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Batman: Year One. The Frank Miller comic book classic is the latest Batman tale to get the DC Universe animated adaptation. Telling the story of the first year of Batman (Ben McKenzie) as he takes up the cape and cowl and hits the crime on the ever corrupt streets of Gotham city, we get to meet a newcomer to Gotham Police Department, James Gordon (Bryan Cranston) and the birth of a new rogue on the streets of Gotham, Catwoman (Eliza Dushku).

Gotham can't be all that bad...can it?
Batman: Year One. A comic book that every Batfan will get to at some stage in their Batman reading career. I for one read it early on and didn’t really like its dark noir stylings, its gritty art and its darker tone. It wasn’t until fairly recently, probably in the last few years that I went back and re-read it and took to it much more. I think my initial middling response to the story when I was younger is because Batman: Year One isn’t really a Batman story. It’s a story about James Gordon and at the time of first reading this comic I wanted Batman to be the focus, or at least expected it to be that way. Since evolving, my comic book tastes and of course gaining a larger understanding of the world of Batman, a story about James Gordon and his first run ins with Batman is the thing greatness is made of and Batman: Year One works beautifully as an introduction to a character who is so important to the Batman mythology.

Of course we still get our Batman and here he’s a broken, vulnerable man looking for direction and is obsessed with finding a path to fix whatever broke inside of him after his parents' murder. Bruce is a whole lot of Rorschach here. Cold, straight to the point diary entries are read in a matter of fact way. Bruce is cold to the world around him and seeing an unestablished Batman is always an interesting angle. Of course I feel the DCU did that in their own way already and got it bang on and with The Mask of the Phantasm (still my favorite feature length Batman animated movie) but that said Year One grounds Batman in the real world and is indeed a classic that Nolan’s Batman Begins has a whole lot lifted from it, especially the tone.

Even \batman needs some down time.
So more specifically, how does this adaptation hold up? Well it certainly does the darkness of the original story justice. Scenes with Gordon getting beaten on or Bruce questioning what to do next before the bat smashes through the window are very well handled and distinctly grown up. The dinginess of the original book is captured to a degree but is still adapted to fit the look of the DC animation line and is obviously a whole lot brighter because of it. That said there is something about this project that feels a little tighter than the other recent DCU projects. It’s probably the fact Year One is a fairly straight forward story that the animation team have stuck to pretty well but this project feels more focused on the story and really the superhero stuff is happening in and around the drama of Gordon’s struggles or Bruce Wayne’s first steps as Batman. Really It's only the Catwoman stuff that is being playful and while it's great stuff to see her, her inclusion in the story has always been rightfully off to the side as opposed to main focus. On first viewing I might go as far as to say this equals and possible beats my previous favourite in the line, Wonder Woman but repeat viewing will tell and it’s been a while since I’ve watched Wonder Woman. However Batman: Year One is still a highlight in this ever growing DC Universe animation catalogue and now I think we need an adaptation of Killing Joke or The Dark Knight Returns.

And so it begins...

Video


As usual DC Universe provide a beautiful looking presentation in stunning 2D HD. Obviously the adaption doesn’t look quite as grimy as the original comics books but the style here certainly celebrates it and the visuals look much more akin to “grown up” Japanese style animation such as Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex as opposed to kiddy friendly stuff, probably more so than any of the animated features to date.

The black levels here are stunning. Deep black suit jackets and of course Batman’s cape and cowl look strikingly black and the good old grey simple grey costume look absolutely bat-tastic. Gotham is a mix between obvious static feeling CGI and some fantastic stylised lighting to make the seedier parts of the city feel alive. There’s also a lot of layers to the background here and even though there are some simplier shots in the CG assisted car chases, some areas really do show off the artists' work. The east end of Gotham is a fine example with the adult only clubs and low lives on the street all full of glow and the purples and neon lighting really adding a fine level of quality to the production.

The transfer is strikingly sharp, with a perfectly clean image. Small details such as rain drops and the wave of bats called to help Batman out look fantastic and once again DC animation takes a few more baby steps to stand toe to toe with some of the best mid budget animation out there.

There's that look we all love.

Audio


The DTS-HD Master Audio track has its moments and they are usually the elements that create some atmosphere. Rains and thunder claps sounds pretty great and thumps and cracks in the fights hit with a nice bit of bass. The score is okay but doesn’t really stick out as all that strong and the more subtle tonal elements do their job to set the mood but don’t exactly call attention to themselves.

