Flashback: ‘Predator 2’

The ultimate hunter returned to cinema screens in 1990’s first ‘Predator’ sequel…

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On the hunt: a new Predator stalks L.A. in ‘Predator 2’ (credit: 20th Century Fox).

Year:  1990

Starring:  Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton

Directed by:  Stephen Hopkins / written by:  Jim Thomas & John Thomas

What’s it about?

As gang warfare rages in the heat-soaked city of Los Angeles, LAPD cop Mike Hannigan, investigating a series of bizarre murders, discovers a new threat in the form of a lethal alien, hunting humans for sport…

Retrospective/review

With the popularity of John McTiernan’s Predator it was only a matter of time before a sequel would surface, and so it did, in 1990 with Predator 2 – directed by Stephen Hopkins.  An enjoyable, albeit inferior, follow-up to Predator, Hopkins and returning writers Jim & John Thomas help to deliver an entertaining science fiction action blockbuster.

Moving the action from the isolated jungles of Central America to the chaotic urban jungle of Los Angeles in the, then, not too distant future of 1997, Predator 2 creates the perfect environment for the creature to hunt, where the L.A. police are locked in an unrelenting conflict as they engage in street wars with Colombian gangs and Jamaican crime lords during an oppressive heatwave that not only adds to tensions but further drives the Predator’s thirst for the hunt.  It’s a decent idea that works rather well, altering the setting to keep things interesting yet retaining those key atmospheric elements at the core of Predator, the sense of comforting familiarity enhanced by the return of Alan Silvestri as composer of the film’s music score.

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Danny Glover as Lt. Mike Hannigan (credit: 20th Century Fox).

Leading the cast is Lethal Weapon star Danny Glover in an enjoyably energetic performance as no-nonsense police lieutenant Mike Hannigan who, whilst not as muscular as Arnold Schwarzenegger (looming production on Terminator 2 preventing the Austrian Oak’s participation) certainly holds his own in the action scenes of Predator 2.  Supporting Glover is Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso (The Running Man) and a wonderfully enthusiastic Bill Paxton (Aliens’ Private Hudson) as fellow L.A. cops Archuleta, Cantrell and Lambert, respectively as well as Kent McCord as their captain.  Gary Busey brings antagonism into the fray as the shady Peter Keyes, as Hannigan learns that the true perpetrator of a wave of gang murders is not from this world.

Although it doesn’t feel as new and exciting as Predator and is in some ways less suspenseful with its slightly less mysterious and faster paced approach (and the portrayal of the Jamaican criminals at times a little silly), there’s still a lot to enjoy about Predator 2, not in the least in its action – including a deadly subway train encounter with the Predator, the inventive slaughterhouse battle with the creature as Keys and his team attempt to capture it and the apartment building/rooftop chase which leads to a climactic finale aboard the Predator’s ship.  It’s all staged capably by director Hopkins who keeps things intense and engaging.

With some tweaks and refinements to the creature’s appearance, this Predator (once again played by Kevin Peter Hall) is subtly unique from the previous one and its expanded array of gear, including a staff and spinning disc make it more even more formidable.  Predator 2 also contains a neat little Easter egg for fans of both of 20th Century Fox’s SF creature franchises with the skull of a xenomorph displayed amongst the Predator’s trophies – leading to numerous Alien vs Predator comic books, novels, video games and a pair of not-so-great films.  Although it may not be as worthy a successor as Aliens was to Alien, Predator 2 does enough creatively to set it apart from the original film and with some solid and well-executed action sequences it provides a good measure of entertainment.

Geek fact!  Gary Busey’s son, Jake, known mainly for his role in Starship Troopers, appears in 2018 sequel The Predator as the son of Busey’s character in Predator 2.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

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Film Review: ‘Joker’

Joaquin Phoenix is the man beneath the clown make-up in Tod Phillip’s Scorsese inspired reinvention of DC’s iconic villain…

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Joaquin Phoenix delivers a powerful performance in Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Joker’ (credit: Warner Bros. Pictures).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Douglas Hodge, Dante Pereira-Olson

Directed by:  Todd Phillips / written by:  Todd Phillips & Scott Silver / 122 minutes

What’s it about?

