A Marvel girl's descent into Gotham

The X-Men were the superheroic companions of my adolescence. Maybe I was drawn to the easy comparison of ostracizing mutations and awkward teenage years, the convoluted plotlines, the endless array of oddball powers and the candy-colored costumes.

My encounters with Batman were limited. I was only exposed to the cartoons, the recent Christopher Nolan trilogy and the nippletastic campfest starring George Clooney. (That film holds a special place in my heart — I'm sure it was as terrible as everyone says, but all I can remember is wanting to be Poison Ivy or Batgirl when I grew up.)

Now, with the help of my Batman-obsessed friend, I'm diving into the source material. I have a print primer on the life and times of Bruce Wayne, starting with Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One.

I read the 1986 classic with no expectations or spoilers — rare for naughty little me. And I was surprised by how this was much more of a Jim Gordon origin story than a Batman one.

The shocking takeaway? Batman is pretty tough, but I'd rather run into him in a dark alley while committing a crime than Gordon. Here's a sample of Gordon's inner monologue during shooting practice:
"If that were a man, the wad would shatter his spine and he'd feel his legs go dead even as his heart explodes. ... The wad would leave a neat, round hole and I'd see the horror in his eyes as it pushed half his brain through the back of his skull. I hate the gun. I hate my job. I keep practicing."
Yikes! With the chilling narration from Gordon of the revolting, miserable city where cops are more evil than the criminals, Batman becomes a bit player in his own story. That's not to say you don't see him, but I was less interested in the man empowered by a sense of duty and his flashy toys, and more fascinated by the depressed do-gooder and his burden.

Catwoman is reimagined as a jaded prostitute. Bruce Wayne keeps in shape by kicking tree trunks to kingdom come. A snarky Alfred quips his way through humoring his boss during his pet project. Superman is a pop culture punchline. There's even a love story thrown in, though not one you'd expect.

After reading this, the influence it had on Nolan's Batman Begins is obvious. This is a great book for a filmmaker to be inspired by, with its multilayered story and artwork that's elegant because it looks gritty and is painted in a somber palette. And the pages where Batman escapes from a SWAT crew in a cloud of bats were cinematic.

Batman will return for me in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's The Long Halloween. Keep the Bat-signal lit.

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