In contrast to his previous work on The Dark Knight Returns, Miller opted for a realistic approach to the material, or as realistic as superhero comics can get. This early version of the Batman often makes mistakes, misjudges situations, gets hurt. The violence is brutish, dirty, nothing like the cartoonish style seen in the 60s TV show, for example. This was groundbreaking at the time, and remains an influence on depictions of Batman to this day.
The story is relatively low-stakes, with no overarching threat to Gotham other than the day-to-day crime that plagues it. There is no central villain that Batman faces; although Catwoman and Carmine Falcone appear, they’re not the focus of the story. What’s at stake is Batman/Bruce Wayne’s mission and identity. The book explores Wayne’s motivations for becoming Batman, and what role he plays in Gotham’s society. It’s compelling to watch him refine his goals and philosophy to become a symbol for justice in a corrupt world.
What it lacks is any attempt to interrogate or transform the character. Though it’s a perfectly good exploration of Batman’s origins, I was left with a sense that more could have been done with the concept. The innovations it makes are by and large stylistic, and don’t really do much to reimagine the character at the story’s core. While I’m not advocating for any radical changes to the Batman mythology, a return to the character’s foundations could have been an opportunity to provide a whole new take on the idea, and it seems a shame it wasn’t taken.
However, when taken on its own merits, Year One is nonetheless a dynamic and entertaining Batman story. With an immersive art style and a well-constructed plot, it holds up as a great example of 1980s comic books. It was an inspiration to both Christopher Nolan for his Dark Knight trilogy, and, most recently, Matt Reeves for The Batman. It introduced a whole new generation to the world of Batman, reigniting his popularity at a time when it was on the wane, and certainly part of the reason why the superhero is still enjoyed to this day.
Review by Charlie Alcock