Grappling with mental illness amidst the crumbling society of Gotham City, a victimised and broken man walks a dark path as he adopts a deranged persona known as ‘Joker’…

In review

After riding a wave of festival focused critical plaudits and finding itself subject to some pre-release controversy (cancelled screenings and increased police presence rising from concerns that the film may incite acts of violence), Warner Bros. Pictures’ Joker, based on the iconic Batman villain, has landed in cinemas.  Featuring an intense and Oscar-worthy performance from Joaquin Phoenix, Joker is much less a traditional “comic book” interpretation of DC’s Clown Prince of Crime and far more a bleak, at times disturbing and often unnerving character study of a man cast aside by society, broken and pushed to the limit and through violent means – pushes back.  As has already been suggested since the film’s inception, Joker finds its roots within the celebrated works of director Martin Scorsese (who at one point was attached to produce) – specifically Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.

Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a loner struggling with mental illness and afflicted by a condition which leads to uncontrollable bouts of laughter (something that may sound silly on the surface but is realised painfully by a startlingly gaunt Phoenix).  Caring for his mother (played by Frances Conroy) and making a meagre living as a sign twirling street clown, Fleck looks to pursue a career in stand-up comedy…but one bad day too many sees the tragic figure consumed by his demons as he transforms himself into the deranged and homicidal persona of ‘Joker’.

Joker is certainly a good piece of filmmaking (captured beautifully by cinematographer Lawrence Sher) and in many ways compelling, unshackled from its comic book origins and unburdened by any requirement to connect to a wider universe, favouring it’s Scorsese inspirations – the character of Fleck very much informed by Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, perhaps more so than he is by the Joker as we’ve seen in previous iterations.  Director Todd Phillips (who also co-writes) takes these influences and runs with them, proving his capabilities beyond the crowd-pleasing comedy fare of The Hangover trilogy.  It does, admittedly, make it a tad derivative and adds an element of predictability to proceedings, but at least provides a viable approach to this reinterpretation of a classic comic book foe.  Joker also benefits further from a small but key role for acting legend Robert De Niro (as talk show host Murray Franklin, who Fleck idolises), who certainly brings a heap of gravitas to the project – yet, the film unmistakably thrives on Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal.

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Joaquin Phoenix as the haggard and troubled Arthur Fleck (credit: Warner Bros. Pictures).

Despite some of its creative laudability, the film is not exactly “fun” in any sense, but nor does it aim to be given the themes it explores (the societal tensions and spiralling crime rate sadly all too relevant) and Fleck’s descent into madness can make for a difficult viewing experience.  Truth be told, Joker cannot match itself to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight which was able to depict a satisfyingly dark and dangerous version of the Joker whilst offering some semblance of hope via Bruce Wayne’s war against crime.  It’s also arguable that the Joker is very much defined by his ‘relationship’ with Batman which makes the approach of Joker, although invigorating, ultimately lacks something without that counterbalance.

Joker does however maintain its links to the comics, the Wayne family playing an important role within the story and the (seemingly early 1980s) Gotham City setting, though a more grounded extrapolation of a crime-ridden New York of the 1970s, a familiar placing.  Fleck’s failure as a comedian is also, of course, an identifiable homage to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke.

Joker leaves itself open to the interpretation of viewers and is likely to provoke fierce debates about not only the film itself but in its world-view and subjects it doesn’t take lightly – it may not be “entertaining” in a manner most would expect and the Joker is arguably better presented in his battles with the Batman but this is still a bold take on a particular, standalone, version of the character.

The bottom line:  ‘Dark’ in every sense of the word, Joker pulls no punches in its depiction of crime, violence and a society in decline, driven by Joaquin Phoenix’s powerful and mesmerising performance.

