Monday, April 2, 2012

Year One: Batman 407


Batman #407 (May 1987)
"Friend In Need"
Frank Miller-David Mazzuchelli

Karen: Here we are, at the end of "Batman Year One". Both Batman and Gordon have realized that they can't take on all the crime and corruption in the city by themselves. It's just too much. As someone who was only an occasional Batman reader, this 4-part series did a lot towards explaining the Batman-Gordon relationship to me.

Doug: I was a pretty regular Batman and Detective Comics reader (not so much on Brave and the Bold), but I'm not sure I'd given it too much thought -- the one thing I was sure of, however, was that the James Gordon in the comics was not that sorry excuse for a cop we got on the 1966 television series!

Karen: This issue opens with Gordon ending his affair with Detective Sarah Essen. It was unclear in past issues just how far things had gone, but there's a scene here where Essen tries to give back a bracelet Gordon had given her. I think that's a sign that things were serious. Essen requests a transfer, and although Gordon loves her, he thinks it's the right thing for both of them.

Doug: I agree about the lack of clarity. Given that the story takes place over one year's time (natch), it seems to be the definition of a whirlwind romance. This fourth issue picks up on September 2nd; so the romance probably takes place over only 7-8 months' time, you think?

Karen: Off-panel, Gordon catches Jefferson Skeevers, a big-time drug dealer, but Harvey Dent, the D.A., allows him to go free on bail. This infuriates Gordon. Meanwhile, we see Batman crawling up a brick wall (did he fit his fingers in the tiny cracks?) of the building where Skeevers lives. We hear his attorney yelling at him while he does lines of coke. I know that we'd seen depictions of drug use before, but this still took me aback.

Doug: Knowing the Batman, he probably had some sort of claws in his gloves just for the occasion -- although there was no evidence of it. I really felt a Dark Knight vibe in this scene with the use of some TV "talking heads" serving as narrators.

Karen: Skeevers thinks he's safe bec
ause of his connections to Detective Flass, but his lawyer doesn't want him to turn on Flass, fearing that it would get both of them killed. Shes tries to prepare him for trial, but he's not paying attention. Right after she leaves, Batman breaks into the apartment. Batman does a big scary act on Skeevers. Immediately the next day, Skeevers is telling Gordon he wants to get a plea bargain, that he'll turn on Flass.

Doug: Gordon's line to Officer Merkel as he hightails it out the door to get Harvey Dent -- "forget to tell the Commissioner" was a good one.

Karen: Commissioner Loeb is not happy about having Flass implicated in the drug trade. He gets Gordon in his office and threatens to expose his affair with Essen to the press -- and Gordon's wife. He's stunned.

Doug: I assumed that the officer standing behind Loeb was the sadist Branden -- guy was all decked out in SWAT gear. Figures he'd want to be in on Gordon's downfall. It had been made pretty clear in previous issues that he and Gordon were definitely miles apart in regard to ethical methodologies. Gordon was naive to think that no one in the department would have picked up on his relationship to Sgt. Essen -- I guess I'd have thought he was a better cop than that. But then we've talked a bit about weak detective work over the course of this series.

Karen: Gordon is still assigned to catching Batman. He and his wife pay a visit to Bruce Wayne. Wayne is hung over, in his robe and still drinking. He has a bimbo on his couch whose name he doesn't know. Gordon questions Wayne on his whereabouts, and everything checks out. Wayne is playing the "spoiled playboy" act to a T, but Gordon isn't necessarily buying it. As Gordon and his wife leave Wayne Manor, he pulls the car over and tells her there's something they have to talk about.

Doug: Wayne, ever the detective, watches from afar as Gordon's car stops. He mentions to Alfred that it's stopped for about 10 minutes, and then moves on. I thought Miller did a good job of writing Alfred's wry sense of humor in this issue.

