Batman issues 404-407. Writer: Frank Miller, Artist: David Mazzucchelli, Colorist: Richmond Lewis. Published by DC Comics, 1987.
Inspired by watching Batman: The Animated Series, I felt compelled to go back and read a Batman comic. The thing is, I don't really have many. I was always a Marvel guy growing up. So, I have a couple random comics I picked up for some reason or another, and the trade paperbacks for this series, The Dark Knight Returns and its sequel. That's it. So I chose to re-read "Year One", since it's shorter than DKR, and should serve as the inspiration for the forthcoming Batman Begins movie.
As the title implies, this four issue storyarc deals with Bruce Wayne's first year fighting crime in Gotham City as the Batman. Gotham's most famous son has returned after 12 years abroad as a 25 year old man. Unbeknowst to the rest of Gotham, Wayne spent his time learning various forms of martial arts and detective skills to empower him with the abilities to exact his revenge on the criminal underworld that took his parents from him as a seven year old boy (reportedly, it is in these absent years where the new movie begins). The 25 year old Wayne is trained, but he has yet to become the feared, supremely confident, world's greatest detective that he would eventually become. In fact, when the story begins, he has yet to become Batman.
Which is what made the series such an important and landmark occasion in the history of the Dark Knight. DC is often critiqued for making their heroes too good, too perfect. Superman is the embodiment of the perfect superhero, with powers that make him practically god-like. Wonder Woman is, in fact, a goddess. The Green Lantern can create anything he can imagine with nothing more than a thought. And Batman was the world's greatest detective, a top level athlete and martial artist with a billionaire's fortune at his disposal. These aren't the flawed characters of Peter Parker or Daredevil, and thus, some (like me) found them less interesting. In "Year One", we're presented with a flawed Bruce Wayne, a man still finding his place in his chosen destiny. In the very first issue, he shows his frailties as he nearly meets his end not by a super-powered villain, or cunning archenemy, but rather from a group of prostitutes he was trying to protect from their angry pimp, and a couple of Gotham's finest.
Paralleling Wayne's ascension into Batman is the journey of (then) Lieutenant James Gordon, who arrives in Gotham with his recently pregnant wife Barbara via Chicago. Gordon, perhaps comicdom's greatest supporting character, is also shown as a flawed character, trying to find his place in a corrupt system. Finally, the series shows the origin of Selina Kyle, who becomes Catwoman in response to all the media attention towards the Batman (years later, Catwoman: Year One would re-tell the events of the series through her perspective).
The series is routinely cited as one of the industry's finest ever, largely due to the strength of the writing by Frank Miller. For my money, the late 80's were when Miller was at his finest, as I never cared for his ultra-violent Sin City series. He and Mazzucchelli had previously teamed up earlier in 1987 to create the seminal Daredevil series "Born Again", before he set his sights on revitalising Batman with DKR and then this. It is easily one of those stories about which one can say "people who aren't into comics will enjoy". I don't usually like to say things like that, because I don't need comics to transcend what they are in order to enjoy them. That said, this series reads more like a pulp detective novel than a superhero story, with Batman and Gordon taking on organised crime and corrupt officials, not super-villains (Catwoman is the only super-villain in the story, and she isn't super-powered). The tone of the series is very much reminiscent of a David Fincher film, particularly in the treatment of the Gordon character, who reminds me a bit of Brad Pitt's character in Se7en. It's an absolute classic that has lost none of its power in the 17 years since it was first published.
Batman - "The Dark Knight Returns" (my review)
Batman - "The Dark Knight Returns" (twistedyouth's review)
Batman - "Year Two - Fear the Reaper"