I am very much a newcomer to Batman.
I read The Killing Joke a while ago, which I expected to enjoy, being the brainchild of the wickedly unpredictable Alan Moore–and enjoy it I did. Then I bought four hardcover Batman books, which are sitting on my shelf: Killing Joke, Year One, Arkham Asylum, and The Dark Knight Returns. The big four. The must-reads.
I was pumped. I attempted Dark Knight Returns, and got confused, and stopped.
The entire Batman comic universe is undoubtedly daunting to the uninitiated (i.e., me and all of us who were unfortunately born after the great age of pulp paper comics). There are just so many characters and so many story arcs. If you Google which Batman graphic novel to read, you get a list of twenty-five books. (Refer here for the advice of someone much better informed than myself.)
Then, in one glorious hour, I read Year One.
I can’t think of a better way to kick off your tour of the Batman universe. It’s the tale of how Bruce Wayne came to be Batman (Batman Begins is based loosely off it…loosely I say); how Jim Gordon, through sheer willpower and a sense of honour, rose through the ranks of a corrupt police squad; and how Batman and Gordon’s friendship begins.
The art style is simple but deeply evocative, bold and gritty. Purples and reds and blues. Thick swooping line art. It’s perhaps not the most amazing artwork I’ve seen, but David Mazzucchelli captures what I think can only be described as the spirit of the work–urgent, straightforward, emotional. The beginning of something big.
Frank Miller (Sin City, 300, Dark Knight Returns) introduces a number of key side characters, including the tragically noble Harvey Dent, Catwoman and mafia mobster Carmine “The Roman” Falcone. The two main plot arcs, however, are Bruce Wayne’s deeply personal quest for an effective method to rid Gotham City of corruption, and Gordon’s struggle to do the right thing in the face of unscrupulous and often ruthless law-enforcers.
I found Gordon’s story by far the most compelling. The storytelling is just beautiful; in a superhero action graphic novel, Miller makes you feel.
An animated film adaptation of Year One was released in 2011. It’s definitely worth watching, as well. It’s only about an hour long and is very faithful to the text and the atmosphere of the original graphic novel. It’s like reading the book all over again, but with moving pictures. The pace is quick and the characters develop quickly with the use of interior monologue. Also, you get to see Gordon being an astonishingly hulking bad-ass good-cop. Interestingly, it features the voices of Eliza Dushku as Selina Kyle, and Grey DeLisle (also known as Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender) as Barbara Gordon.