Monday, March 12, 2012

Year One: Batman 404

Batman #404 (February 1987)
"Who I Am, How I Came To Be"
Frank Miller-David Mazzuchelli

Doug: From Batman: Year One through the events of The Dark Knight Returns, did the Batman make a difference in Gotham City? That's a question we'll ask you again at the conclusion of this 4-part series of posts. Beginning today, we'll spend a month with Frank Miller's and David Mazzuchelli's stand-out mini-series that gave the post-"Crisis" Batman a detailed backstory. At the conclusion of this run, we'll also give a review of the feature-length DVD by the same name that came out shortly before Christmas 2011.

Doug: We've discussed Frank Miller around here before, both the man and his work as well as his most famous book, the aforementioned Dark Knight. Everyone knows his penchant for writing noir tales, of crime and criminals at their seediest. When going back through Batman: Year One, it's pretty obvious the seeds that were being planted that would grow into Miller's notorious Sin City series. The Gotham City that we meet on the first page is torn right from Miller's later Dark Horse work.

Karen: Just want to say here that I dug out my copies of these books and I realized I haven't read them in probably over a decade.

Doug: We begin with a dual narrative, of two men arriving in Gotham City at the same time, with the same mission -- to clean up the corruption, crime, and general hopelessness of one of America's largest morasses. Lt. James Gordon arrives on an elevated train, wishing he were in an airplane and pledging to make sure his wife does indeed fly in when she comes to join him. Twenty-five year old Bruce Wayne arrives on an airplane, and while impressed with the scope of the city wishes he were on a train so he could be closer to the filth. Gordon seems a reluctant hero, second-guessing himself and all the while wondering what he's gotten himself into. Wayne exudes ambitious self-confidence, and is eager to get to his work. Wayne is greeted by the media who question where he's been the past 13 years; Gordon is met by a Detective Flass, a cop worth keeping an eye on.

Karen: It's an interesting contrast. One thing I noticed was how Gordon's narration is written in very orderly, basic block letters, while Wayne's are in a tight cursive. It adds a little more depth to the story, although it's kind of surprising to see Wayne using the more personal handwriting. The letterer was Todd Klein, who has always treated his lettering as another aspect of the art.

Doug: The early part of the story deals a lot with characterization. Gordon meets Commissioner Loeb, and Wayne meets Alfred (again). Wayne describes Wayne Manor as a "fortress", Gordon goes on patrol with Flass -- and watches him virtually destroy some street punks. Police brutality? You betcha. Bruce works out on the grounds of his estate, obliterating a pile of bricks and halving a full-grown tree with a series of kicks -- yet he's not ready. Gordon begins to clean up his department, punishing rogues and making rules. Wayne prepares to go on his first patrol, to the worst part of Gotham. And both men will meet their matches.

Karen: At this stage, I'm actually more interested in Gordon than Wayne. We're given a lot of clues as to what's going on with him -he's not happy about his wife's pregnancy, he had some trouble in the past that involved bringing down a fellow cop - and he's obviously not going to fit in with this corrupt Gotham police force.

Doug: Bruce shows what we've known about him for years -- that he is a master of disguise. In yet another mask episode, Wayne applies make-up and a fake scar to his face and then wades into the Lower East Side of Gotham. It's a land of strip joints, bars, and hookers. Bruce is hit on by what appears to be a 12-year old girl, whose pimp is none-too-happy that she doesn't score the way he taught her. As he talks down to her, Bruce gets agitated and picks a fight. When I was reading this, I kept seeing the hitman from the Costner/Connery flick The Untouchables -- anyone else see that film and think the guy pictured (see below) looks like him? Observing all of this is some dominatrix with a crew cut... named Selina. Wow. So much for the socialite jewel thief from 1940!

Karen: It's been a long time since I saw The Untouchables, so I don't recall the character you mention. What I thought of was the Joker! In the original comic, the guy has white skin; not the pink that denotes caucasian, but milk-white flesh, and a purple suit! I can't help but think this was done on purpose, yet I don't think it's supposed to be the Joker, either. I recall being shocked that Catwoman was depicted as a possibly lesbian dominatrix too.

Doug: Yeah, as we go through the story, Selina's relationship to the child prostitute in this scene is somewhat ambiguous. Say, did you happen to notice the homages to the Golden Age Batman creators as Bruce Wayne enters this quagmire? Various landmarks are named Robinson, Sprang, and Finger. Nice touch. No Kane, though?

