Review: Year One: Batman/Ra's al Ghul trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Considering movies, where some movies you see in the theaters, some movies you rent, and some movies you borrow from the library, Year One: Batman/Ra's Al Ghul is one you borrow from the library. Not because it's bad, mind you -- it's pretty good, actually, and offers at least one significant addition to the Batman mythos -- but as a trade collecting two forty-eight page Prestige Format comics, there's not a whole lot of bang here for your $10 buck. Indeed, writer Devin Grayson offers pages and pages of dialogue-less fight scenes -- they're admirable, at least in that Grayson writes a excellent Batman, but you might prefer to spend your money on something with a bit more content.

[Contains spoilers]

In the wake of Death and the Maidens, Batman received a posthumous letter from Ra's al Ghul positing that the Lazarus Pits were a force of nature, and that in destroying them, Batman has upset the natural balance; case in point, the dead begin to rise in Gotham, and it's soon overrun with zombies. A second level of Ra's letter gives Batman a series of clues to discover how to create a Lazarus Pit; after battling hordes of Ubus, Batman finally restores order and builds a pit -- in the Batcave.

Grayson write a silent, no-nonsense Batman that's just the right mix of Dark Knight without the common smug superiority. Through Ra's letter, she offers a compelling moral argument; the Demon's Head questions whether Batman frustrates his own quest for peace by saving people who only continue to pollute the world. The philosophical thread runs through the book from beginning to end, interrupted by fight scenes; to get the full picture, this is a story best read in one sitting. If anything, I might only have questioned the decision to tell the story solely from Ra's point of view; it's hard to tell if Batman's even slightly swayed by Ra's words, since we never hear Batman's own inner thoughts.

Paul Gulacy does double-duty in the book, drawing not only modern Batman scenes, but flashbacks to Ra's early life. Reflecting ancient Asian artwork, Gulacy draws with thin lines, buffeted by Laurie Kronenberg's muted pallet for the past scenes. In the present, Gulacy at times resembles Graham Nolan's full-figured Batman work; there's also, however, much resemblance between Gulacy's Batman here and the Batman of the Tim Burton movies, with an angular cowl and Keaton-type profile. Similarly, this story features many of those "wonderful toys," including Bat-cycles, Bat-planes, and Bat-snowmobiles. I found the story went down a lot easier if I pictured it as a movie.

There's no question that this Year One story was meant as a tie in to the recent Batman Begins, and I imagine there was some consternation when the producers discovered that Ra's, the silver screen's newest villains, was -- in the comics -- dead. I was frankly somewhat surprised to find that this story didn't at least suggest Ra's resurrection, but he's gone for now, at least -- I'm confident he'll be brought back one of these days. This is not, as I had also thought, much of a sequel to Death and the Maidens -- Nyssa and Talia do not appear. I liked the final pages of this book, and I hope that some other writer picks up on them, but a few pages are barely worth the purchase price. Year One is very pleasant, but not necessarily groundbreaking.

[Contains full covers, character profiles]
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2 comments:

  1. You refer to it as if it's the only Batman comic called year one. Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, on which the title is based, is definitely groundbreaking, and is the only origin story I will ever consider reading for Batman. (Unless of course you consider Shaman, which is kind of a prequel to it.)

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  2. Your results may vary, but I certainly didn't intend to suggest this was the "only" Year One; perhaps I thought at the time (this review is three years old) that it went without saying that the "Year One" moniker originated with Frank Miller's seminal work. This Ra's story pales in comparison with the original Batman: Year One; it's interesting as an epilogue to Death and the Maidens or for ardent Ra's al Ghul fans, but it's not by far the best Ra's story I've ever read. Batman: Evolution, I'm compelled to say, is a good Ra's story.

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