Joker is in cinemas now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ – “Endgame”

Looking back at the finale of the fourth live action ‘Star Trek’ series…

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The U.S.S. Voyager and her crew battle the Borg once more in the finale of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ (credit: CBS).

Year:  2001

Starring:  Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran, Tim Russ, Robert Picardo, Robert Duncan McNeill, Roxann Dawson, Jeri Ryan, Alice Krige, Dwight Schultz, Richard Herd

Series created by:  Rick Berman, Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

Written by:  Kenneth Biller & Robert Doherty (story by Rick Berman, Kenneth Biller & Brannon Braga) / directed by:  Allan Kroeker

What’s it about?

A decade after the starship Voyager’s return to Earth from the Delta Quadrant, an older and haunted Admiral Janeway discovers the means to travel into the past and bring her former ship and crew home before any losses are endured…

Retrospective/review

Launching in 1995, Star Trek: Voyager seemed to have hit its creative peak in its fourth and fifth seasons and although there are still some decent episodes in the show’s final two seasons they’re outnumbered by less memorable and more average stories in comparison to those earlier years.  “Endgame”, the feature length series finale, whilst not as impactful as the conclusion of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine, is still an entertaining and fitting finish to the fourth live action Star Trek series.  It opens as Earth celebrates the tenth anniversary of the U.S.S. Voyager’s return after being stranded in the Milky Way’s distant ‘Delta Quadrant’ (the ship transported there by a powerful alien being in the series premiere, “Caretaker”) for 23 years and a sombre and reflective Admiral Kathryn Janeway, haunted by the loss of crewmembers during the journey home as well as the subsequent death of her trusted right hand, Chakotay, as well as Seven of Nine, together with the failing mental health of Tuvok – as a result of a Vulcan neurological disease – discovers the means to travel back in time and bring the starship safely home.

The first half of “Endgame” neatly jumps between the future and the present before Admiral Janeway arrives to aid her younger self – Captain Janeway – and the Voyager crew in battling Star Trek’s iconic cybernetic adversary, the Borg and utilising their wormhole network to travel back to Earth years earlier and without those losses the elder Janeway would later have to endure.  Once the groundwork is done, “Endgame” builds up the drama and action but not without losing focus on its characters.

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The superb Kate Mulgrew as both Admiral and Captain Janeway (credit: CBS).

The cast performances are solid and each of Voyager’s principal troupe are permitted to stretch themselves a little with most given the opportunity to play the older versions of their characters (minus Robert Beltran’s Chakotay and Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine whose romance, although set-up in previous episodes still feels like an odd match), the most notable being Tuvok whose degrading mental state allows the talented Tim Russ to expand his portrayal of his otherwise stoic (by the very nature of a Vulcan, a race committed to controlling and repressing their emotions) and disciplined character.  Kate Mulgrew is, as ever, a superb lead and excels with the rich material she is given, bringing a slightly tortured and embittered quality to her portrayal of Admiral Janeway.  Unfortunately, given his character’s exit two episodes earlier in “Homestead” Ethan Phillips is only able to feature in a brief cameo as Neelix, but at least he could be a part of Voyager’s send-off in some capacity.  Dwight Schultz makes a welcome return as Barclay, his previous appearances in the series (and the character’s role in Earth finally establishing communication with Voyager in season six) making him a part of the Voyager family and a pleasing addition to the finale.

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Alice Krige returns as the Borg Queen (credit: CBS).

The Borg where a chilling and formidable enemy in the days of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the effect had become somewhat diminished with their more regular appearances on Voyager.  This feels rectified in “Endgame” thanks in no small part to the return of Alice Krige as the Borg Queen, a role the actress had originated in the feature film Star Trek: First Contact and was previously played by Susanna Thompson in previous Voyager episodes “Dark Frontier” and “Unimatrix Zero”.  Thompson was great in those stories but Krige brings a real sense of gravitas and a sultry menace to the character that elevates the threat of the Borg.  It also helps that Kate Mulgrew brings her talent fully to bear in her scenes with Krige when the more seasoned Admiral Janeway is confronted face-to-face with the Borg Queen.  Those tightly written and directed sequences contribute significantly to the climax of “Endgame”, the tension notching up as Janeway (both Admiral and Captain) and the crew of Voyager execute their plan to return to Earth and deal a crippling blow to the Borg Collective.