Karen: After that we get several single panels that contain different plot elements. We find that Flass is confident Skeevers won't be alive to testify against him. Skeevers is nearly killed, but hangs on and vows to testify. Gordon is puzzled about this but Harvey Dent just smiles knowingly. Barbara Gordon receives a phone call and with a despondent look simply says, "Yes sir, I know about Sgt. Essen. Please don't bother me again." By the end of the page, a nurse announces to Gordon that his wife has given
birth to a baby boy.

Doug: I really need someone more versed in Bat-lore to enlighten me as to the origins and outcomes of this child born to James and Barbara Gordon. Is there a history in previous incarnations of the Bat-verse, or is this new ground? And am I totally clueless in believing that Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, is Jim Gordon's daughter? In order for that to be true, however, she'd have to be at least around 16-18 in this story, wouldn't she? Help me if you can!

Karen: Selina Kyle has been running around in a cat costume, burglarizing Gotham's wealthy citizens, but the news is giving the credit to Batman, which really bothers Selina. She decides to go after a big target: The Roman, one of the city's biggest crime lords.

Doug: I wondered if Miller was making some sort of statement in having Commissioner Loeb be a collector of pop culture memorabilia, and Selina remarking after hitting it that it was impossible to fence and basically worthless to her.

Karen: We get a full-page shot of Batman flying through the night sky on a Da Vinci-like glider. Down below is a building with Roman-style architecture, all marble and columns. It is, of course, the home of the Roman. He's an older man, and he's discussing his current situation with his nephew, Johnny. As Batman silently swoops down, who should appear on the scene but Catwoman? She attacks a few guards and so on, and winds up surrounded by armed men. The Roman believes she works for Batman and orders Johnny to kill her. But before he can get near her, a bunch of bat-shaped shuriken go flying and take out Johnny and the rest of them. It's over so quickly that Catwoman just crouches there, in shock, which slowly gives way to satisfaction, as she brings her claws to the Roman's face.

Doug: David Mazzuchelli is really good at this art thing. This 2-page spread is really done well. Some of the panels don't have much to them at all, but the story moves, a little is left to the reader's imagination, and as we've said before the coloring just adds to it.

Karen: The next morning, at Wayne Manor, Bruce works out and listens to the tape he made the previous night of the
Roman and his nephew. He's frustrated because the Roman was about to reveal something. We catch up with Selina, who is annoyed again because the press is now calling her Batman's assistant. The Roman is in the hospital, his face cut up. He says something to Johnny about Gordon.

Doug: Alfred is again priceless in the scene at Wayne Manor, remarking that he's read a piece in the Times talking about "the importance of lack of sleep for the marginally sane", "marked increase in paranoia" and "tendency toward aberrant, even violent behavior" -- all played with a straight face. Good stuff!

Karen: At home late one night, Gordon is getting ready to feed his son when he gets a call from Commissioner Loeb. He tells Gordon he wants him to go investigate something. After the call ends, Loeb calls someone else and says that Gordon has left the house. But as Gordon drives out of his apartment building's garage, he notices someone entering it on a motorcycle, someone he doesn't recognize. He turns the car around and goes back, but doesn't see the cyclist. However, he does see Johnny sitting in a car, holding a knife to his son. Johnny tells Gordon to drop the gun. At the same time, two other men have Gordon's wife, and are forcing her into the car. Gordon realizes the two of them are dead if he doesn't act, so he shoots at the two men, hits one, and gets winged. The other men panic and take off in the car. From behind Gordon hears a motorcycle. It's the same man he saw before. He shoots him and takes the cycle, so he can chase the car. The cyclist surprisingly seems unharmed -I think you can guess who he is. He tells Barbara Gordon, "I won't let your boy die, " grabs a bicycle and rides off in pursuit. Yes, Batman (although not in costume) is on a bicycle.

Doug: This scene was done with a lot of care -- very suspenseful, and as you said, a surprise along the way. When you think about it, this series ended with Bruce Wayne dressed in much the same way he was when he began his personal war on crime -- as an avenging angel in civvies.

