Just read: 'Batman: Year One' & 'Batman: The Man Who Laughs'

 "Just read" is a blog where I blog about something I just read. I'm trying to read more this year and I'd like to keep a record of that; blogging will theoretically help that cause.

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As I wrote recently, I decided to get into comics by reading Batman stories in chronological order at first. I went the way of trade paperbacks, which are the heftier books that collect quite a few issues of one or multiple characters, rather than seeking out individual issues or going the route of a digital subscription and reading individual issues that way. The first trade I read was Frank Miller and David Mazucchelli's Batman: Year One, which is the definitive modern-day telling of Bruce Wayne's origin story; I moved from there to Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke's Batman: The Man Who Laughs, which introduces the Joker, who obviously has a rich history as Batman's most compelling and sinister villain. 

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Both of these were really great to read, but Year One is definitely the more enjoyable of the two. If you've seen Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, or pretty much any other Batman movie, then you might know the Batman origin story by heart. That shouldn't discourage anyone from reading Year One, though. Not only is it rewarding to read Batman's origin on the printed page, but the book is also just as much about Jim Gordon, who has just arrived in Gotham City and begins his career as one of the GCPD's only honest cops. 

The story weaves through a 25-year-old Batman's first year fighting crime in Gotham following his return home after being out of the country for a dozen years. Meanwhile, we see Gordon get a feel for the GCPD and realize that he doesn't have many allies within his own department. Without revealing too much, it's easy to say that Year One shows Batman learning the ropes and taking his fair share of beatings before he starts to figure out what he's doing; he's a real amateur at first. By the end of the book, you're left with the sense that Gordon and Batman have entered into some type of partnership, setting the stage for many years of crime-fighting to come.

The reader meets a lot of characters along the way, including a young Harvey Dent, Selina Kyle (Catwoman) and the mob leader Carmine "The Roman" Falcone. You get a lot of psychology behind Batman's actions and inspirations, and a good rundown of Gordon's motives as well. 

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While the individual issues comprising Year One were published in 1987, they lead pretty directly into 2005's The Man Who Laughs, which is a one-shot story. Year One ends with a brief mention of a character named the Joker, and The Man Who Laughs is a bit of a half-telling of Joker's complex origin story. From what I understand, the more widely accepted Joker origin story comes in The Killing Joke, which remains further down on my list of books to read, but there's still a decent amount of background about Joker in this book amongst his well-written master plan to wipe out much of Gotham's citizenry. Batman works with Jim Gordon to get inside Joker's head and put him in Arkham for the first time, and we see their relationship progress even more.

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As an add-on, the most recent printing of The Man Who Laughs includes an additional story called "Made of Wood," in which Batman works with the Green Lantern on some detective work to track down a complex serial killer.

The best part of The Man Who Laughs for me is how Joker is drawn -- he's super creepy, and you'll probably have a still image of his smile stuck in the back of your head for a couple of weeks after reading through the book. It's written well enough, but Miller's writing on Year One is impressive to the point of possibly drowning out Brubaker's work a bit. Year One feels like a fairly gritty Batman story, though tame compared to adventures the character will eventually face; aside from its content, its tone makes it seem like a great jumping-off point. 

Both Year One and The Man Who Laughs are available as physical trade paperback books and via Comixology (digitally) on Amazon. Clicking on the links in this post, and purchasing something from them, provides a small percentage kickback to the author of the blog you just read.