The closing scenes of “Endgame” are quite touching, the arrival of Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres’ daughter just in time for Voyager’s return helping to provide a heartfelt farewell to Star Trek: Voyager, a series that perhaps ran too long but non-the-less yielded some good episodes and always made more enjoyable by its central cast.

Geek fact!

Veteran Star Trek guest star Vaughn Armstrong, who previously played a Romulan in the classic Voyager episode “Eye of the Needle” returns for “Endgame” as the Klingon, Korath.  Armstrong would go on to portray Admiral Forest, a recurring role on prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise.

Comic Review: ‘Daredevil’ #11

Chip Zdarsky’s run on ‘Daredevil’ returns to form…

Daredevil #11 (2019)

Cover art by Julian Totino Tedesco (image credit: Marvel Comics).

 

Written by:  Chip Zdarsky / art by:  Marco Checchetto / colours by:  Nolan Woodard

What’s it about?

“Through Hell”, Part I: as the NYPD continues its crackdown on masked vigilantes, Matt Murdock faces his ongoing remorse for the death of an innocent and finds he must heed the warnings of an old face…

In review

Writer Chip Zdarsky (whose most recent Marvel works include Marvel Two-In-One, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man and Invaders) continues his run on Daredevil with issue #11 (of volume 6, the comic’s legacy numbering being #623) which marks the beginning of the next story arc and the return of Marco Checchetto on art duties.  Although this is the first instalment of “Through Hell”, it’s not really an ideal jumping on point for new readers as it builds on the events established in this Daredevil series thus far, but luckily it’s early enough to catch up but please note that some spoilers will follow.

Going in to “Through Hell”, Matt Murdock is in a relatively low place – having abandoned his Daredevil persona (albeit continuing to answer his calling to help others) after causing an accidental death and succumbing to an affair with a member of the Libris crime family he has lost his way.  In the wake of Daredevil’s absence, copycat vigilantes have been filling the void and Daredevil #11 opens as a DD impersonator (his true identity a neat twist that only complicates Matt’s situation further) intervenes in an impending assault – only to be hindered by the arrival of the Police, currently enacting a policy of zero tolerance in an effort to crackdown on masked vigilantes.  Otherwise, this issue is, given the Man Without Fear’s status quo, light on Daredevil action but that in no way makes it uninteresting.  There’s a lot going on here and Chip Zdarsky not only has a good handle on Matt Murdock and various characters (all of who he juggles admirably, along with the various subplots without creating a mess) such as the Kingpin and the Owl but also sets the right tone for Daredevil which, although on the face of it seems bleak, is always strongest when dealing with the darker, more adult elements of the character and the brutal world of Hell’s Kitchen.  It’s always more interesting when we see Matt in a hole and how a writer eventually drags him into the light and there’s a sense that Chip Zdarsky has plenty up his sleeve.

The most significant moment for Matt in Daredevil #11 is his encounter with Elektra (the point at which Zdarsky left readers in the last issue) which demonstrates his loss of focus in the current circumstances, the death of an innocent weighing heavily on his soul and as Elektra points out has ‘softened’ him, a situation which his ex-lover warns is going to lead to his death if he doesn’t get a grip and accept Elektra’s offer to retrain him in the teachings of their mentor, Stick.  The main highlight in this issue however is the appearance of Spider-Man, drawn into a trap by Detective Cole that our Friendly Neighbourhood hero skilfully turns on his pursuer.  Again, Zdarsky nails the character of Marvel’s Webslinger perfectly (no doubt aided by his experience of writing Spider-Man comics previously), balancing the action with the wisecracks and a healthy dose of pathos as Spidey debates the virtues of justice and the need for masked heroes to save lives in a place where the law just isn’t enough.  It’s a wonderfully well-written and thought-provoking exchange that’s made even more enjoyable as Zdarsky utilises the one-hour dissolve of Spider-Man’s webbing to nifty effect.

