Batman: Year One is DC Animated's latest comic-turned-animated feature, and though a bit is lost in translation, it is a faithful retelling of Frank Miller's tale. The most interesting element of Year One's tale is it is a actually a dual narrative, focusing on Bruce Wayne's (Ben McKenzie) early days as a vigilante and Jim Gordon (Bryan Cranston), a fresh-faced Lieutenant new to Gotham's corrupt police department.
Both heroes are put to the test as they attempt to pull Gotham back from the brink in their own unique ways. Bruce goes street level, first taking the fight to a seedy red light district disguised as a low level thug. Though better trained than the pimp (and other hoods) he picks a fight with, he is knocked out of commission by a stray bullet. The wound is enough to make Bruce reconsider his crusade, until an encounter with a bat in his mansion. Once under the cowl, this is not the Batman we're accustomed to seeing in action. He's clumsy, doesn't think strategically, and is usually overwhelmed by small groups of thugs.
However, Batman's story is little more than a supplement to Gordon's story as the only clean cop on the force. Most of Year One is dedicated to Gordon's trials and tribulations as he struggles against a group of co-workers who would rather he wasn't around and his personal life. His personal life is also a major focus as he contends with an extra-marital affair with a special investigator and confusion over his feelings about his wife's pregnancy.
It's very much the "Jim Gordon Power Hour," and it's a damn interesting story. Gordon is a complete bad ass throughout the story. He takes a licking from a group of corrupt cops with bats, only to pick up one of the bats and follow the ringleader home. He then runs the guy off the road and returns the beating, but not until offering his victim a gun as protection. Bryan Cranston's performance is outstanding; he's absolutely perfect in his delivery.
Ben McKenzie's Batman, on the other hand, is completely mishandled. His delivery always seems a bit off and lacking the touch of humanity brought to the character by other actors who have voiced, "The Bat." His tempo is too mechanical and a bit awkward. At times, he seems more like an offbeat villain than Batman.
Though Batman: Year One is more or less a panel-for-panel retelling of the comic, it suffers a bit. The pacing is off and lacks a definite flow. Each of the individual stories has their own identity, though neither builds towards something in an understandable way. Gordon's story fares slightly better, but the Batman section is completely botched - leading to a "convenient" finale and abrupt ending. Thankfully, a digital copy of the original comic series is included as an extra, which should help fill in the blanks. The additional commentary, which includes Mike Carlin (Creative Director for DC Animation), Sam Liu (Co-Director), Alan Burnett (Co-Producer) and Andrea Romano (Voice Director) also drops a few hints about why some elements work the way they do. The track offers an incredible look into the process of adapting Frank Miller's work. Every aspect of production is touched upon, including a few honest admittances as to what went wrong.
Carlin and Burnett return in another featurette, "Heart of Vengeance: Returning Batman to His Roots," a nearly half-hour long look at Batman's trajectory as a character. It starts with his inception, leading to the character's near-cancellation following the Batman TV series, leading towards Batman: Year One and the impact of Frank Miller's take on the character. This is a must-watch for any Batman fan, or really, any comic book fan.
Slightly less interesting is "Conversations with DC Comics," a 40-minute roundtable featuring Michael Uslan, Denny O'Neil (former DC Comics Editor), Dan DiDio (DC Comics Co-Publisher), and Scott Snyder (DC Comics Writer). The four talk everything Batman, including his early days, his role in popular culture, both the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan films and Batman: Year One. Some fans may pick up a few interesting nuggets of information, but I lost interest, which is bad considering I'm sort of a Bat-nut.
In addition to Batman: Year One, the Blu-ray also includes an animated short starring Catwoman (Eliza Dushku). The story is written by Dan DiDio and is a lot of fun to watch. There's very little dialogue, instead relying on action and visuals to tell the story of Catwoman chasing down a mystery surrounding a neighborhood cat. Be warned, the story is for mature audiences only thanks to a nearly 3-minute long sequence in a strip club than includes two pole dances, including one by Catwoman.
Two "Bruce Timm Picks" are included: "Catwalk," from Batman: The Animated Series and "Cult of the Cat," from The New Batman Adventures.
The final - and for me, most exciting - extra is a sneak peak at DC's next animated feature, Justice League: Doom. Not only does the movie serve as a reunion for some of the DC Animated Universe's most loved voice actors, including Tim Daly as Superman and Kevin Conroy as Batman, it also adapts another of my favorite DC storylines into an animated feature. In short, JL: Doom is the story of what happens when all of Batman's "Contingency Plans" in case other heroes go rogue falls into the wrong hands. I can't wait!
Batman: Year One isn't of the DC Animation's best offerings, but all things considered, it is a really good one. It misses the point, but still manages to get the big things right. Even better, the Blu-ray transfer is top notch and you get all of the extra goodies (many are Blu-ray exclusive). Toss in DVD and digital copies of the movie, and this is a hard Blu-ray for Batman fans to pass up.