Karen: I did indeed notice that. And yes, Selina and Holly's connection is worrisome, if Holly is as young as we think she is, and their relationship is more than friendly.

Doug: James Gordon is also getting some trouble. Leaving his apartment for work, leaving his newly pregnant wife, Gordon's accosted by four men in ski masks -- with baseball bats. Gordon's no fool -- he recognizes mannerisms and voices and knows who his assailants are, why they're there, and what they're in for. Holding his own, Gordon gives out some punishment. But he succumbs to the superior numbers, who beat him within an inch of the hospital and leave him with a warning. Their mistake.

Karen: They've established that Gordon won't be corrupted, so we're rooting for him. He's a brave man but he's no Batman, and four men with baseball bats are nothing to laugh at. It's interesting that most of the violence here is really suggested, rather than shown.

Doug: The creators get a ton of mileage out of the coloring in this series. It really is a color version of Sin City.

Doug: Bruce is now in a full-fledged melee. Selina has hit the ground, and she's tough. A knife to the thigh limits Bruce's mobility, and when the heat shows up, Bruce is winged. Down, he's cuffed and put in the squad car. Drifting in and out of consciousness, he musters enough of his senses to threaten the cops and tell them to pull over. They don't and it's their trouble now. Bruce snaps his cuffs and creates enough chaos in the car to get it to crash. As the vehicle bursts into flames, Wayne rescues the cops and deposits them a safe distance from the inferno. He then finds his way back to his Porsche (really? You're going undercover, in a Porsche?) and winds back toward the Manor.

Karen: It's pretty impressive how he snaps the chain on those cuffs! I kind of doubt an unenhanced human could do it, actually. The panels where Bruce is climbing out of the flaming car are really well done.

Doug: On the way home, Wayne's in really bad shape. Swerving all over, he has a chance encounter with Gordon and about runs him off the road. Gordon's on a mission of his own. He's called into the station for Flass; Flass is out, with the boys. Gordon goes to one of his cop's house and waits. Flass is the last to leave. Gordon tails him, and when the time is right he runs Flass into a tree. Gordon gets out of his car with a baseball bat and a gun; he drops the gun, as does Flass. Gordon tosses the bat to Flass and then proceeds to kick the crap out of him. Flass is big, and with Green Beret training; Gordon's just bad. Flass ends up naked, bound by his own cuffs. He'll tell no one.

Karen: Gordon's 'justice' was definitely cathartic, at least for me. He doesn't kill Flass, he utterly humiliates him, which might even be worse for Flass. Again, most of the panels are in silhouette so the violence is really more suggested than shown.

Doug: Bruce has made it back to Wayne Manor, crashing his Porsche in the garage. Staggering up to his father's study, he bleeds. And bleeds. And laments calling Alfred, who could make it all better. Bruce seems to pray to his father, asking him for a sign, wanting to do this right. We see the scene yet again, of the Wayne family at a showing of The Mark of Zorro, and of Joe Chill's double homicide. As Bruce broods, dangerously close to passing out, a giant bat bursts through the window and lights on a bust. I shall become a bat...

Karen: He must have 20 gallons of blood in him, to have an arterial bleed and still be alive after two car rides and two car crashes. The one page recap of how Bruce's parents were killed is a great example of how concisely a story can be told -5 panels! And that closing page is extremely cinematic.

Doug: I really liked this issue. After I read it, and as I began to type this I decided to revisit our previous Miller/Dark Knight posts. Many who left comments moaned that Miller caught lightning in a bottle with Dark Knight and never gathered it again. But I think here we have all of what was good about that first issue of Dark Knight -- the pace is fast, the dialogue snappy, the situations grim but not too much. David Mazzuchelli's minimalist art seems perfect here, and the coloring really adds to the mood. This book is a near-perfect meshing of all of the integral elements of a good comic book.

Karen: It still holds up. It's still sort of jarring to me to see streetwalker Catwoman, but it's a well-told story and it nice to see Gordon getting some development. Hard to believe it has been 25 years since this came out!


david_b said...

I would file this under the column we had a few weeks back regarding stuff we'd like to read if given the opportunity. I liked this low-key approach when it came out (well, not as publicized as Miller's Dark Knight, at least..), but never collected it.

