Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Batman:Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli

Our book club choice in December was Batman:Year One, a graphic novel and retelling of the origins of Batman. For the book club it was a little different from what we normally read. I admit, I added it to the choices as I've wanted to read it for ages. Several times I've picked it up in a book shop and skimmed through but never bought it, but now I had an excuse to!
I'll state from the start that I am very much a novice when it comes to graphic novels. The term Graphic Novel is also one that is not always accepted, some say that 'Comic' should suffice. There is a great Radio 4 Open Book debate about it which you can hear HERE, it starts at 13 minutes 50 seconds in. Regardless, that's for another time, I'm happy to call it a graphic novel. My graphic novel reading history can be counted on one hand: Maus by Art Spiegelman (a classic), Neonomicon by Alan Moore (bloody horrific, mesmerizing, disgusting, yet mostly fulfilling), a few Buffy series 8 volumes (meh) and half of Watchmen. I'd read reviews on Year One and was excited to read what many believe to be a masterpiece.
Lets start with the story. I knew it was an origins story, and I knew that Chris Nolan had used it as the springboard to make his Batman Begins film, which I adore by the way. I think because I knew the film so well, I put too much stock into the novel taking the same steps and thus here is where I struggled. Literally from the start I had Batman Begins, the film, in my head; the images, the dialogue etc. It quickly became clear that the film was only loosely based on it, and had taken more the aesthetic rather than rigorously stick to the storyline. I'm no Batman aficionado and always considered Commissioner Gordon to be a quiet hero who steered clear of the grey area, the middle ground. Well this was firmly beaten out of me as I'd estimate over 50% of Year One is based on Gordon. SPOLIER AHEAD! In Year One we see him cheat on his wife, constantly, knowing she is pregnant. We see him take revenge on a dirty cop. Although in the film (and previous films) Gordon does exact revenge, he does it through Batman, as they work (kind of) together. In Year One he has no problem beating the crap out of his corrupt partner, albeit after he himself has taken a beating. I think this alone made the story jar with me. As stated earlier, what I know of Batman comes from the films, so my preconception was very biased. 
As for Batman himself, his transformation from Bruce Wayne into the Dark Knight was satisfactory. Yet again my film experience overshadowed the book. If I had read it pre-Batman Begins I'm fairly sure it would have been a more enjoyable read. But it wasn't all a negative experience.

I was surprised and intrigued by the introduction of Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman, and how she became embroiled in the Batman universe. SPOILER AHEAD! Selina was introduced as a gritty, oppressive prostitute. We first see her looking through a window eyeing the street below and her fellow comrades, whilst a client is in the room, unseen. Down below, Brice Wayne, pre-Batman but still with his idealistic vision of cleaning up the streets, is provoking the girls pimp. Once a few fists are exchanged the girls attack Bruce and in a flash Selina is there to the help the posse, throwing her karate expertise into the mix. Her own revenge mission becomes distorted later in the novel as the public are never really sure who she is or what she's fighting for, a cause that I've never known myself! It was mentioned in the book club chat over on Goodreads that as there were so few woman in the book  it was depressing to see the most influential or well known female character in such a grim role.
The book is nearly 30 years old (published in 1986) and as I do not really understanding the techniques of graphic novels, I thought some of the panels were a little dated, moreover, some of them are fantastic. Overall I was disappointed, but I still enjoyed it and it's not put me off Batman, or graphic novels. I've given it a 6 on the comfometer.

Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me @bigcomfybooks using hashtag #ComfyBookclub.
If you'd like to join in the book club then go to our Goodreads page and add yourself. Alternatively add yourself to the Facebook group. Books are voted for from a handful of choices once a month, with our discussion taking place on the last Sunday of the month on Goodreads.

Michael