Artist Marco Checchetto makes a welcome return to Daredevil (along with colourist Nolan Woodard), sorely missed since issue #5 and returning the book to its previous visual glory which was diminished greatly during the previous arc (although the stellar Jorge Fornes was a sublime fill-in for last issue) which was arguably beginning to hurt the book.  Checchetto’s style is the perfect match for the dynamics of Zdarsky’s script, establishing the mood and rendering some exciting action scenes, particularly in those Spider-Man sequences.  Here’s hoping that Checchetto can remain onboard for a longer stretch this time.

The bottom line:  Daredevil #11 is a solid and satisfying issue of the series in which Chip Zdarsky continues to build his ongoing narrative, enhanced by the return of artist Marco Checchetto and a nicely executed guest appearance from Spider-Man.

Daredevil #11 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘The Twilight Zone’ – “Where is Everybody?”

It’s almost sixty years since the pilot for Rod Serling’s classic anthology series premiered…

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Earl Holliman searches for answers in ‘The Twilight Zone’ (image credit: CBS).

Year:  1959

Starring:  Earl Holliman (narration by Rod Serling)

Written by:  Rod Serling / directed by:  Robert Stevens / series created by:  Rod Serling

What’s it about?

A man wanders into a small town devoid of people, with no memory of who he is or how he got there he tries to unravel the enigma…

Retrospective

Celebrating it’s 60th anniversary this year, Rod Serling’s classic science fiction/fantasy anthology series The Twilight Zone began airing in October of 1959.  Frustrated by the rigid censorship of television, Serling (much like Gene Roddenberry would later do with Star Trek) used The Twilight Zone as a means of telling imaginative, thought-provoking stories exploring the human condition and often touching upon issues of the day that would otherwise be unlikely to escape the scrutiny of TV executives.  The series is also famous for its surprise twist endings providing a memorable outcome, several of which have become quite iconic.

Written by Serling (who would, impressively, go on to write or co-write 92 of the series’ 156 episodes) and directed by Robert Stevens, “Where is Everybody?” is the debut episode of The Twilight Zone.  It stars Forbidden Planet’s Earl Holliman as a lone amnesiac who wanders into a deserted town as he tries to figure out who he is and why the streets and buildings are empty.  Serling’s talent as a writer is evident from the outset and whilst “Where is Everybody?” may not deal with hard-hitting social issues it is an engrossingly mysterious tale about isolation and loneliness that keeps the viewer intrigued and engaged throughout the 25-minute running time.  Holliman is great in the central role and together with the monologues Serling (who draws the audience in with his opening narration) provides for the actor, we truly get a sense of the unease and exasperation his character endures – the only clue to his identity being the Air Force flight suit he is wearing.

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The incredible Rod Serling, creator of ‘The Twilight Zone’ (image credit: CBS).

Director Robert Stevens keeps things moving along steadily, never keeping the camera fixed in one place for too long and there’s some particularly effective use of lighting and off-angle shots in the climactic night-time scenes that increase the spookiness of the story as well as the feeling of increasing anxiety and desperation of Holliman’s character.  The sequence in which Holliman enters an empty movie theatre and the shock as the projector begins running is a quintessentially classic Twilight Zone moment of conception, acting and execution.  “Where is Everybody?” is also enhanced greatly by the atmospheric and eerie music score by Bernard Herrmann, perhaps best known at that time for The Day the Earth Stood Still before going on to frequently collaborate with legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.

