piece of comicbookery. But also you’ll be able to download the Bonus Show from the month of January, which includes origins stories about how the Ghosts of the Stratosphere members first got interested in comic books as well as some interesting thoughts on the history of professional wrestling.

Yup, that’s two bonus shows for the low price of $1!

You can’t beat that deal!

 

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