Karen: Gordon shoots out a tire on the car and it crashes into the side of a bridge. Gordon runs to the crashed car, terrified that his son might be dead. But although the driver is incapacitated, Johnny is still mobile, and he jumps from the car with Gordon's baby and slams the door in Gordon's face. The two men struggle at the bridge railing and Johnny casts the babe over the side. Gordon screams, and then a figure appears, jumping over the railing and catching the child. The unmasked Wayne hands the baby to a grateful Gordon, who tells him that without his glasses, he's practically blind. "Sirens coming. You'd better go."

Doug: I thought Gordon took a lot of severe chances in the final scenes of the kidnapping. I thought it was odd that Batman had chosen to climb up onto the bridge works rather than run immediately to Gordon's aid. Additionally, I was left a little uncertain as to whether Wayne landed on the bank after his plummet, or in the water. The coloring, while I've lauded it over and over, threw me off a bit there at the end -- after all, as you can see from the accompanying art, Wayne and Gordon stand in ankle-deep water.

Karen: Things conclude with Flass going down, and Loeb on his way out of office. Gordon's been promoted to captain, and he and his wife are getting counseling. And Gordon's found a new ally, which is good, because someone calling himself "The Joker" is threatening to poison the water supply.

Karen: Overall, this was a very solid story, but as it's been noted, it should really be called "Jim Gordon: Year One." There's just not enough Batman in this for me. We never really get into Batman's head. That may have been the idea, but I think it was a bad one. As much as Miller made Gordon interesting, I'd still rather see things from Batman's perspective. Still, it was worth reading again.

Doug: One could also argue, to a lesser extent, that this was "Catwoman: Year One" as well. There certainly wasn't enough of Selina to warrant that, but we do follow her over the same basic timeframe as she becomes the Catwoman. I liked the series very much -- then and now. I agree with you that there could be more Batman, but I do think there was a nice balance between the three main characters. Honestly, for my money Catwoman could have been left out altogether and the panels devoted to her could have been used to further flesh out Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Doug: So I asked at the top of our first post in this series, "
From Batman: Year One through the events of The Dark Knight Returns, did the Batman make a difference in Gotham City?" I have my own opinions, but I would like our readers to think about that question and tack a thought onto your other comments about today's post. Thanks as always in advance.

11 comments:

Inkstained Wretch said...

Doug, I think you're right: Batgirl was originally Gordon's daughter. That was the case from the late 60s when she debuted onward until this mini-series. Miller's Gordon was, I think made too young to have a college-age daughter - at least, Miller would have had to have mentioned her and he didn't - so she became his niece instead.

I think that's right.

Anonymous said...

never let it be said that frank miller can't turn every character he touches from heroic to sordid and sleazy.

i'll pass. this is even worse than daredevil fighting ninjas.

david_b said...

Regarding DD, I'm probaby alone on this one, but I preferred DD pre-Miller back in the Silver/Bronze Age.

Perhaps more generic, but I liked it nevertheless.

William said...

You left out the part when Bruce Wayne is going to go save Gordon's baby, and Alfred asks him if he wants his tights (I think is how he put it), and Bruce replies "Never during the day Alfred".

So wait, Bruce thinks it's better to risk blowing his secret identity rather than be seen as Batman during the day??? Yeah that makes sense. Because (as evidenced by this story) crime only happens at night. Oh wait, the baby kidnapping, I forgot about that.

That part of BMYO always bugged the heck out of me. I don't think I've ever seen another story where Bruce Wayne went out to fight crime voluntarily without his costume on (day or night).

Fred W. Hill said...

Aside from a very few issues my parents bought for me when I was a little kid in the '60s, I never collected any Batman comics until the '80s when I started breaking out of my Marvel junkie phase and broadening my habit. I still didn't collect any of his titles regularly but I did get some of the classic tales I'd heard about, such as the runs by O'Neil/Adams and Englehart/Rogers runs, among others, and this one and overall I regard it as a classic too. Gordon is depicted as a good man, not a saint, working under very difficult and dangerous circumstances and its believeable why he decides to enter into an unofficial partnership with Batman. And although not everything Batman does here is believeable, its as reasonable as nearly everything else in superhero stories. Moreover, while Miller's modern Batman is a very tough guy, he's not behaving like either Wolverine or the Punisher, hellbent on mayhem and doing maximum damage to his enemies. He's operating outside the law, certainly, but still has a strong moral code and has no intention of becoming as bad as they villains he's fighting.
Of course, from reviews I've read of Miller's latest Batstories, ol' Frank's sunk deep into batguana and has lost his mind. And his cinematic take on The Spirit was one of the worst comicbook-based films I've ever seen. Some artistic types don't really get better as they get older.

