The Watchtower of Justice: Batman Year One (2011) & Catwoman (2011)

By Mike Huntley

If you were to ask anyone who the two most iconic heroes in comics were, most likely Superman and Batman would be the top of the list.  While one hero was born on another planet and was sent to Earth where he was raised by a farmer to become the world's greatest savior and a bumbling reporter for The Daily Planet, the other was a psychologically traumatized billionaire who witnessed his beloved parents get shot and murdered right in front of him as a child causing him to thirst for stopping crime any way he could by intimidating criminals with his frightening alter ego under the cover of darkness.  Batman is a character who has endured it all. He has been a dark vigilante. He's been a funny guy running around with a wise cracking kid sidekick who just could not get rid of a bomb. He's been a member of the Justice League. He's fought alongside Superman. He's been old and retired only to become Batman again or mentor a teenage Batman. There's so much that can and has been done with The Dark Knight of Gotham City. Besides 1939 through the 1940s, Batman didn't really begin to gain back an even darker and grittier style and tone until the 1970s and '80s. In the mid '80s, comic book writer Frank Miller switched over to DC Comics after previously writing Daredevil comics for Marvel. Miller really brought together quite the number of different eras of Bruce Wayne's life. Of Miller's work on Batman, there are two graphic novels that are most popular among Batman fans. They are The Dark Knight Returns, which features a 55 year old Bruce Wayne who has been long retired from being Batman until Gotham is terrorized by a gang called The Mutants. And then Miller also brought us the tale that explored The Caped Crusader's first year in action with a definitive origin story for both Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jim Gordon titled Batman: Year One

When Gotham City is in desperate need of heroes, two men take action but on different sides of the law. Lt. Jim Gordon just transferred to Gotham City with his pregnant wife from Chicago. Upon arriving at the Gotham City Police Department, Gordon notices corruption everywhere. Shady cops from his sleazy partner, Detective Flass, all the way up to his boss Commissioner Loeb. All of which associate and protect Gotham's biggest crime lord Carmine Falcone and his men. Meanwhile, billionaire Bruce Wayne arrives back in Gotham after being away several years traveling around the world.  One night, Bruce decides to disguise himself as a bum and observe Gotham's underworld. He gets into a fight with a Pimp, which causes a brawl attracting the attention of a local prostitute named Selina Kyle. After fighting Selina, the cops show up to stop the commotion and one of them shoots Bruce for no reason. Bruce escapes the Police car and drives home with a bad bullet wound. While sitting in the dark corridor of Wayne Manor thinking of what he should do to make the criminals afraid of him, a bat crashes through his window and lands on a sculpted head of his father. Soon, Gotham's criminals are attacked by a mysterious figure dressed as a bat with the local papers calling him The Batman. Batman's first mission is to take down Carmine Falcone's mob family and just any sleazebag who happens to catch his bat-a-rang. While the mob and the Police both try to catch and kill Batman, Selina Kyle decides to quit her prostitution job and steal from the wealthy and powerful while dressed in a cat costume. 

Batman: Year One has got to be the most adult animated Batman feature so far. I'll just go ahead and say it, if you've read the graphic novel then you've basically seen this movie. But, even though it is basically a shot by shot adaptation of the Frank Miller Batman origin story, I still recommend checking this out. Why? Because it is fun to see this classic story come to life with a wonderful voice cast and great visuals. I know that people have complained that this movie was a frame by frame replica of the comic book for the most part, but you know what? They would really be bitching if the story had been changed drastically. This ain't like remaking a movie frame by frame. With that, yeah, it is a waste. But this is different. You are talking about classic Batman stories here. Now, I wouldn't adapt this story frame by frame into a live action movie because it would be way too short, but as an animated feature, it works fine as a 60 minute movie. Animated films are generally a quick watch anyway just like usually comic books are a quick read and Batman Year One wasn't a really long story to begin with. You could basically finish reading the complete story in about an hour tops. 

One constant complaint I hear is that Batman: Year One is more of a Jim Gordon story than a Batman story. Yes, Gordon is more the main character and we are seeing everything from his point of view with some scenes being told from Bruce's side of the story. Yes, this movie is more of a crime drama than an actual superhero flick. Don't get me wrong, I love the more fantastical/comic booky Batman, but I also love the more grim and semi-realistic take on the characters as well. After all, Batman is a Human character, which is one of many reasons why we love him and look up to him so much. He isn't Superman with superhuman abilities. The man has a high tech costume and high tech gadgets and high tech vehicles at his disposal. He's in the same boat as James Bond or Ethan Hunt except he wears a frightening costume and operates out of a cave underneath his mansion. 

