Batman: Year One (2011) Written by Tab Murphy Directed by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery Runtime 64 min. 4.5 out of 5
After spending many years abroad, Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City to fulfill the vow to rid it of crime that he made to his deceased parents when he was a boy. At the same time, Chicago cop James Gordon moves to Gotham to start with the GCPD. Soon, Bruce adopts the identity of the Batman and makes war on Gotham’s crime families, with James Gordon hot on his tail as the cop tries to take down the vigilante crime fighter.
I love origin stories. The mythology of characters, their history, their motivations, the events leading up to the creation of a super identity—all of it’s gold in my book. Batman: Year One is such a story, giving you not only Batman’s origin, but the chance to walk a mile in his shoes during his first year as a crime fighter. You get to see him test the waters, make mistakes, have some wins and losses, and watch as he earns the trust of Gotham’s finest.
This movie is a down-to-earth story about Batman and James Gordon, very much a crime story versus a superhero-vs-supervillain tale. Batman deals with real world criminals in real world ways. You also get a glimpse into the hard life he leads, what he gives up to be Batman, and how he balances life as a fool in the public eye so he could be a fear to the criminal underworld at night.
You also get to see a different side of James Gordon, the marriage trouble, his humanity, and the plight of being a good cop in a bad town. His portrayal makes him every bit a hero as Batman in this story.
This flick is based on the one-shot comic book by comics superstar Frank Millar and matches the book’s style for the most part, really bringing it to life.
This is a story of beginnings so the pacing is different than what most people are used to, and instead of having a beginning, middle, big lead up to a climax then end, it has—to me, anyway—more of a beginning, middle and then part of an end because it’s really a prequel to all the other Batman stories that come after it. Which is fine. It works, but I remember going, “Is that it?” when it ended after I first watched it.
I’m glad that Batman’s first year was brought to the small screen and I hope more first year stories are made for other heroes. Superman next would be great.
Batman: Gotham Knight (2008) Written by Brian Azzarello, Josh Olson, David S. Goyer, Greg Rucka, Jordan Goldberg and Alan Burnett Directed by Yasuhiro Aoki, Yuichiro Hayashi, Futoshi Higashide, Toshiyuki Kubooka, Hiroshi Morioka, Jong-Sik Nam and Shojiro Nishimi Runtime 75 min. 4.5 out of 5
Okay, now this is how you do something new with a character and do it right and totally change the formula. Not only was the style of Batman animation changed—this whole movie is done in anime by genuine Japanese anime directors—but also instead of giving us one big story, why not give us six shorter ones in the same universe?
This flick was meant as a bridge between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, giving audiences an in-depth glimpse into Batman’s past and what he’s been up to between those two movies. To make it even sweeter, Kevin Conroy voices Batman for all six short films.
They are (and what I thought):
Have I Got a Story for You –
Premise: A bunch of skater kids relate to each other firsthand encounters with the Dark Knight.
Really good, each story seeming to center around Batman chasing the same thief. The art direction is ridiculous! Did you see the backgrounds in this thing? While the character designs for this vignette were so-so, the backgrounds were insane. What makes this vignette special is it shows how the Batman legend was born, that is, people swapping stories, relating what they thought they saw versus what really happened, and how one tale leads to another until, eventually, Batman is myth and man combined.
Of course, sometimes the facts get straightened out, as per the ending of this story. You’ll have to see for yourself what I mean.
Premise: Two cops take a recently-dropped-off-by-Batman felon to the Narrows for incarceration. There they encounter tons of trouble and Batman comes to the rescue.
This one is much grittier than the previous story, focusing heavily on the cops and gangs. The art is superb and while the backgrounds are more classical animation, the character design is top notch and I really dig how everyone looks in this tale. Batman is boss in this: big, powerful, sleek, tough—wish he looked like this all the time. Well done.
The main point of the story is the question: is Batman an ally? One cop thinks so, the other is skeptical, and the conclusion reached? Well, you’ll just have to see this wicked cartoon for yourself.
Field Test –
Premise: Lucius Fox shows Bruce Wayne some new gear he can use as Batman and he gets a chance to do just that.
How does anyone draw this good? The backgrounds are so realistic it’s upsetting (in that good way). The character design is very classic anime: pointier noses, smaller eyes, very realistic body proportions.
Batman definitely has a unique style to his suit in this; not your classic uniform but it works. I also like the change of pace by showing his eyes instead of having just whites. I think this is the first time Batman’s been animated that way.
All in all, this vignette was great and there is a moral to the story about Batman’s stance on guns and how he understands the need to defend himself against them . . . but not at another’s expense.
In Darkness Dwells –
Premise: When a congregation starts going crazy during a church service, Batman thinks the Scarecrow is to blame. Instead, he’s greeted by someone far more dangerous: Killer Croc! However, Scarecrow is still waiting in the wings.
Visually, this vignette is very comic-book-like. I see glimpses of Mike Mignola’s—Hellboy artist and creator—style though I doubt that the animators were trying to imitate that. It’s just what it reminds me of.
This one was pretty exciting. Lots of action, lots of danger, lots of Batman stopping baddies and getting out of tight situations. Dig it.
Working Through Pain –
Premise: Suffering from a gunshot wound, Batman flashes back to before he donned the cowl and reflects on pain and what it means in his life physically and emotionally.
This one’s pretty gory, but that’s to further cement the point of this tale: pain . . . and what it does for Batman, how he deals with it and how he overcomes it. Giving glimpses into Bruce Wayne’s travels and the training he picked up along the way, we get to see the lengths he went to to perfect his body in the areas of enduring through pain—physical and emotional—something he no doubt knew he needed to do if he was to succeed in his mission. Except, there is one pain he can’t overcome.
Visually, I liked the art style of this one as well.
Premise: Deadshot comes to Gotham and the word is he’s going to assassinate Jim Gordon. When the GCPD catch wind of this, they let Batman know. Batman becomes Gordon’s shadow and resolves to keep his friend safe.
The art direction in this is like a high-end comic book come to life. Really, really liked it. Great line work, crisp images, solid colors, dark and bleak like a Batman comic. Awesome. And that train tunnel? Gotta be a 3D background but it looks unbelievably cool.
The Batman-vs-Deadshot battle is a sweet one, high speed on a train.
The main thrust of this story is about guns and how Batman feels about them. Since it was a gun that killed his parents, it’s a touchy area for him.
All six of these stories were well done, well thought out and well written. I’m proud to be a Batman fan while watching these and I’m equally happy DC tried something new with the character and succeeded in spades. By tying this animated flick into the live action ones, it added a whole new dimension to those stories and to these animated shorts as well.