Edo Bosnar said...

Didn't want to comment until it was all done, as I've near read Year One, but now I just have to say great review, guys. You did a very nice rundown and gave me a good idea about what I've been missing (or not).
As for Doug's final question, I have to say that at least in Miller's world, Batman did apparently did not make an iota of difference in Gotham. And I think the problem is that this storytelling style in Batman always requires Gotham to be a cesspool of crime and corruption to give Batman a reason for being this grim, almost psychotically driven crusader for justice. So despite his best efforts, things cannot get better if you want to keep telling the story in that same fashion.
By the way, since a few other commenters brought it up, I have to say that personally I think Miller's absolutely best work was his first run on Daredevil.

Doug said...

Edo --

We appreciate your comment, and I am grateful that you gave some thought to the question I'd posed at the beginning and ending of our series.

Thanks,

Doug

Karen said...

Fred, I absolutely agree, at least at this point, Batman was still obviously a good guy, and even here Miller shows this in a variety of ways (the stuff with the cat in the building is almost 60s Batman).

Edo, it does seem like Batman has not improved Gotham, doesn't it? I think some writers have even made a point of that, almost as if the bad guys feed off of him being there and vice versa.

Karen

Inkstained Wretch said...

My impression is that Batman did make a difference in Gotham, but it was mostly in the category of keeping a bad situation from getting much worse.

In Batman: Year One, Gotham looks like any major city in 80s with a spiraling drug and crime problem. More dangerous than you would like, but still a recoginizable, major US city.

By the time of The Dark Knight Returns, Gotham is a future dystopia mashing up Blade Runner and Road Warrior. This is after Batman has vanished for a decade, mind you. The implication that I got was that Batman had been holding back the tide of crime, violence and decay and by retiring he had allowed it to take over. Which was why he escalated his own tactics when he did return in order to regain control.

That's my take anyway.

Doug said...

Ah, now we're getting a bit of a conversation going on the influence of the Dark Knight on Gotham City. Good things come to those who wait!

I'll side with those feeling that a) the goons need Batman as much as he needs those negative elements of society -- I think it is a symbiotic relationship that is unique in comic bookdom, and b) that while Batman was active (i.e. from whenever Year One was to the time 10 years before TDKR begins), there was some degree of (chaotic) order in Gotham -- we see at the beginning of TDKR that anarchy is now the rule.

So did he have an impact? Yes, but only so much as the exertion of running as fast as you can up the down escalator keeps you from reaching the bottom. It's incredibly draining, and you never really get anywhere -- but you don't go lower (yes, I have actually tried my metaphor). Batman's life's work was cleaning up the drek of Gotham City; trouble is, drek begets drek and the Batman got old.

Doug

Fred W. Hill said...

This touches on part of the problem of these serial superhero yarns that go on for decades -- sometimes genuine progress can be depicted, such as I'd say was the case with the first decade of Spider-Man, or with the Thing in the first 70 or so issues of the FF, but then the situation eventually gets stagnant because as long as the hero and the series is popular it'll go on and on. The Batchroniclers need Gotham City to remain a cesspool of violent crime so that they can keep an audience anxious to see Batman regularly beating up on badguys who really deserve a beating. Ben Grimm must nearly always be trapped in the body of the Thing. Peter Parker must always have mulitudes of personal problems as well as villains to smack down. Captain America will continue to battle the Red Skull at least every few years into eternity if his series lasts that long. And the Joker will never really die or be permanently put away as long as Batman still stars in any comic.

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