As others here have commented, I appreciated these initial looks into a darker, moodier Batman legend, but when more and more artists started getting on board and taking it farther than it should have gone.

Doug said...

Anyone out there notice the absence of sound effects in this book? Thoughts?


William said...

I have to say, I was never a fan of "Jim Gordon: Year One"… Oh, sorry, I mean "Batman: Year One". I find it much too dark, depressing and grim and gritty for my tastes. Not that I like the old "campy" version of Batman by any means, but I thought Frank Miller took things way too far over to the seedy side with "Year One", (and DKR as well). This entire series was absolutely devoid of any sense of fun of any kind. The writing was all super serious and overly "dramatic", dripping with cliche "cop movie" and soap opera themes to the point of nausea. While the artwork (especially the coloring) was underwhelming, dull and depressing. (I actually didn't even know that many shades of "brown" existed). Again, as with the writing, every ounce of anything resembling "fun" was meticulously sucked out of every aspect of the artwork for "BM: Year One".

Sadly, the recent animated movie captured the mood of this story perfectly (scene for scene) and thus, was just as unappealing to me as the comic.

Yet another thing that always bugged me in this comic was something that Karen brought up when she said… "It's pretty impressive how he snaps the chain on those cuffs! I kind of doubt an unenhanced human could do it, actually."

I always thought the scene of Bruce "snapping" the handcuffs (which are made of tempered steel, btw) was stupid and not very well thought out. I mean, isn't Bruce Wayne/Batman a master escape artist? He just got back from traveling the world learning his craft. Wouldn't he have just picked the lock or somehow slipped out of the cuffs? That scene made it look like he had super strength, which sort of goes against the whole premise of Batman being the quintessential "non-powered" super hero.

So, you can keep "BM: Year One". For me, the definitive Batman will always be the version from "Batman: The Animated Series". That show included everything that was cool and right about Batman and took out all the garbage. It was the perfect blend of pulp noir type storytelling, mixed with fun super heroic themes and incredible art and coloring. Whenever I think of Batman, I only hear Kevin Conroy (and Mark Hamill's Joker as well).

david_b said...


I respect 'Year One' as yet a different take on the Bat genre, but I'd agree that the Batman:TAS is the best Batman venue I've seen.

Stylishly done, with depth and characterzations, it's by far my favorte Batman, as well as one of my favorite animated show of any superhero..

Speaking of which, I just caught an ep of the new Lantern Animated series. Not bad at all, actually.

I'll always adore the Infantino Batman (finally ridding us, for a spell, of BatHound, BatMite, etc, etc..) and the 60s series (until the 3rd year..).

Doug said...

William --

Points well taken, and I'd offer that after all of this time and (in my mind) the irrevocable change of the superhero comic book, you are spot on.

That being said, however, I recall being bowled over by Miller's work in the mid-80's. At the time, right or wrong, his take on DD and Batman was revolutionary. For that I appreciate it -- even understanding the fall-out that would come later.

So as david_b said, this is another "take" on the character. Overall, it's not my favorite; I think you guys nail it with the Dini/Timm BTAS as the definitive Dark Knight. But I think Year One and DKR certainly have a spot on the Bat-shelf, even alongside the goofy 1950's stuff and the original grim 'n' gritty work of O'Neil and Adams.


Lemnoc said...

YO lets you actually believe someone could don a cape and cowl and fight crime in an urban setting. For that, it is a trendsetter.

Th response of police to this costumed vigilante is what really makes this story work, and actually consumes more of Bruce's time and resources than the actual criminals he faces. I like that; it's a refreshing take on the older, deputized Batman with friends in high places.

I recall the surprise I felt reading this book that Gordon—always a sort of effete background enabler of Dynamic Duo hijinx—comes across as a gritty policeman and action hero.

I'd say this book is probably more influential to the Nolan films than any other source.

I admit, I really liked DKR. Did not like emulative following years of Bats being depicted as a fascist lunatic. I liked YO. Did like emulative following years of Bats being depicted as a nightstalker detective in a big and dangerous city.

Piperson said...

