Tuesday, December 13, 2011

For Thursday: Miller/Mazzucchelli, Batman: Year One

Read Miller/Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One for Thursday's class and complete the "response template" for Thursday's class.  Feel free to post any of your responses as a 'comment' to this blog (you must post at least one response for one of the four books this semester--see syllabus for details). 

"For me, Batman was never funny.  I was eight years old when I picked up an 80-page annual from the shelf of a local supermarket.  The artwork on one story looked good and scary...Glistening wet, black against the blackened sky, a monster, a giant, winged gargoyle hunched forward, pausing at a building's ledge, and cocked its head...Moonlight glanced across its back, across its massive shoulders, down its craned, cabled neck, across its skull, striking a triangle at one pointed bat's ear.  It rose into space, its wings spread wide, then fell, its wings now a fluttering cape wrapped tight about the body of a man...the 80-page giant comic cost 25 cents, but I bought it anyway."  --Frank Miller


  1. 1. How is the work illustrated? Be specific: would you characterize it as sketchy, realistic, cartoony, artistic, ornate, spare, expressionistic, tight, loose, etc.? What is the overall feel of the artwork, and what kind of tone does it create for the reader? Do you feel it is the uniquely suited to the story being told? Consider the differences between Crumb and Cavey’s illustrations for Pekar’s American Splendor.
    The artwork in Batman: Year One is somewhat realistic, but is also artistic. The drawings don’t usually show an abundance of an individual’s emotions, but it displays the overall mood or feeling of the scene. Most of the artwork is dark with sharp lines, which creates a feeling of an evil in the artwork. For example, a scene of Batman being pursued and shot by the police is almost exclusively drawn in black and red. Using dark colors and sharp lines to create a sense of bad is not a unique technique, but it is perfectly suited for this graphic novel. The story was dark from the beginning to the very end and the artwork matched/created that feeling.

  2. Like Erin said, the colors used in Batman: Year One help to set the mood of the actions and emotions in the frames, but they also help set the scene for the areas the characters go to in Gotham. When Bruce Wayne goes into Gotham's East End (which is apparently their equivalent to the red light district), every frame is colored in red hues. Just something I found to be interesting.

  3. I didn't notice that! I mean, I noticed the backgrounds were red, but I never connected that it was only during the bad part of town.

  4. 4. Describe one scene in the novel, either a single frame or a series of frames, that you feel is particularly significant. Why is this sequence so important? Do you admire this passage more for its narrative (the words) or its art (the images)—or both? Make sure we can not only see what’s going on here, but we see how it relates to the story at large.

    4. It is not a scene or a frame specifically that I will focus on, but the narrative boxes used by both Gordon and Bruce. They harken not only to how they appear in the public eye, but how they themselves are in reality. Gordon's looks like one of those yellow legal pads. The text's font is a basic one, looking almost like a print style of handwriting. Bruce's boxes are white like a journal page, his font being a cursive script that must have taken training in order to do so well. Obviously, yellow legal pads are cheap and easy to get hold of, while journals are more expensive and generally done with higher grades of paper.
    Yet, if I must choose one scene, it would have to be while Bruce is in his study, trying to figure out if he should call Alfred to patch him up or let himself bleed to death. I discussed it above, but it is really one of those scenes that just stuck with me throughout the whole thing. It starts on page 20 with the trail going from Bruce's crashed car into the far side of the next frame leading to his chair where he sits, glowering in thought at his father's bust upon a column. Everything with color has a tinge of yellow. The background that isn't black is a dirty yellow-brown that makes me uncomfortable. The bottom frame, however, is one of the most jarring. It is only black and yellow. That page is contrasted then by a flashback page of mellow tones of black, white, and a gray-blue. The page after almost smacks you in the face. Bruce himself is colored only in black and yellow, and the frame below him confirms everything with a bat smashing through the window, the colors only being black, yellow, and white. The yellow brings upon an answer to a struggle. This can be seen in two other places in the comic: when Gordon is practicing at the shooting range, his answer is that he must keep going as he is. The next is when Batman is trying to get out of that building when the police have him surrounded. As soon as the bats come, so does the yellow, offering to him his answer to how he would get out of that mess. That color is used so sparingly throughout the whole comic that it is iconic in that it shows the moment of truth coming to light.

