In 1986, writer Frank Miller and illustrator David Mazzucchelli dropped a bomb called Batman: Year One. A bona fide classic Batman story, Year One arguably tells the best kind of Batman story, one that's more concerned with gritty street reality and emotional turmoil than supervillains or needlessly ornate distractions. Mazzucchelli's art provides a distinctive and tasteful compliment to Miller's terse prose. Combined, Miller and Mazzucchelli finesse a noirish, spare style that nevertheless connects with the raw intensity of a shot to the gut.
Year One lives up to its name by beginning on January 4, with the parallel arrivals of James Gordon and Bruce Wayne in Gotham City. Gordon's ruefully starting a new life as a Gotham P.D. lieutenant, while Wayne's returning from twelve years in Europe. The anger and drive of these two like-minded men, each of whom operates under his own flawed but righteous conception of justice, gives the narrative a strong spine and reinvigorates characters that, to some degree, were taken for granted in 1986.
Both characters voice their mind in narration and express themselves through their credibly heroic actions. Gordon resists the corruption of Gotham City cops with every fiber of his being, even as he admits personal failings and betrays his pregnant wife with an attractive co-worker. Wayne unwaveringly fulfills the pledge he made to his murdered parents: to clean up Gotham City at any cost (and it costs him dearly). His early, reckless outings are compelling stuff, and Miller lets us in on Wayne/Batman's thought process every step of the way. One of the most thrilling moments comes when the narration of Gordon and Wayne nearly collide as their cars cross in the night.
Another brilliant touch to Batman: Year One is its conception of Batman as an extraordinary specimen born of an ordinary man. Eschewing the steroidal, hyperbolic depiction of Batman so common to the comics, Mazzucchelli draws a Batman with a lean body type familiar to those of us in the real world. This way, the element of danger is more pronounced, and the character remains equally impressive in an altogether different way. Miller and Mazzucchelli (aided and abetted by the rich, deep colors of Richmond Lewis) beautifully restage the killing Thomas and Martha Wayne (after the family takes in Bob Kane inspiration The Mark of Zorro), as well as Bruce's inspiration for the Batman costume. Fans will also enjoy the allusions to Robin Hood, Dracula, and that other costume-clad crimefighter from Metropolis. Batman: Year One is truly an essential Batman story.