Wow, I was really surprised by the commentators who didn't like this series and called it too dark and sucked the fun out of Batman. As for myself, I consider this work a high point not only for the Batman myth but also for comics themselves. In it Miller finally addresses the superhero issue of the silly costume and wonderfully brings the campy superhero genera back to it's more realistic pulp adventure origins. With this work he brought them into an environment that was the most believable they've ever been and set up others to do the same in works like Kurt Busiek's Astro City and Marvels and Brubaker/Rucka's Gotham Central and Brubaker's Captain America.
I can't fault William on his taste in Batman the animated series as they have had some amazing episodes. Though not all of the series was spot on, for example the early appearances of the Joker were way too silly and dull, but the great episodes like the classic Mister Freeze episode or Manbat episode was just genius!
William, you have a very good point about the handcuffs and your observations about the escapes artist bit were spot on, though I would like to add that this little bit of unbelievability was the exception in this work and not the rule. And while you say you dislike Miller/Mazzucchelli's YO, you have to admit (or not) it's vital influence on BMTAS. In my opinion it couldn't have existed with YO. You must really hate the comics of today by writers like Brubaker and Bendis who I see as continuing the Miller legacy in this decade.
And finally about the artwork. While I admit that everyone is entitled to there opinion, I often try to look for the appeal of those artists that others have valued so highly. In my opinion Mazzucchelli/Lewis did a near perfect job on the art, hitting all the right notes in this amazing work. As you mentioned it is "underwhelming" or understated which was the whole feel that Mazzucchelli/Lewis were trying for. The fact that you don't like that 'feel' or style is not the fault of the creators but (dare I say it) your fault for not educating yourself to what 'good' art is. What I mean by 'educating' is that, for example, while I'm not a fan of Kirby's blocky 70's style I have exposed myself to it and found things within this style that I can admire. Now I can say that, while I still find much of it lacking, I can really appreciate and admire other aspects of it.

MattComix said...

Sign me up as another believer in Batman The Animated Series. I think there was five minutes when I was 14 when DKR appealed to me and then with each successive re-reading it just no longer held up. Year One holds up slightly better, probably the most comparably sane of his Batman works.

My main problem with most of it besides the excess cynicism and grimdark of it all is that Frank has no capacity for capturing the voice of Batman. He just sounds like Miller himself ranting and the Batman character might as well just be a message-board handle for him.

I think the Bronze Age comics did a much, much better job of moving the character away from camp but without losing the superhero in the process. The BA had a Batman who could strike fear into the hearts of criminals, but not be stuffed so far up his own darkness that he couldn't even acknowledge his allies as friends.

Garett said...

I really like Year One. Miller had a nice balance still to his writing, and Gordon's character being highlighted was a treat. I like the realistic feel, and it must be an influence on new stories like Criminal by Brubaker/Phillips. Mazzuchelli's art works well.

My favorite Batman is Aparo/Adams, but this may be next in line.

William said...

In addressing some comments back my way. I will say that I fully understand that this is just a different "take" on the character. That said, however, it was "in continuity" and I believe it is still considered to be the "official" telling of Batman's early days as a crimer-fighter.

As Lemnoc said, BMYO was the blueprint for Batman being depicted as a "nightstalker detective" fighting crime in a big and dangerous city. And that it laid the groundwork for a lot of things like BMTAS. However, I think the animated series did it better. As I said, it managed to keep all the good things about a dark and gritty Batman and still not lose the sense of fun and adventure that a series about a comic book super hero should invoke.

Piperson, had a few interesting comments I'd like to address as well. First you are not wrong that I have no love for the so-called "comics" of today, by people like Bendis and Brubaker. I find them both to be terrible "comic-book" writers. Not writers in general, mind you, just comic-book writers. I think that comic-book writing is a unique skill that not everybody "gets". It requires a certain talent for pacing and structure that is different than other forms of written medium. Writers like Bendis, Brubaker and others tend to take way too long to get to the point. This is a problem when writing for something that has to grab an audience and tell a story in just a few short pages per month. I'm sure as a fan of "modern comics" you will disagree with me on this. But that's the way I see it.

You also mentioned something quite telling to me, when you said…

"In it Miller finally addresses the superhero issue of the 'silly' costume and wonderfully brings the 'campy' superhero genre back to it's more realistic pulp adventure origins."

You see, I never found super hero costumes to be "silly" or super hero comics to "campy" myself. I happen to like them and think they are cool. To say something like what you said leads me to think that you don't really even like "super hero" comics in the first place. In fact, I think that's the case with a lot of comic readers these days. They don't actually even like comics or comic book culture all that much, but because of movies and video games, etc., they have become the "mainstream" comic reader, and pushed those of us who actually enjoy a little "silly" comic book fun out of the way. Thus comics have become something vastly different than what they once were. Just my opinion based on observation and conversations.

