Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Batman Year One

Batman Year One ~ I need to preface this review of the straight-to-DVD feature Batman Year One with full disclosure. I have a lot of problems with Frank Miller, who wrote the comics this story is based on. He has very little regard for comics history or continuity, and I am pretty sure that he actually hates comics, and especially superhero comics. In fact, I am reasonably sure the only reason he works in comics is to destroy the industry and the artform from the inside. And I believe Batman is the character that he hates most, and has done the most damage to. Need proof? Consider exhibits A and B to be The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All-Star Batman. And don't even mention the Spirit movie, damn him.

So, you can imagine I was already prejudiced when I slipped the DVD into my player. I also had not read the comics, as I was initially turned off by the very image of Batman with a gun in the ads for it. On second thought, it may have been Year Two, but either way, it put me off the Batman Yearbooks. For those not in the know, Batman doesn't use guns, he abhors the use of them - because a gun was the instrument that was used to murder his parents. It has been part of the character's history for decades. Despite the fact that early appearances in the Golden Age show Batman with a gun, it can be theorized that his origins had not been set in stone yet at that time. It's like Superman came from Krypton, Batman doesn't use guns. Put a period.

Year One is essentially the origin of Batman as re-envisioned by, yeah, Frank Miller, but it's also a new backstory for Commissioner Gordon. There are a number of details that have been overwritten in this version, but I won't dwell on them, what's done is done. Suffice it to say, as he's done with many characters, Miller has made Gordon a horribly flawed character. For the first twenty minutes or so, Gordon is not likable at all, and to be blunt, he's only likable because the other characters are so much more unlikable. It serves to support my theory that Frank Miller doesn't really know what heroism is at all. His is a world of dark grays and blacks, no whites allowed.

While Gordon is the only not completely immoral member of the Gotham City police, Bruce Wayne tries his hand, badly, at fighting crime, has his butt whipped by a suspiciously possible prostitute pre-Catwoman Selina Kyle, and gets shot by the police. Not a good night. Miller retells the bat coming through the window to inspire Bruce into becoming a bat-man, only without the famous "superstitious lot" speech and adding in more daddy issues than Bruce already has. See what I mean by terribly flawed?

Miller does flaw Gordon by giving him an affair with Detective Sarah Essen, something I can't even imagine the character doing. He loved his wife, but what do I know, Frank Miller's the genius, right. At least, unlike the comics, which may or may not have been represented by the ads I saw all those years ago, we get no Batman with a gun in this animated flick. We do however get a crazy gravelly voiced Ben McKenzie as Batman. Why go for the bad Christian Bale imitation when all know that Kevin Conroy is the only real choice for the animated Batman. Also in the voice department, the best thing in this feature is Bryan Cranston as Jim Gordon, brilliant casting and performance.

Catwoman shows up a few more times, once or twice in tailed grey outfit. She really doesn't seem to add much to the plot, what plot there is. It really is just a cataloguing of events. Perhaps the Calendar Man would have been a better villain for the piece. Speaking of villains, we have Carmine Falcone and the Gotham Police in this one, and I really have to wonder, that if Gordon was in their way, why didn't they just kill him outright. They didn't seem to have any qualms offing anyone else. They seemed to almost wipe out a whole city block, MOVE style, to take out Batman.

The Catwoman short that accompanies Batman Year One is awesome. Catwoman of recent times is primarily about sex and style, and visually this short is perfect Catwoman. The pounding music score by Christopher Drake is the highlight here along with a very sexy, very daring strip joint scene where Catwoman shows villain Rough Cut that she is both beautiful lady and savage tiger. Maybe a little sexist, but it works well. And parents, be warned, this one's not for the kids.

The chase that follows did bother me a bit however. I was distracted thinking that if her costume had to tear, would it tear like that? Catwoman's costume is at least leather, and possibly Kevlar, or some other comic booky material. Would it tear at all? And finally, did it even have to tear? Also, it bugged me that Catwoman really doesn't have a hand in taking out Rough Cut. She gets away, and he's done in by bad luck. It just wasn't satisfying for me.

Either way, this short is awesome and don't miss stuff. Loved it. And it features a much much better Catwoman than the one featured in Batman Year One. I still despise Frank Miller. See this DVD for the Catwoman short, it's worth it.

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