“From here, you can’t see the enemy.” This is what Bruce Wayne thinks to himself as he flies into Gotham City, upon his return after years abroad. And yet, this story is not alone about Bruce Wayne. No. This story is also about the other half of Batman. The law-abiding half. Batman always holds himself to the law and its rules, despite his blatant disregard for vigilantism. Of course, this is in reference to Lieutenant James Gordon. At least, for now a lieutenant. This is our introduction into Batman: Year One.
Gordon and Bruce’s story are two sides of the first year into the Dark Knight’s never ending war on crime. Gordon is dealing with a crooked, corrupt police department. A department where he may be the only decent cop left. The police in Gotham are like a strong arm for the mafia headed by Falcone, known as “the Roman.” Even the police commissioner is on the take. In the meantime, Bruce Wayne is searching for an edge he has yet to gain. “I’m not ready. I have the means, the skill. But something’s missing. I have to wait.”
This all sound familiar bat-boys and girls? Well it should. Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One is the definitive origin of the Dark Knight’s debut. Warner Bros. Animation and DC Comics have taken painstaking detail in recreating one of the most celebrated books in the Caped Crusader’s archives. It’s all there. The noir style narration. The gritty look at Gotham City, where an early Selina Kyle still moonlights as a prostitute, prior to her foray into her career as Catwoman. For Miller, Batman inspired the Cat to sharpen her claws for the first time.
Gordon’s story is no exception. His clashing partnership with Detective Flass, the crooked soldier for Commissioner Loeb; his affair with Detective Essen; and the understanding he gains for what Batman is trying to do. Gordon’s story seems to steal the spotlight in this for me, even as it did in the comic. There’s something about the man that James Gordon is. Despite his apparent goodness, even he is flawed. I feel his affair with Essen is something few writers would have accomplished with such class. Miller wanted to depict these two men as realistically as possible, and did so with his talent for gritty crime noir. This is all captured within the sixty four minutes that is contained on your standard Blu-ray or DVD bat-children.
The most rewarding scene, in the comic and the animated film, still must be the moment Bruce spends in his father’s study. He is wounded, confused, and agitated. He’s waited eighteen years for this. Trained, studied, and prepared himself for whatever the “enemy” could throw at him. But his totem has not revealed itself yet. And then suddenly, it crashes through the window. Swooping low, and landing on the bust of his father’s likeness, in this moment Bruce realizes how he may strike fear into the hearts of criminals. As he says in the comic, “Yes, father. I shall become a bat.” This is the most pivotal moment in the creation and birth of the Batman; as important as Bruce’s eyewitness account of his parents’ murder.
The voice acting was cast by the ever-brilliant Andrea Romano. Loyal fans will remember her as the woman whose voice cast work on Batman: The Animated Series and several other series and animated features for DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation have set a certain standard for voice acting. Without her, we would not have enjoyed the incredible talents of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (Alfred). We have all new voice talents for this newest venture in DC animation. Ben McKenzie provides a young, dark tone for Bruce Wayne/Batman. He understands the subtleties needed for the role of the Dark Knight. The dark whisper, somewhere between the harshness of Rorschach and the deep gruff of Marv from Sin City. The youth in his voice is what I enjoy most. We fans forget Bruce was no older than twenty five when he first set out.
Breaking Bad's Brian Cranston voices Lt. Gordon. Cranston, as you remember, has also played the father on Malcolm in the Middle. His diverse acting skills have lent themselves to his abilities as a voice actor. He does not have the advantage of using his facial features, body language, etc, as he’s used to. Though, I can imagine Cranston as a great live-action Gordon. He sports a similar mustache in Breaking Bad, which upon hearing he’d been cast completely sold me on his involvement. And though it is just his voice, Cranston delivers an incredible performance. Gordon is the one who deals with the light and dark sides of the law.
Bruce manages to keep himself on the light side, though it is in the shadow of the light. But it is Gordon that must see the full picture. Noir stories are known for the black and white morality of the characters. You are either good, or bad. Gordon finds himself in morally gray situations a great deal of the time, and even he must bend the law a bit in order to eliminate the seedier cops of GCPD. They are supported by Eliza Dushku as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Robin Atkin Downes as Harvey Dent, Fred Tatasciore as Detective Flass, and Jeff Bennett as Alfred Pennyworth. Everyone was exceptionally well cast, and the lead actors themselves were especially well chosen.
The Blu-ray also includes a short entitled, Catwoman, as well as a sneak preview for Justice League: Doom, the forthcoming title from DC animation based upon Mark Waid's story Justice League: Tower of Babel. The Catwoman short is written by Paul Dini, whose current work for DC Comics as well as his legendary work on Batman: The Animated Series should be enough legitimacy for any bat fan to assume that he will not disappoint. I assure you, he doesn’t let us down. Dushku lends her voice to this, as well. I won’t ruin the plot, just enjoy it kids.
Overall, Batman: Year One is exactly what we have been waiting for in terms of things that should be and need to be released from DC Animated. Expect more good things boys and girls. Stay tuned.
Batman: Year One:
Reviewed by Chris Gering