  5. 1) The work has loose artwork, kinda of messy, with strong tones throughout the art. The artwork gives Gotham the hopeless feel that readers are always told. The comic never really says that Gotham is hopeless, but the artwork lets us know that it is. It is uniwue to the story. Another good word to describe it would be gritty. Which, we learn that Gordon is dealing a very corrupted, very gritty Gotham.

    2) This story could not be written any other way. Here’s what we would lose if it were written any other way: No lens on any camera could get the overall feel of the hues that are in the story. During one of the first moments in the comic where Bruce fights people on the streets, the scene is entirely in red hue. Several times throughout the novel, this happens with different colors. Novels could not capture this feeling of grit, and the same goes with graphic novel. There’s showing, and there’s telling. We love it when novels show us things, but an author would get too into trying to show us the grit of the novel that they would drag on, without ever accurately being able to capture the dirtiness.

    3) There are two narrators, Gordon, and Bruce. Bruce’s text so happens to be in cursive letters that are sometimes difficult to read. This could be because sometimes Bruce is a difficult person to understand. All the time, we see inside his head that he wants to avenge his father. Gordon’s text is very direct and in his head. Gordon wants to do well, but the city is taking a hold of him. This graphic novel challenges the narration approach by easily offering many two narrators for the story. Because of this, we’re able to see Batman’s point of view and his motives. Gordon’s point of view allows us to see inside the police force, who seems to be an antagonist for the caped crusader.

    4) My favorite section comes right after people on the police force have beaten Gordon. Gordon goes to find Flass and teach him a lesson. After the beating, Gordon says, “Thanks Flass, You’ve shown me what it takes to be a cop in Gotham City.” I love the images and words. The image is of him simply walking off, but there’s power in Gordon’s words. After this, no one challenges Gordon. He proves himself, which I feel is necessary for the story and the advancement his accomplishments. If it wasn’t for this moment, we probable wouldn’t have a firm grasp on what Gordon is facing in this police department.

  6. There are many scenes that I find significant, but the one that stands out the most to me is Jim Gordon sitting on a bed in the middle of the night while his pregnant wife, Barbara, slumbers. The weight of the chain of events has finally caught up to him. He sits there thinking about his marriage, his kissing of another woman, and of the Bat. He also begins to question himself and his chosen field of career. The fact that we cannot see his eyes in the scene is significant, they are called the mirror or window of the soul and at this time is soul is in conflict. The gun in the scene is a golden color almost signifying the importance it plays in his life. He sits with his back to his wife, this to me, shows that he cannot face her with what is going on with in him. His decisions cause him to appear to be carrying the weight of the entire city on shoulders by the slouch in his posture. I admire these particular three frames for many reasons. One of which is the stark black background allowing the entire focus to be on the foreground of Gordon and his immediate surroundings. His language he uses is that of a man truly in conflict with his heart and his sense of duty. He believes The Batman to be a criminal, but his actions are that of an honorable man. He knows he should be sleeping and he should be trying to talk to his wife to calm his soul, but he just cannot put these thoughts to rest. This is the turning point in this man’s career. After this moment he has made his decision and there is no going back, he is forever changed because of these three frames. His entire story boils down to these moments in time.

  7. 1. I would consider David Mazzucchelli illustrations to be sketchy. While they are more realistic than Crumb's illustrations in American Splendor there are still many frames where we do not really see the details of the face. In some of the frames the person's eyes are simply just slits or you may not really be able to see their face at all. I feel that his form of art work sets a more dramatic and dark tone. Many of the frames use dark colors and there is rarely a smile cracked from any of the characters.

    2. I think this story was written as a graphic novel because it truly needed to use all the elements that a graphic novel offers. We are able to see what's going on, read the commentary from conversation, and read Batman and James Gordan's thoughts. If this was just written as a novel we lose both the pictures and thoughts and even if it was movie it would still be difficult to relay the person's thoughts.