The final twist (to spoil it would be cruel) establishes The Twilight Zone’s most celebrated trope of pulling the rug from underneath the viewer and an example of Rod Serling’s gift for imagination and forward thinking.  Running for five seasons, The Twilight Zone was revived in the 1980s and a short-lived series was also produced in 2002.  A film adaptation with contributions from directors such as Steven Spielberg and John Landis was released in 1983 and the series has since been rebooted for the CBS All Access streaming platform, fronted by Get Out’s Jordan Peele.  Yet nothing compares to Rod Serling’s beloved black and white original series (with reruns continuing to this day) and “Where is Everybody?” serves as an enjoyable and fitting introduction to the wonders of The Twilight Zone.

Geek fact!

Superstar Tony Curtis was originally considered for the main role in “Where is Everybody?” but most likely deemed too expensive.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comic Review: ‘Batman/Superman’ #1

The greatest team-up in comics returns…

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Cover art by David Marquez (image credit: DC Comics).

 

Written by:  Joshua Williamson / art by:  David Marquez / colours by:  Alejandro Sanchez

What’s it about?

Batman and Superman unite to grapple with the deranged Dark Multiverse villain, the Batman Who Laughs as he transforms their comrades into ‘the Infected’, his horrifying horsemen…

In review

Spilling out of the pages of the recent The Batman Who Laughs mini-series (by writer/artist duo Scott Snyder and Jock), Joshua Williamson, current writer of DC’s The Flash, teams up with artist David Marquez (who previously worked on Marvel’s The Invincible Iron Man and Civil War II) for a new Batman/Superman series, a title that’s been sorely missing in the post-Rebirth era of the DC Universe.

Given that this first arc takes it’s lead from The Batman Who Laughs, pitting the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel against the terrifying schemes of the twisted Dark Multiverse Batman, Batman/Superman #1 has a more gothic, horror infused tone to it than previous Bat/Supes team-up books and although that may leave it ‘feeling’ more like a Batman comic in some respects, it’s immediately clear that Joshua Williamson is perfectly suited as writer of the series.  Williamson quickly proves adept at handling the big two of DC’s pantheon, ensuring the focus is equally split whilst demonstrating an understanding of the established (and expected) traits and qualities of each character and the dynamics of their relationship, given the differences in viewpoints.  Most of these explorations occur via the dual narration/monologues that run throughout the book, although this is nothing new in any iteration of Batman/Superman (or Superman/Batman as it was before the New 52), it is part of the creative make-up of the title and really gives the reader a feel for what motivates the heroes and reasoning as to why, despite their opposing views and methods in the pursuit of justice, Batman and Superman continue to be allies – and more importantly, brothers.

As with any debut issue, there’s a certain amount of exposition in Batman/Superman #1 in order to establish the characters and the main narrative, but Williamson manages to keep things relatively tight, coherent and moving at a steady pace – the central plot and the investigations by Batman and Superman building gently throughout, drawing the reader into the action neatly without it rushing the story along or hindering its momentum.  It’s unfortunate that DC spoiled the closing twist of the book in their marketing but whether you’re familiar with that or not, the issue remains a gripping and suspenseful read.

Making the move from Marvel Comics to DC, David Marquez produces superlative visuals, rendering powerful characters and cinematic layouts – adding an ever so slight element of grit to his beautifully detailed pencils that’s fitting for the tone of the comic, keeping it moody and atmospheric in all the right places whilst creating exciting and clearly staged action scenes.

The bottom line:  It’s been too long since we’ve had a Batman/Superman comic and it’s off to a confident and reassuring start under the perfectly matched creative team of Joshua Williamson and David Marquez.

Batman/Superman #1 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

It’s a Classic: ‘Batman: Year One’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“From this moment on…none of you are safe”

Batman Year One

An example of the amazing artwork for ‘Batman: Year One’ by David Mazzucchelli (image credit: DC Comics).

Year:  1987

Written by:  Frank Miller / art by:  David Mazzucchelli / colours by:  Richmond Lewis

What’s it about?