The artwork issue is really just a matter of opinion. The fact that we don't see eye-to-eye on what we might consider good art is not a matter of my "lack of eduction", as you suggested, but merely a difference in taste. I always liked Mazzucchelli well enough. He has obviously been heavily influenced by Alex Toth (who I love), but I hated the color pallet that was used in "Year One". I just so happen to prefer a more "cartoonist" approach to comic book art rather than that of an "illustrated" one. My art idols were always guys like John Byrne, Steve Ditko, George Perez, Jack Kirby, and more recently Bruce Timm. All who have a very clean and dynamic "cartoon" style.

BTW, (since you brought it up), I make my living as a professional graphic artist, and I have diplomas from two different art-schools and have taken several classes on "Comic and Sequential Art story-telling" taught by Will Eisner himself. So, I think I can safely call my opinion on what constitutes good comic art an "educated" one. Just saying.

Doug said...

Personally, I think the coloring has as much to do with the tone of the story as either the writing or the pencils/inks. It's a success in terms of enhancing the whole package.


Karen said...

I have to say I'm not real fond of this art style, although I think the use of light and shadow is well done.

Lemnoc said...

I suppose one problem I have of depicting Year One as "fun and adventuresome" is this would likely be one of Batman's *darkest* periods, before he had satiated some of the anger he felt over the death of his parents.

This is a guy who trained himself relentlessly throughout his youth for the single mission of fighting crime. Year One, the crime and corruption would be as entrenched as it ever would be in Gotham, and Batman the lone guardian against it, no allies.

I can definitely see how the thrill and high adventure might overtake Batman in future years, could even become the MOST important part of his outlook and career, especially as his work begins to take hold and clean Gotham, make it healthy again.

Just not here. It doesn't fit, and Miller's "tortured soul" persona works here in a way it *doesn't* work at the end of a long and successful career in DKR.

Fred W. Hill said...

Been a couple of decades since I last read these issues too. I never collected BatMan regularly, but I did acquire several classic late Silver & Bronze age issues and picked up whatever newer mags appealed to me during the '80s before I mostly quit collecting. I actually like the story & art, although too much of Miller's grittiness without the touches of humor he usually included in his Daredevil stories can get overwhelmingly bleak, so I can understand William's dislike of this run. I also agree that it would have been more true to the spirit of BatMan if he had used some sort of trick to get out of the cuffs rather than using brute strength (then again, maybe Bruce just lucked out because the corrupt Gotham Police Dept. bought some really cheap, badly made cuffs that didn't require superhuman strength to break!) Overall, though, Year One is a classic companion piece to Miller's more famous Dark Knight Returns and even to his and Mazzucchelli's Born Again story in DD. And dang, I do feel a bit more ancient just thinking about how long ago this came out!

Piperson said...

To William - I started reading comics in the mid 80's and loved things like Ditko's Dr. Strange, Adams' Deadman, Perez' Avengers, and Steranko's Nick Fury. I think I qualify as someone who enjoys superhero comics. I see the history of comics oscillating between realism and campiness. Comics started with a very real and gritty Superman and Batman and as they grew in popularity the publishers had the grittiness toned down thus bringing in more campy versions of the characters. One of the things that made a young Marvel comics so cutting edge in the early 60's was it's realism. Though by today's standards I think that Marvel looks pretty silly and tame. Then came Moore and Miller who again brought the realism back and more so then ever before. There is something about realism and the revitalization of a tired, stale medium. People find the realism more visceral and more exciting.
I have nothing wrong with campiness as long as it's maintains a certain amount of wit. I love 40's Phantom Lady for example or Golden Age Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America. Though when you get to Silver Age DC the campiness looses it's teeth and becomes tedious.
I think ideally superhero comics would have that creative campiness that we all love with the bright costumes and fun theme villains while grounding it firmly in reality so that there are not those moments of disbelief that bring you out of the story like the handcuff bit for example. And I think Miller did that admirably well here in Year One, especially establishing a very believable relationship between Gordon and Batman. Even his Catwoman is very believable here and one of my favorite depictions of her.
Willaim, while you say you are educated in comics. I agree with you about writing for comics being a specialized thing and that Bendis and Brubaker are not great comic writiers. Though to say you hate Lewis' color in Year One is very ignorant (for lack of a better word) thing to say. When you say you like cartoony coloring do you mean sticking colors that garishly clash together on the same page? Lewis creates incredible color harmonies that anyone who knows anything about color theory can appreciate. Maybe it's just the way you word it that creates the impression of ignorance.