    3. This story is mostly narrated by James Gordan and Bruce Wayne as himself and as Batman. They narrate the story by letting us read their thoughts, which are in boxes. Bruce's thoughts were in white boxes written in cursive while James Gordan's were written in print and in yellow boxes. The narration changes perspective and tense often. Switching how they are thinking about themselves, about others, and the story they are telling. We can see many different points of view within one frame in a graphic novel. We can see the pictures which show us body language and the action that is taking place. We can also read the dialogue and that lets us in on the conversations taking place. Lastly, there is the narration which gives us a glimpse into a couple of the characters thoughts about what is really taking place.

    4.One scene I thought was significant was the scene on pages 22 and 23. It has very little narrative and the little that is there are choppy unfinished thoughts from Bruce Wayne. This scene show Bruce's choice to become Batman. We gather from both his thoughts and the picture that he is afraid of bats and that's why he makes the decision. I thought it was significant that Bruce seems to be talking to his deceased father and the bat appears to land a stone bust. We could assume that since the Wayne family was very wealthy that this bust was of Bruce's father. Adding this all together I think it shows that there was significance to Bruce that the bat landed on his father and this also helped him make the decision to choose a bat as his icon.

    Also, while I don't understand the significance I thought it was interesting that on page 67 in the diner frame the diner greatly resembles Edward Hopper's Nighthawks painting and the diner is named Hopper.

  8. 1. Batman: Year One offers amazing illustrations. It is very artistic, ornate, a little cartoony, and somewhat realistic. Miller and Mazzucchelli did a great job in putting a lot of detail into each frame. Each character offers facial expressions. I can feel the action taking place with how detailed each character is. Also, Miller and Mazzucchelli do a great job of detailing the background of some of the frames. For example, when Batman is inside the building with the swat team there are a lot of explosions and fires in the background. This really adds to the feel of the moment when Batman is somewhat trapped. There are lines added to show each characters movement. This really shows the action taking place. There are a few times when the frames seem cartoony; however, there are a lot that seem very realistic. Overall, it was great and really pulled me into the piece.
    I think the overall feel of the artwork is dark. The artwork is very dark. Most of the colors used in the illustrations are darker colors. It seems gloomy or scary. Most of the backgrounds for each frame are dark. I think it brings out some fear in the reader because it is so dark. It is suited for the story of Batman. Gotham is a dark, dangerous place where everyone has to watch his or her back. The big wigs of the city have become corrupt and violence is in the streets. The dark colors really bring this story to reality. I feel like I am standing in those streets. It is ironic, because Batman is supposed to be the light for the city; however, he is a dark figure himself.

    4. The set of frames on page 38 are very significant. I find them very important because the whole reason Bruce Wayne puts on the mask is to bring justice to the corrupt elites of Gotham. There are criminals running rampant in the streets; however, the politicians, cops, etc. have become corrupt and are running Gotham into the ground. Bruce’s whole goal in the story is to instill a fear into the elitists and cause a change for the better in Gotham. This moment on page 38 really reflects this. Batman cuts the lights and approaches as a dark shadow. Then he says what I think is the most memorable line in the novel: “You’ve eaten Gotham’s wealth. It’s spirit. Your feast is nearly over. From this moment on… none of you are safe.”
    I definitely admire this set of frames for both its narrative and its art. Just like I stated a moment ago, Batman’s words are very memorable. They evoke an eerie feeling. I can sense the fear going on in the room and how deep his words drive into the crowd. These words also start a war between him and the elitists. Even though the narrative is important and I admire them, I think it would not be complete without the amazing art on this page. The art is dark and scary. Batman turns the lights out and comes from the shadows. It is almost frightening to see a hole blown into the wall and smoke billowing in surrounding a dark monster. Miller did a great job in instilling a fearful emotion into the piece and making it real for me. With the words and the images together I am able to appreciate this part of the story.

  9. 4. Some of the most significant frames, at least to me, are the ones that show Batman's process of becoming "The Batman." For example, on his first night out on the town he consistently analyzes what he has done wrong, or the people he is fighting. Another example is when you first see Bruce Wayne as Batman. He first analyzes who is more of a threat, and when things go wrong he starts analyzing his mistakes. This is significant because it shows how Batman is still trying to figure this "Batman" thing out; it shows that he is still an amateur, which he admits to on page 33.