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Year (Twenty) One

21 Years have passed since the publication of Batman: Year One, by Frank Miller. Year One is a strange sort of follow-up/prequel to Miller’s acclaimed Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. While the latter shows us the comeback of a tormented Batman, Year One takes us to the early year(s) of the caped crusader. How he came to be.
4 Chapters in 1 year.

(for year two and all the other years in between Miller’s works I fondly like the tales of Jeph Loeb, with graphics by Tim Sale and Jim Lee)

The graphics -somewhat pale and bleak-, the Bat costume, the gadgets, it all reflects the past times of the comic figure that Batman once was. A bit camp. Naive like the young man looking for revenge, subject to doubts.

In a ‘parallel parfait’ to Bruce Wayne’s search for a hidden identity, we witness how Gordon arrives in the Dark City of Gotham to take up his assignment in the corrupt police force. And how he deals with it (hard headed and using his fists). And with his workaholism, his commitment to the law, his loyalty towards his wife and (unborn) child. How his opinion on the giant Bat evolves from lawbreaking vigilante to ‘a friend who might be able to help‘ (when facing the new threat called The Joker).

And the earliest encounters of the Bat and the Cat(woman) make it clear that they are destined for a troubled and complex relationship. A theme that Loeb has brilliantly built on. And in Batman: The Long Halloween Loeb directly pursues the story of Year One but directing it towards the gangster theme through Frank Miller’s character of The Roman.

A personal favourite is the delicate, hidden romance of lt. Gordon and sgt. Sarah Essen. Just one of his personal struggles. Perfectly illustrated in coffee bar romantic moments (Nighthawks reluctant to go home):

Now, put together the works of Frank Miller, Jeph Loeb and Alan Moore (The Killing Joke). And recognize characters (like Harvey Dent, the psychopathic Branden), storylines and developments in Tim Burton’s Batman movies, as well in the new Dark Knight series.

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Hush, little baby, don’t say a word

Hush was meant to be a secret. In multiple ways. The key part of a major riddle. For Batman to solve. As much as the creative plans by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee were to be kept a secret.

In the 2-part Hush, the Batman finds himself trapped in a web of intrigues, wondering why his long-time enemies suddenly act… strange, differently, beyond themselves. A mystery that keeps his brains working at full speed combined with exhausting battles and all things unforeseen. Old memories pass by. Of a long lost friendship. Of childhood. Of his father failing to save his friend’s father. His friend turned into a surgeon. Now saving the life of Bruce Wayne. The Bat finds in Metropolis that his Superpowered antipode could not even resist. Is this a mystery beyond the powers of the best detective in the world?

Jeph Loeb has (once again!) managed to create a story that places the Batman and his well known friends and foes in unfamiliar roles and unexpected settings. A great surprise. The number of characters has certainly grown a lot with regards to Loeb’s previous Bat tales (Haunted Knight, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory). This is only due to the fact that these previous stories all take place around Year One and Year Two. Hush makes his appearance in Batman’s adult career. Loeb’s partnership with famous Jim Lee assured him again (after previously working with Tim Sale) of a great translation of his story and vision onto paper, colors, styling, etc.

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Start the haunting hunt

My fascination for the Batman started ages ago. Over these years I’ve always carefully considered authors and works. To my great satisfaction.

My most recently consumed work is Batman: Haunted Knight, by the great Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, magically supervised by (the late) Archie Goodwin.

3 Halloween tales of the Dark Knight:
In Fears (1) Scarecrow tries to exploit the fears of the caped crusader (a huge flock of… crows?) getting the bat to be vulnerable… a little anyway. In Madness (2) the Batman avenges the damage to his childhood memories by the Mad Hatter. The Ghosts (3) of foes and his past (Year One!) appear after an encounter with Penguin (and bad shrimps?) to make our tired warrior -fascinatingly- show a softer side.

I got to know (and appreciate) Loeb with the 2-part Hush story, and the follow-up to this Haunted Knight, The Long Halloween.

What makes Loeb so good is not that he tries to re-invent the Batman. He rather uses Frank Miller’s re-inventions but combines it with a ‘back to the roots’ angle of superclass detective. As such he portrays the Batman with his classical opponents in superior and exciting tales of (murder) mystery.

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Holiday killer on the loose

It seems like phenomenal duo Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale had a clear mission for Batman: The Long Halloween. It feels like they revisited the material of Frank Miller’s Year One and wanted to pick up and elaborate on the gangster theme. In a way they continued their re-portrayal of the winged crusader as a superclass detective, as they had begun in Batman: Haunted Knight. But they went beyond these 3 previously published Halloween stories. Would this 13-chapter tale then best be known as Year Two (the only true successor to Miller’s subliminal work)? Well, nevermind. The questions is irrelevant as this work has more than enough quality to offer by itself.

I made a promise  – to my parents – that I would – rid the city – of the evil – that took their lives.

There’s a killer out on the Gotham streets. Nothing new so far. Seems to have a murderous appetite to kill on holidays. Likes a riddle. Harvey Dent, district attorney, vigilantly and relentlessly chases the bad guys from the good side of the law. It takes a while for him to accept the big bat as a companion. But together with commissioner Gordon they create a bond to hunt down the head of Gotham’s main gangster family, Carmine Falcone (“The Roman”). A war commences.

Frustration grows with some defenders of the law. The Maroni family gets involved. Things get out of hand as all villains seem to be getting out of Arkham Asylum. In the meantime Bruce Wayne/Batman gets to deal with more than violence with Selina Kyle/Catwoman. He finds himself victim to a strange and dark attraction. The death of Alberto Falcone, The Roman’s son, causes his gigantic aunt to go nuts. And it leaves some questions on whether the poor son was consciously left out of daddy’s imperium. And what links the late doctor Wayne to The Roman?

It all fits together in this tremendous and superb tale of murder and mystery. Giving birth to the notorious Two-Face. Two sides to the end. All’s well. Ambiguous yet. Who’s Holiday? How many are Holiday? Luckily at least Gilda still believes in Harvey Dent.

Batman: The Long Halloween was clearly a major source of inspiration for the first new generation Batman movie Batman Begins.

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The rise of the robin

With Batman: Dark Victory acclaimed duo Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale created a follow-up tale on their Batman: The Long Halloween.

The Holiday killer caught. Supposedly. During a massive escape from Arkham he (Alberto Falcone) stays put. The new DA, Mrs. Porter, gets him out anyhow on humanitarian grounds. The beating by the Dark Knight.

A new series of murders. Every month a cop gets hanged. On holidays. History repeats? While this Hang Man leaves his riddles, “Freaks Inc.” is taking over the city from the mob families. Sofia ‘Gigante’ Falcone is desperately trying to lead her family, poppa’s imperium and Gotham. The wheel chair (damn Catwoman) doesn’t make it easier.

The Calendar Man is frustrated for being overlooked. Gordon, now commissioner, (still?) has marital problems. Two-Face seduces, is caught and stands trial. Batman goes from (intoxicated) fear to vulnerability. Still confused about Selina/Catwoman. The angst (not) to reveal his identity, again, and again. Until Bruce Wayne takes home a young acrobat to grant him what was not granted to him. Synchronicities from the past. Revenge for the murder of his parents. A favor worthwhile returning in a way.

The story is great. Highly creative. Fresh. Unexpected settings. Superb collection of characters. Tense romances. The Loeb trademark. Vibrating graphics (those look backs!). A top Batman comic. By a magnificent dynamic duo (team).

Let the bird fly. I will now check what Catwoman did in Rome…