Garett said...

Color is a very subjective aspect of art. It has little to do with education and much to do with feeling. I think "ignorant" is a poor choice of words.

William said...

It's funny how you can say something clearly and someone can hear something totally different. To Piperson for instance, I didn't say that I thought that Lewis was a poor colorist who doesn't understand "color theory". I merely said that I didn't at all care for the color pallet that was used in "Batman: Year One". I found it too "brown" and depressing for MY TASTE!!! I did not enjoy looking at it. It did not compel me to want to turn the page and continue reading the story. Simple as that. I also never once said that I liked "cartoony coloring" which by your definition is "…colors that garishly clash together on the same page". Which by the way is not at all an accurate description of cartoon coloring. FYI, cartoonists are artists too, and good ones perfectly understand the relationship of colors and how to use them correctly. The color pallet they choose may be brighter and more colorful than you prefer, but it certainly doesn't mean it's incorrect. Why don't you take a look at a classic Disney animated movie (or cartoon as they are commonly known) and explain to someone how "garishly the colors clash together." And then come back and tell me how "ignorant" I am.

And, BTW, what I actually said was, and I quote, "I just so happen to prefer a more "cartoonist" approach to comic book ART (not just color) rather than that of an "illustrated" one." Of which "Batman the Animated Series" is a perfect example. You could never argue that Bruce Timm's style is not cartoonish, but it still works brilliantly in a dark noir type of show like BTAS.

I also never said that I like "campy" comic books. (I actually said the exact opposite in third sentence of my first post). And the point I was making in my second post was that I didn't consider most comics to BE campy in the first place. Whereas you clearly stated that you think that with "Batman: Year One" that Frank Miller "…wonderfully brings the campy superhero genera back to it's more realistic pulp adventure origins." (You spelled genre incorrectly, BTW). A statement which would lead one to believe that you did not enjoy the comics that were being published BEFORE Frank Miller came along and "rescued" them from terminal "campiness". I'm sorry, but before Batman Year One (or even Dark Knight Returns) came out, I did not find comics like Roger Stern & John Romita Jr's Amazing Spider-Man to be "campy", nor did I find John Byrnes Fantastic Four, or Byrne & Claremont's X-Men, or FRANK MILLER'S Daredevil to be campy either. And since these are widely considered to be some of the best examples of comic book storytelling ever published, if you find them to be too unrealistic for a man of your sophistication, then by definition you really don't enjoy comic books at all. You enjoy "illustrated pulp fiction". And, in my opinion, that is exactly what the comic books of today have become.

Piperson said...

What you said was "I hated the color pallet that was used in "Year One". I just so happen to prefer a more "cartoonist" approach to comic book art rather than that of an "illustrated" one." which to my ear doesn't sound like the voice of an educated person but rather that of a child that might say they "hate" spinach. the fact that Lewis is a highly educated artist wasn't mentioned. The fact that she was using a much more sophisticated color scheme to comics of the time wasn't mentioned either, just that you "hated" the color pallet. I might add that the pages shown here come from a reprinting of the story and not the original printing. The original version uses various blue, red and purple color schemes but rarely uses a brown one, not that I would imagine it would change your opinion of the coloring.
And please forgive me for misconstruing "Cartoonist" for "Cartoony". I didn't know what it was you were referring to by that comment and so may have unfairly jumped to the conclusion that Cartoonist pallet is one that uses a dissonant color scheme to separate one panel from the other. The Batman Animated Series uses a wonderfully moody pallet that I don't find that far removed from Year One, utilizing lots of deep blues to create the somber mood. (At least this is my memory of it and may be inaccurate and also may depend on which episodes you are referencing).
And speaking of references, I wouldn't call Disney's use of color in their full length features "cartoonist", at least not the coloring on their pre-war features. They are extremely rich, sophisticated and often naturalistic. Things like Alice in Wonderland and Jungle Book on the other hand may be more "cartoonist" though I can't remember.
I brought up the term "campy" to describe the superhero genre being that I see it as a niche genre that appeals to a relatively small group of people. I think the general public (at least my circle of friends and acquaintances) find the notion of someone wearing a costume to fight crime a silly one. In the real world if someone showed up at a crime scene wearing Batman's costume I think the criminals may find it hard to take him seriously and may even fall down laughing at his absurd appearance. And lets not even mention what they would think of someone dressed in blue tights and a red cape. I don't think "campy" is an all together inappropriate word to describe the superhero genre. That fact that we love them is something else. But when someone can make them more believable or bring them closer to the real world the way Miller has here or Busiek has in Astro City, I cheer them on. It's exciting to see them in a more realistic and believable world.

