Batman’s origins are no mystery: seeing his parents murdered by a petty thief; inheriting a fortune and a mansion; and hiding his nocturnal vigilantism behind the mask of a billionaire playboy. This much is pretty much cast in stone. What we have here is the Frank Miller rendition of Bruce Wayne’s transformation into the Dark Knight, adding a little more grit to what might otherwise be considered an old story.
In fact, in this book, Miller provides us with no fewer than three origins. The most interesting is that of Commissioner Gordon, who starts off as a successful young detective moving into Gotham City but is soon embroiled in its dark underworld. His relationship with the Batman/Bruce Wayne character is brought into the spotlight, in terms of how a solid lawman can come to justify a relationship with a violent vigilante fighting a personal war on crime.
The third origin belongs to Catwoman, previously a prostitute, portrayed by Miller as the antithesis of Batman’s wealthy do-gooder, but who is still inspired by his reported antics to don a costume and prowl the small hours. She adds little to the story though, and most of the other female parts fare just as badly, from the two-dimensional women in Gordon’s life to Batman’s distinct lack of sexual interest.
Mazzuchelli’s line and shade artwork looks like it could easily work in a Sin City style black and white, though Lewis’s subtle colouring adds to the noir effect. As a team they create something that doesn’t leave you wishing Miller had picked up the drawing himself.
Despite the fact that Miller is fiddling with something that is sacred for many Batman fans, nothing is taken too seriously. This is a retelling of the Batman myth, keeping the main crux so the concept remains intact, while bringing the story up to date for a modern audience. It’s no Dark Knight Returns but this still ranks amongst the best Batman stories around, and should certainly be in the collection of any fan of the Caped Crusader.
UPDATE: The Deluxe edition paperback, featured here, has a new introduction by Frank Miller, an illustrated afterword by David Mazucchelli and over 40 pages of previously unseen sketches, pencils and script.
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