The name Frank Miller is immediately associated with the dark and gritty style that has become his signature. From his legendary run on “Daredevil” to his seminary work in “The Dark Knight Returns” that brought us a truly Dark Knight, to his film noir comic series “Sin City” Miller has put the graphic in graphic novel, and made adults love comics again. It was shortly after producing “TDKR” that Miller worked with artist Dave Mazzuchelli to bring readers a modern retelling of Batman’s origins and his first year in the now classic “Batman: Year One.” Now 24 years later the story is retold in animated form in DC and Warner Premier’s “Batman: Year One” animated film.
The thing to know about this story is that it in and of itself has inspired most of what people know of about Batman in the last 20 years. Miller’s tale brought the dark and grittiness that very few had done before with exception of say Neil Adams. Many of the imagery that we’ve come to know from his origin like Martha Wayne’s pearl necklace, the bats he summons, the corrupt police department, all came from year one. Everything from Tim Burton’s “Batman” to “Batman: The Animated Series,” have taken cues from “Year One” and for good reason, it’s a great story.
Here we get a Bruce Wayne who is still hurting and trying to figure out how to focus his anger. He has the skills, and the know how, but he lacks direction. At the same time a new transfer to the Gotham Police Department, fresh from Chicago has to deal with a level of corruption he didn’t think existed. His name is James Gordon, and he’s a father to be. Voiced amazingly by Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad), Gordon becomes the true focus of the film, and that may sound strange since it’s a Batman film but man does it work. Gordon is a badass here! No I mean it! Wait til you see the scene he has where he’s out for a bit of retribution for an ambush earlier. Gordon is a great protagonist, and Cranston brings all the weight, and emotion to the role you’d expect.
Ben McKenzie (“Southland”) voices Bruce Wayne/Batman, and he’s pretty good. He captures a young, almost emotionless Bruce Wayne perfectly, and the hints of the Batman we all know and love pop up throughout as he gets more comfortable with his new alter ego. He definitely pulls the playboy aspect off very well. Eliza Dushku pops up as Selina Kyle/Catwoman briefly, but she doesn’t get much to do here, but she rocks the “Catwoman” Showcase short that’s on the disc. Katee Sackoff rounds out the cast playing Detective Sarah Essen, Gordon’s only trustworthy partner, who he ends up trusting a bit too much. And therein lies the crux of this film. The characters are portrayed as pretty real, and it makes it easier to get into the story which isn’t overly heavy on action. Also the noir feel with the voiceover narration just adds to the feeling of the story.
The artwork is amazing; it’s simplistic yet very detailed and mirrors Mazzuchelli’s art perfectly. It’s a little brighter than the comic art, but it still evokes the dirty feeling of Gotham at its lowest. This is even carried over into the “Catwoman” short which is loosely connected. Though it has a different art style its still looks like the same Gotham just a bit more modern. Speaking of the short, WOW!! Can I just say I was not expecting it to be that, well racy. I mean this is not for kids. There’s a large scene in a strip club, complete with dancers, and a pole. Catwoman even does a little strip tease kinda. But it was well written, great action, and a nice little ending that connects to “Year One”. Eliza Dushku definitely gets to show off here, and she’s a great Catwoman.
So DC does it again. Yet another great film to add to the collection and as adaptations go one of the better ones. I’d have to say for being true to its source material it’s right up there with “New Frontier,” “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse” and “Under The Red Hood.” Any Batman fan will love it, and those just learning about the character will enjoy it as well. Looking forward to “Justice League: Doom” which has a sneak peek on the disc. I saw the trailer at NYComicCon and it looks pretty damned sweet, and it’s the last script from the late great Dwayne McDuffie.
Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery (director) / Tab Murphy (screenplay)
CAST: Bryan Cranston … Jim Gordon (voice)
Ben McKenzie … Bruce Wayne / Batman (voice)
Eliza Dushku … Selina Kyle / Catwoman (voice)
Jon Polito … Commissioner Loeb (voice)
Alex Rocco … Carmine Falcone (voice)
Katee Sackhoff … Sarah Essen (voice)
Saratoga Ballentine … Skeevers’ Attorney (voice)
Jeff Bennett … Alfred Pennyworth (voice)