William said...

Piperson, I just want to say that you may not intend to, but you come across as very rude. I have not once resorted to name calling in any of my responses to your posts, but in all three of yours you have called me "uneducated", "ignorant" and now refer to my tastes in art as "child-like". I would appreciate it if you would try to refrain from such uncouth behavior in the future, as it is rather "childish" don't' you think?

I also don't think you really know what the hell the word "cartoon" means, to be honest. Whatever else you want to call them, Disney movies are cartoons. So is BMTAS, and the artwork of Jack Kirby, Steven Ditko and John Byrne, etc., etc. Even the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is considered to be a "cartoon" (at least according to my college Art History teacher), but I'm sure he's just "ignorant" as far as you're concerned.

William said...

Piperson, I wrote the following in an earlier post…

"I never found super hero costumes to be "silly" or super hero comics to "campy" myself. I happen to like them and think they are cool. To say something like what you said leads me to think that you don't really even like "super hero" comics in the first place. In fact, I think that's the case with a lot of comic readers these days. They don't actually even like comics or comic book culture all that much, but because of movies and video games, etc., they have become the "mainstream" comic reader, and pushed those of us who actually enjoy a little "silly" comic book fun out of the way. Thus comics have become something vastly different than what they once were."

And with this statement that YOU wrote in your last post, you completely proved my point…

"I think the general public (at least my circle of friends and acquaintances) find the notion of someone wearing a costume to fight crime a silly one. In the real world if someone showed up at a crime scene wearing Batman's costume I think the criminals may find it hard to take him seriously and may even fall down laughing at his absurd appearance. And lets not even mention what they would think of someone dressed in blue tights and a red cape."

I can only take this to mean that YOU and your "circle of friends" DON'T LIKE COMIC BOOKS. Because since Action Comics #1, (published nearly 80 years ago) that is exactly what comic-books have mostly been about! Grown men with super-powers dressing up in "silly" costumes and going out and fighting evil by beating up other grown men in silly costumes. So, if you don't like that kind of thing - DON'T READ IT!!! Read (or watch) something else. Don't come in and try to change comics into something you find more acceptable. You want dark and dirty realism? There are plenty of alternatives to comic books out there.

That said, I agree with you that the notion of someone dressed up like Batman or Spider-Man in the "real world" would be totally ridiculous. That is why the more they try to shove the "real world" into the fictional world of comic books, the more "unrealistic" and silly it comes across.

This is a concept that most people just don't seem to understand. (Including the writers of today's comics apparently). The fact is, the "reality" that characters like Spider-Man and Batman inhabit has to reflect the fantasy world they live in. To the people in the "Marvel Universe" characters with super powers, dressed up like Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four are perfectly acceptable. Normal even. The fact that the "regular" people on the street in these comics don't snicker when they see Spider-Man swinging by overhead, allows the reader to suspend their own disbelief and accept the "reality" of that fictional world. In their four-color fantasy world, superheroes don't seem so stupid. But when you try to insert too much "reality" into that world, it starts to crack and eventually crumbles. Why? because it is impossible to realistically portray a concept as far out as superheroes. Nuff said.

Piperson said...