As Gotham City faces endless crime and corruption, billionaire Bruce Wayne decides to adopt the vigilante persona of ‘the Batman’ and soon learns he may have an ally in Gotham Police Lieutenant James Gordon…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Subsequent to the culture shattering success of The Dark Knight Returns, “Year One” is Frank Miller’s other – no less significant – seminal Batman work.  Originally published as a four-part story arc in Batman (volume 1) issues #404-407 and collected numerously over the past thirty years, Batman: Year One, as the title suggests, chronicles the Dark Knight’s first year of crime-fighting in Gotham City.  Written by Miller, with art by David Mazzucchelli (who also collaborated with Miller on the iconic Daredevil story “Born Again”) and colours by Richmond Lewis, Year One is a perfect companion piece to The Dark Knight Returns.  Although Year One is a more grounded and less politically charged affair than that former work (which takes place out of the regular continuity in an alternate 1980s), there is a clear sense that they share the same DNA.

A Batman tale infused with influences of detective noir and classic crime fiction, Year One (which itself would go on to influence director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins) sees the return of Bruce Wayne to his home after several years away, discovering that things have only gotten worse as criminal gangs – spearheaded by mob boss Carmine Falcone aka “The Roman” – and dishonest officials feed the societal decay afflicting the people of Gotham City.  Whilst Year One depicts the beginnings of Bruce Wayne’s rise as the Batman, it’s equally a story about future police commissioner James Gordon, newly transferred to the Gotham City Police Department who, faced with a corrupt police system and bent colleagues on the take, fights to preserve the values of the good and freely practice the true and trusted responsibilities of law enforcement.  Miller deftly builds and intertwines this dual narrative as destiny draws both Wayne and Gordon together – kindred souls on different sides of legality ultimately battling for the same cause.

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More of David Mazzucchelli’s incredible art (image credit: DC Comics).

What is especially appealing about Year One is that Miller is not afraid to explore the frailties of the central heroes, which only makes the characters richer and more relatable.  Bruce continues to be haunted by the murder of his parents, his anger fuelling his war on crime and the actions he undertakes as he becomes a feared creature of the night.  He’s far less brutal than the elder and more grizzled man he is in The Dark Knight Returns (and in fact commits several heroic acts in the story, including saving the life of Gordon’s son) but the seeds are planted here.  Gordon himself is inherently a decent man working hard to protect all that he loves and values but despite being a devoted husband and father succumbs to an affair with his GCPD partner, Sarah.  Selina Kyle is less clear cut, a prostitute and thief who decides enough is enough and that those less fortunate need not fear the criminal gang hierarchy as she begins to adopt a certain feline-fatale vigilante persona of her own.

Year One is beautifully realised by David Mazzucchelli (whose Bruce Wayne bares a nifty resemblance to Hollywood legend Gregory Peck) with a clean, classic pulp style that’s moodily enhanced by the nuances of Richmond Lewis’s colour palette, giving the visuals an appropriate film-noir appearance.  It’d also be remiss not to mention the lettering by Tod Klein, which is especially effective in the monologues, adding to the poetic quality of Miller’s writing all making for one of the all-time greatest Batman stories.

Standout moment

Injured and forced into the basement of a dilapidated building, Batman faces capture as a SWAT team closes in on him…but they didn’t reckon on his ingenuity as he calls for ‘backup’.

Geek fact!

Ben Mackenzie, who portrayed James Gordon in Batman prequel series Gotham provided the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman in the 2011 animated adaptation of Year One.

If you like this then check out…

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns : considered by many as Frank Miller’s magnum opus that’s not just a phenomenal, operatic Batman story but also a landmark in comics and pop culture.

Batman: The Killing Joke : Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s iconic Joker story is a stark, shocking and dramatic affair and presents a possible origin for the homicidal and psychotic Clown Prince of Crime.

All images herein remain the property of the copyright owners and are used for illustrative purposes only.