Dialogue is good and clear as is the majority of the action set pieces however as is with the relativity small but dramatic scale of the story everything is quite low key and understated, which totally works at setting a more adult mood but doesn’t do much to register above the basics you’d expect from the DC animated catalogue.

Who couldn't love this character?

Extras


The new DC Showcase short is 'Catwoman' (14:50 HD) with Eliza Dushku providing Selina Kyle’s vocals once again. It’s a pretty risqué short with a whole lot of pole dancing and plunging cleavage but it’s a pretty strong showcase of all there is to love about Catwoman and ties in with Year One quite well. Oh and it’s written by Paul Dini so we’re in good hands.

'The Justice League: Doom Sneak Peak' (10:17 HD) has the majority of the original Justice League Animated Series returning to DC animation and looks like we might be in for a winner. I do wish these sneak peaks would show a little more of the actual animation or end with a trailer (mainly because we know one will be online in a few weeks anyway if the usual pattern follows) but from the little we do see, I’m up for this one in a big bad way, if only for the returning cast. We also get a couple more old sneak peaks for All Star Superman and Green Lantern Emerald Knights.

Batman: Year One
'Heart of Vengeance: Returning Batman to his Roots' (23:25 HD)is a history lesson in Batman’s changing sensibilities from his dark beginnings with guns, through his sixties campy period up to his seventies and eighties rebirth including Frank Millers Dark Knight Returns and of course Year One. Packed with great lessons in Bat history and great artwork, I could watch these things all damn day.

‘Conversation With DC Comics’ (39:47 HD) is a sit down chat about Batman with Dennis O’Neil, Michael Uslan, Dan Didio and Scott Snyder. Very much stealing the set up of the round table extras from the Pixar discs these four guys chat all things Batman and while it repeats much of the elements from Heart of Vengeance it’s still great stuff. We get a good in depth discussion on who Batman is, when he works, when he doesn’t, why he’s worked for so long and a general agreement he’s the best character ever (preaching to the converted there). There’s an interesting discussion about the fact that with trade collections being so popular nowadays it’s hard for new writers to reimage origin stories as things like Year One are always there to pick up off the shelf but Didio hints that there are ways to do it (what like resetting the entire DC universe comics so you can retell these stories all over again Mr Didio?) and of course there’s a discussion about Miller's work and deciding that it was his work that introduced Bruce’s mother’s broken pearl necklace as such a strong image in the mythology. There’s lots to enjoy here and anyone talking about Batman for forty minutes is entertainment to me, so seeing these guys do it make it a little bit more special. Great stuff.

Eat your heart out Anne Hathaway. You've got a lot to prove.
We also get a commentary with Alan Burnett, Sam Liu, Mike Carlin and Andrea Romano for this release. It’s another great track and mixes conversations about the animation techniques, the style of the project, the voice work and of course the comic book and the story.

Bruce Timms Top Picks this time out are Catwalk and Cult of the Cat from the Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures. Both great episodes and they both made me miss the old animated series, I really must get onto a rewatch of the entire run.

'Batman Year One Chapter One Digitial Comic' is intended to be a teaser for comic book and I guess to promote digital comics but with no zoom function it makes this a frustration read and other than the great pictures it's pretty pointless.

The trailers we get here and for the DCU Application  - the new digital download way of reading the DCU comics . No mention of the all new DC 52’s though which seems a wasted opportunity as its the DC big deal at the moment  (anyone read ‘em yet? I didn’t think much of most of them – what did you guys think?), Thundercats (which I think is actually a pretty good reboot), MAD and Young Justice. The disc also opens with a trailer for Smallville the Complete Collection and the new Green Lantern animated series.

Lastly there's a DVD and Digital copy and I have to say the cover art for this one is a stunner.

It's out of character but always worth it.

Overall


Batman: Year One shows a great deal of respect to the original comic book and provides a dark, adult Batman story that’s Jim Gordon heavy in all the right places and a strong contender as best of the DC Universe catalogue so far. The disc looks fantastic, has a solid audio presentation and has a very good batch of extras that enjoys talking about Batman, a past time I also share, so all in all this is another fantastic disc from the DCU.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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