Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Batman: Year One

Year 8, Day 97 - 4/6/16 - Movie #2,297

BEFORE: I found myself behind the scenes at MAD Magazine today, thanks to my boss and the director we've got visiting from out of town, who arranged a visit with the magazine's head art director, and I volunteered to come along as their photographer.  Hey, sometimes my job does have its perks.  For a long time, MAD shared an office building with DC Comics, but DC moved out to L.A. about two years ago, so now they're sharing space with TMZ and some other Warner Bros.-owned properties.  

It's been a big Movie Year already for writer Frank Miller, I watched "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" in January, and "Robocop 3" a week or so ago.  And more is on the way in a few days, but tonight it's the Batman origin story, which is based on the story he wrote for Batman comics issues 404-407 back in 1987, which is when I got on board.  This was the re-boot origin, before the most recent re-boot.

Voice actor Steve Blum carries over from "Lego Batman: DC Super Heroes Unite".  

THE PLOT:  A wealthy playboy and a Chicago cop both return to Gotham City where their lives will intersect in unexpected ways.

AFTER:  This covers a lot of the same ground as the current TV series "Gotham", detailing the early days of Jim Gordon's days on the GCPD, rooting out police corruption while also dealing with the first stirrings of major costumed crime in town.  However, on that show, Bruce Wayne is still a teenager, and here he's in his early 20's, returning to town after training with crime specialists and fighting mentors, ready to begin his quest to clean up the streets of Gotham City.  However, don't go into this one expecting to see him in costume much, some of it takes place before he gets the idea to dress as a bat, and then at the end, for some reason he abandons the costume again.

Symbolically, Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne are portrayed here as opposite sides of the same coin (to use Harvey Dent's favorite metaphor...), both want to clear the streets of criminals and corrupt cops, just one chooses to do it from within the system and one from outside, as a vigilante.  What's really funny is that the voice actor who plays Batman here went on to play Jim Gordon in "Gotham" on TV just a few years later.

They both want to take down the mobster, Carmine Falcone, but Falcone is tight with Commissioner Loeb, so Gordon can't make any progress unless he first takes down Loeb's dirty cops.  Meanwhile Loeb issues an order for all Gotham cops to shoot this new vigilante on sight, which places Gordon in a position where he has to investigate and stop the Batman, for Batman's own sake.

And yet Gordon and his partner, Sarah Essen, never figure out that Bruce Wayne is Batman, although they have their suspicions.  Batman has to be athletic, focused, wealthy enough to fund a war on crime, and has to have easy access to technology like Bat-copters and Bat-boats.  Bruce Wayne is one of like three people in town who fit the bill, but whenever they question his whereabouts, his butler always says he's out of town, and whenever they come to visit, he appears to be intoxicated with a foreign floozy on his arm.  But hmm, that cast from Wayne's skiing accident would cover up the leg wound that Batman got, wouldn't it?

So all during the run of Batman comics following this storyline, the readers had to wonder - does Jim Gordon know?  He's got to know, right?  The story in "Year One" is very clever - if you want to believe that Jim Gordon figures out Batman's identity, there's evidence for that, and if you want to believe that he chooses NOT to know out of some professional courtesy, there's evidence for that, too.  

Jim Gordon's a real bad-ass, though - when he doesn't get jumped by three hooded men at once, he's really a very good fighter.  So it's interesting to note that for the last year or so, Jim Gordon replaced Bruce Wayne as Batman in the comic books, after Bruce "died".  (He came back, of course, but didn't remember his life as Batman until just recently - and became Batman again, just in time for the next reboot.)  But when Gordon was Batman, he wore sort of a robot suit to make him stronger...

Also starring the voices of Bryan Cranston (last heard in "Madagascar 3"), Ben McKenzie (last seen in "88 Minutes"), Eliza Dushku (last seen in "This Boy's Life"), Jon Polito (last seen in "Gangster Squad"), Alex Rocco (last seen in "The Wedding Planner"), Katee Sackhoff (last seen in "Riddick"), Jeff Bennett, Grey Griffin, Robin Atkin Downes, Stephen Root (last seen in "Robocop 3"), Fred Tatasciore.

RATING: 5 out of 10 bullet-proof vests

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