I sincerely apologize for the accused name calling and insulting. I may have got a little over zealous defending the honor of one of my all time favorite comic works.
As to the term you coin as "cartoon" I claim ignorance. In my exposure to fine art I may have heard the term refereed to Michaelangelo's work though I couldn't give you a definition of what it means, and for sure I can't say how the term applies to both fine art and comic works alike. I would, however, enjoy to be enlightened. I'm an avid learner and love acquiring information that broadens my scope of comics and what makes them tick. I find it makes my experience of them all the more rich.
Despite my friends and family thinking me retarded for liking them (DARN IT) I do love the heroes! Ever sense I was wee high the heroes have been whispering things in my ear. I see them as the myths and legends of today. Heck the origins of heroes like Superman, Batman and Spider-man have been repeated and rewritten so many times that they HAVE become modern myths! And like I said before, they whisper to me. I just read the first appearance of the Joker in Batman #1 recently (within the last 5 years) and was blown away! "Who is this guy?" I thought. "I've seen characters that look like this guy but never one so crazy, and so focused. "Why doesn't anybody write about THIS guy in their stories?" The answer I got was "Well they try to but they just don't understand the character. They do THEIR best version of him which, I know, is pale but it's the best they can do." And occasionally a visionary comes along and DOES write about one of THESE characters. And blows everyone away. And in this case it was Frank Miller who wrote about one or two of them (Batman, Gordon, Catwoman) and introduced me to a few more (Holly, Roman).
It seems the comics are whispering different stuff in your ears than they are in mine, and I'd be really interested to know what they are telling you. I may not enjoy it like you do but I'd love to know your point of view. And I know not everyone likes what the comics say to me, though I just say, try not to shit on my comics and I'll try not to shit on yours.

Karen said...

Things have gotten a wee bit contentious here and I'd just like to remind everyone that Doug and I want BAB to be a place where people feel safe in sharing their thoughts and opinions. Please reel the personal attacks back in. It looks like you are already doing so. There's nothing wrong with disagreement but let's not get personal about it. Thanks.

William said...

Sorry Karen. Sorry Piperson. I'm really not trying to be a jerk or anything. I'm just too dang passionate about my love of comics sometimes. I will definitely dial it back. :)

Ahem! That said. Piperson, I happen to agree with everything you wrote in your last post about how superheroes are the mythology of today. I too have been recently reading the early, golden age adventures of Batman myself (in the Batman Chronicles trade paperback), and I very much enjoyed the character when he first appeared as a lone, dark avenger of the night. In fact, I didn't like it nearly as much when Robin showed up. I thought it took away a lot of the books edge and appeal for me. However, I'm sure it helped up sales or they wouldn't have kept the "Boy Wonder" around. Can't argue with success I suppose.

And as for what comics "say" to me, they mostly say "come on in and have some fun". They have always been a big part of my life. I loved escaping to the world of superheroes when I was a kid and just kept going back there into adulthood. No form of entertainment, before or since, has given me quite the same feeling of unabashed joy that I got from reading comics back in day. I guess that's why I don't care for the shift towards "realism" (for lack of a better word) that comics have gone to in the last few years. And why am so opinionated about what I think makes a "good" superhero comic. I guess I miss the way they were when I considered them to be "fun" to read.

I actually went to art school in the first place because I wanted to be a comic book artist since I was 10 years old. However, I got derailed by what I consider to be "bad advice" from some instructors, and I switched my attention to more practical aspects of art like graphic design. Now, I wouldn't even want to draw comics as they are today. The new ones just don't appeal to me in the same way they used to.

When I was kid, I wanted nothing more than to be a superhero fighting alongside the Avengers, the Fantastic Four or X-Men. Now, I wouldn't want to go anywhere near the "real" Marvel Universe. It's much too dark and dreary for me these days.

William said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

I love BMYO.

At the time I was a recent convert to DC having come over from being a Marvel zombie when John Byrne did Man of Steel (a series I'd nominate for review guys!). So before reading this I'd only recently read a few Batman comics (those being the handful of Detective drawn by Alan Davis).

I admit I was already a big fan of the creative team after Born Again but as a relatively new Batman reader with no preconceptions I was blown away by this series. It felt right to me.

I've read and enjoyed other takes on Batman since - just picked up the newly reprinted Mad Love trade by Dini (awesome) for example but Year One is still my favourite.

I'm re-reading it again as you review it (just like Karen it's probably been a decade since I last read it) and it feels just as exciting as it did back in 86 all those years ago.

Just picking up Doug's note about sound effects. I hadn't noticed that, but what I did notice was the lettering style used for the dates. They were big, bold and most unusually for the time, outside the caption boxes. Modern comics often use a similar technique to inform readers of the location but I was wondering whether it was the first time such a technique had been used? Anyway I liked it and thought it was effective in getting the reader to conciously notice the passing of time. It was a year after all.

Looking forward to re-reading the subsequent issues over the next few weeks and reading your reviews.

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