Outside the Longbox – Batman: Year One & Catwoman

We’re all about comics here at Panels on Pages, but a geek cannot live on comics alone. Outside the Longbox is our chance to spotlight something outside our typical four-color realm – be it movies, music, TV or whatever.

Sometimes, the stars align. Recently, I’ve felt my creative juices running low; I feel I’ve had little to contribute to the site. However, yesterday – with an open slot on the schedule – I happened onto the new animated Batman: Year One feature. I had my muse.

As someone who never read Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli (I know, I know…) I can’t speak to how this film serves as an adaptation of the source material. For me, this was just a story to be judged on its own merits. As such, it served its purpose as an introduction to Gotham City as it once was, and the way in which the city shaped its two greatest heroes.

Bruce’s story is one of self-discovery as he returns to Gotham and finds his place in this dark and twisted city. Ben McKenzie (The O.C.) goes under the cowl in this outing that introduces viewers – and Bruce himself – to the Batman. The iconic scene where Bruce pleads to the bust of his father for guidance is handled perfectly; while I’m unfamiliar with the details of this story, this particular scene should be known to all comic fans and therefore HAD to be handled with reverence. The producers certainly did it justice. Beyond this scene, the movie is a story of trial and error; of Bruce learning from his mistakes and finding his footing. But this movie isn’t just about Bruce. I DID say it was the tale of TWO of Gotham’s heroes coming into their own, didn’t I?

For James Gordon, this is the story of a man realizing the depths of the corruption around him and fighting a crusade against it that perfectly parallels Bruce’s own war on crime. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Malcolm in the Middle) fills the role admirably, giving us a Gordon who is strong, but not without his moments of weakness; a Gordon who is righteous, even as he stumbles. As we see the lieutenant’s fall and rise, we see the character truly built from the ground up. Moreso even than Batman, we see how the soon-to-be Commissioner Gordon is forged in the fires of Gotham, and how his friendship with a certain caped crusader helps to temper his steely resolve.

The feature’s supporting cast includes Carmine Falcone, Commissioner Loeb, Detective Flass, and of course – Selina Kyle. The latter takes up her role as Catwoman as the story plays out but her motivations and evolution are glossed over almost completely. If this is a direct translation from the book or not, I am unsure, but it makes her inclusion in the story seem like more of an afterthought than anything else. For a movie that feels long and meaty from a storytelling aspect, Selina’s presence comes off as tacked on – perhaps only included to acknowledge her presence in the book, or maybe she’s just here to justify the inclusion of the short…

The film did little to “wow” me as a Batman story, but as a Jim Gordon biopic, it’s aces; that just wasn’t what I signed on for. And curse my ignorance as a “comic pro” all you want, there are plenty of laymen out there who’ll pick this DVD up to see the titular hero, not his best good-guy friend; they may be a bit put off. Whether it was “too” faithful to the source for my taste, or shifted the focus on its own, I don’t know. As it is, Batman: Year One gets 3.5 out of 5 over-the-top kung fu fight scenes between Bruce and Selina.

But what about Catwoman?

For fans of the animated Diniverse, the Catwoman short film feels like an episode of the old animated series that grew up with us. For fans of DC’s recent Under the Red Hood, it plays out like a glimpse at another part of the same Gotham. The animation is gorgeous and the action is intense. The highway chase scene is the perfect marriage of both, and its dynamic energy is reminiscent of the fight scene from UtRH when Bruce and Jason fight together against the group of high-tech thugs.

Another highlight of the short is the gentleman’s club scene – a perfect example of this more mature take on the animated Gotham. The character interactions are straight out of the animated series; though with the edge of being aimed at an older crowd. What 31 year-old male didn’t long to see the animated Catwoman – now voiced by Elisha Dushku (bonus!) – enter into a sultry strip tease, only to pull her whip from God-knows-where and start kicking ass; still fully unzipped? Super-mega-bonus points for the use of a modified version of the Batman Beyond opening credits as the music Selina “dances” to.

There is quite simply only one flaw with this short, and that is exactly it – it is too short. Not for what it is, but rather in relation to what it could be. Like UtRH before it, this is simply a reminder of how fantastic it would be to have a regular animated series of this style and caliber. Young Justice is great, and Beware the Batman looms on the horizon, but it’s never enough. More Dini, please!

Catwoman gets a healthy 5 out of 5 clearly necessary pieces of double-sided tape, and by the time you read this article, I’ll have watched it for AT LEAST the second time.

And lest anyone complain that I didn’t reference John DiMaggio as Rough Cut – he’s a great voice actor playing a villain I’ve never heard of in a role that’s entirely irrelevant. This film feels like the pilot to a Catwoman animated series and the villain’s only real role was to give us an excuse to see Selina in action.

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Who ARE these people!?

Jason Kerouac is a co-founder of Panelsonpages.com. He spends roughly half of his waking life in servitude to the Giraffe. Raised in a town in New Hampshire you've never heard of, he now lives in Indianapolis, IN and is pretty sure that's a step in the right direction.

Comments (6)

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  1. Jason Kerouac says:

    A quick trip to Wikipedia would suggest that the main feature here is EXTREMELY comic-accurate; I would suggest that Tab Murphy’s job as screenwriter and Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery’s task as co-directors would therefore have been to find a way to shift the focus more onto Batman himself, given that this is a DVD potentially reaching a wider audience than the books.

    A perfect example is Nolan’s Batman Begins, which has many of the same elements as Year One without being completely cowed by faithfulness to the book. While Gordon’s story is told in that film, and told well, it is not as central to the movie and allows Batman to step into the light a bit more.

    I realize this is a debate regarding the nature of adaptations and how far they “should” stray from the source material, but I think this is a perfect case where a little tweaking to reach a wider audience couldn’t have hurt. Then, a new fan – who was taken by the film – could still enjoy a slightly different take on events by reading the original Year One.

    Just musing…

  2. ELI says:

    I feel like Year One loses some of its impact simply because so many of the really good character beats were used in Batman Begins. I watched it with my wife who had not read the book, but really enjoyed Batman Begins, and she kept pointing out similarities.

    I think it was a serviceable adaptation, but I think they chose to adapt a story that had already had the good Batman elements extracted by Nolan. With all the Batman out there it seems strange that they would take the time to adapt a book with the potential to feel like a retread.

    • Jason Kerouac says:

      I hear you, Eli. I’m hoping they do Dark Knight Returns after all. THAT deserves the time.

      Still… had they renamed this Gotham City: Year One, and shown Gordon on the cover too, I think it might make a little more sense to newcomers.

  3. GigaToast says:

    I enjoyed Year One.
    However, I may be the only one but I thought Ben McKenzie was kinda crappy as Bruce. I just couldn’t get into him as Bruce/Batman. And I’m not one of those people that think ONLY Kevin Conroy should voice Bruce (although he’s my favorite) I think they SHOULD try out different actors for the different movies. It’s fun and makes each one unique.

    • Jason Kerouac says:

      Oh, Adam… I agree. McKenzie wasn’t BAD I don’t think, just not GOOD either. Deidrich Bader has the campy Batman down cold, and Bruce Greenwood is a suitable fill in for Kevin Conroy. But McKenzie… he’s just… meh.

  4. Spider_Fan14 says:

    As someone who never read this book and saw Batman Begins, I have no real desire to see this at all. Especially given how I’m so tired of Batman being tossed around DC nowadays.

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