Batman: Year One: Gritty Noir with an Amateur Vigilante

yearOneI had been looking for a copy of this since it came out in November, but I wouldn’t just deal with whatever version happened to be at the local Wal-Mart. I was rather peeved when they carried two versions of the DVD copy, but no Blu-ray. One version had the Catwoman short and the other one didn’t – and the only difference in price was $2-$3, a marketing decision I just don’t understand. I get having a Blu-ray and a DVD version, just not having two separate DVD versions.  I guess a couple of dollars makes a big difference in this tough economy though.

yearOne_comicLet me just start by saying that I’ve loved Batman: Year One for quite some time. I think I first read it back in the mid-nineties when I was in junior high and was eating up the Batman universe. Sure, I had been loving this universe for quite some time, but that was my peak-fandom era I would say. We would go through every summer and catalog our comics, making sure each had the proper type of bag and backer board if we could. Let me add though that reading this epic graphic novel is not a prerequisite to enjoy this film. They worked extra hard to get the look and feel just right, and the gritty glamour of Gotham City is on stage throughout the film.

This graphic novel was one of Batman’s best forays into film noir, in my opinion. As one of the commentators in the extra features explained, this story isn’t just about the beginning of Batman, but about Commissioner Gordon’s first steps in Gotham. It’s as much his origin story as the Caped Crusaders, and he feels like the underdog in his dogged fight against corruption within the very police force he’s been transferred into. The voiceovers are dark and succinct, perfect for a film noir piece. Frank Miller’s caustic ambivalence and hopelessness carries over quite well from comic to screen.

The camera shots and angles felt like they were pane-by-pane along with the comic – and they follow the action beautifully. There is no shaky-cam like what is seen on many modern films, or delayed shots that don’t quite keep up with the action. The audience can follow every step of the way as an amateur Batman struggles to survive in a city that’s been given orders to kill.

I’ve got to take a moment though to compliment this film on including one of my favorite scenes though. In the comics, there’s a shot with Jim Gordon and Detective Essen sitting in a diner late at night, which shares a striking resemblance to Hopper’s “Nighthawks”. They didn’t have to keep this shot in the film, but I absolutely love it that they did. It’s a testament to how much this film embodies the graphic novel. Here are a few shots from the comic followed by Hopper’s original “Nighthawks”, just to show the resemblance. Don’t you love how it’s even labeled Hopper?


The reason I love this so much is because Hopper’s paintings, and especially his “Nighthawks” piece, are known for their melancholic appeal. They’re known for solitary figures in areas that are usually busy and bustling, typically in city environments. Hopper’s paintings always epitomized to me the soul of Gotham, the loneliness, the desperate hope for a connection (as is the case with Gordon and Essen above), and in a way is the essential film noir accompaniment.*

Batman: Year One in short got all the parts right that I was hoping for, and then some. If you’ve never read the comic but love film noir, or just love a raw and vicious version of Batman, then I think you’ll love the film. This was the inspiration for the look and feel of both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight after all, so that ought to be reason enough to go pick up a copy. Without this piece, Batman would never have been made so realistic and down-to-earth as he is in these films. Oh and did I mention it’s also on Netflix?

joker_killingJokeNow if only the DCAU creators would consider doing “The Long Halloween”, “Dark Victory”, or maybe some villain origin stories like “Scarecrow: Year One” – it would certainly make me a very happy Bat-fan. Come to think of it, seeing “Arkham Asylum” put to film would just be divine, if not downright creepy!

So what would you like to see the DCAU creators put to film next? Mark Hamill has said several times that he would come out of retirement to do “The Killing Joke”. I for one would add that to my movie shelf without hesitation!

* There’s some interesting critique for Hopper’s work that I referenced a while back. If you want to read a bit more about his style of work, I recommend checking it out.