   As for the movie, I loved it. Gotham is a really fucked up city in this story and film. We have corrupt cops at every angle. We have the mob who basically owns the town. We have titty bars at every block. We have prostitutes from as young as 12 years old. We have Pimps that need to get their asses kicked. Gotham is one city you don't want to live in except for possibly the titty bars part. I could live with that one. I loved how the display of Gotham City was a resemblance to the Gotham City we saw in Tim Burton's Batman from 1989.  Burton was probably influenced by the graphic novel since it came out before they made the movie.  

For a short running time of an hour, we get to see Gordon and Bruce Wayne's stories unfold at a decent pace. They are definitely the most developed characters of the bunch. Due to Gordon and Wayne being the main focus in such a short story, the other characters kinda get the shaft. But, at the same time, this is a frame by frame replica of the graphic novel, which is a classic story. You find out just enough about who everyone is. Falcone is the mob leader. Loeb and Flass are shady cops who are selling drugs for Falcone on the side. Gordon doesn't want to get with the program. The Department wants to black mail or try to kill Gordon. Bruce is trying to stop crime any way possible as Batman. The cops and the mob are hunting him down. You get what's going on. It's not hard to follow the story or get an idea of who everybody is. 

Jim Gordon is a character who I always felt was underappreciated by general audiences. I mean look at the Burton/Schumacher Batman movies when all Gordon did was turn on the Batsignal and congratuate Batman for saving the day! Thank God that Nolan did the character justice in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. He was also given a lot to do in the wonderful animated series. But here, Gordon is the star with Bruce Wayne. We are watching Gotham and Batman mostly through Gordon's eyes. Frank Miller said that he liked to call Gordon Captain in his stories because he felt that Gordon was working his ass off to fight corruption just as much as Batman was. The characterization of Jim Gordon is great here. In particular, the scene when he is sitting at the edge of his bed next to his pregnant wife, Barbara, and is rubbing her stomach while thinking to himself...

"What was I thinking? To bring an innocent child to life in a city without hope."

And then in the window far out on the rooftops, we see Batman jump down, which is the first time in this story that we see Bruce as Batman. Great and powerful moment there.  Oh yeah, there's also a hot female cop named Sarah Essen who comes to Gotham to help Gordon track down Batman. During a coffee break, they get "close" which puts a strain on his marriage. Again, Gordon is a much greater character than some people give him credit for. All they want to see is a cool villain and Batman using his toys to take em' down. Sure, I love that stuff too but I also love great stories and well developed main and supporting characters in my Batman universe than you. 

The characterization of Bruce Wayne/Batman is pretty similar to how he was portrayed in Batman Begins minus the raspy Batman voice. We see three sides to the character. The real Bruce Wayne who he acts like when alone or with Alfred. The spoiled and womanizing playboy that the public sees. And then of course him fighting crime as Batman. My favorite Bruce/Batman scenes are early on when he gets into a brawl dressed like a bum and the one when he first decides to become a bat. We also see a flashback of his parents getting shot and his mom's pearls breaking apart. I also really dug the scene when he crashes Falcone's dinner party. Reminded me of the opening to Punisher: War Zone a little bit but minus all the blood and gore. 

I find it funny how some people even claimed that this movie was a ripoff of Batman Begins when Begins was actually inspired by this very story.  There are similiarites between Year One and Begins. The most obvious ones are that Carmine Falcone was the mob boss in both movies, Batman uses a super sonic device to attract loads of bats so he can get away from the cops chasing him, and the ending is similar with Gordon waiting on the rooftop and a mention of The Joker. 
Selina Kyle's story while very short was still my favorite origin story of her besides the one used in Batman Returns. Here's a tough as nails woman who will kick your ass without even breaking a sweat. She starts as a prostitute and protects both herself and young Holly Robinson who is a 12 or 13 year old hooker. Yes, a child ho! What the fuck Gotham?! Selina basically plays the older sister role. I really dug how Selina evolves from prostitution to being a cat burlar to get money for herself and Holly. 
All of the supporting characters play their roles well even if some are more developed than others in such a short period of time. Alfred is in this briefly. I love the scene where Bruce pays a woman $500 to act like one of Wayne's party girls so that Gordon won't suspect him of being Batman. Bruce is sitting there looking like Hugh Hefner with his robe and a girl on his arm while drinking an alcoholic beverage. Great comical moment. The script by Tab Murphy was Frank Miller's writing, but altered a bit here or there. There's even inner dialogue with Gordon and Bruce where we get to hear what they are thinking, which happens a lot in comic books. Just read a Spider-Man comic and you'll see what I mean. I know that sorta thing could turn some folks off with a movie though, but it is the comic come to life so it worked for me. I did take some issues with the film though. The biggest one was a scene where Bruce actually round house kicks a tree in half. How the hell is that even possible? I know extreme martial artists can do some crazy stuff by breaking bricks or blocks of wood by karate chopping it in half with their hand, but a fucking tree with your foot? I know this is based on a comic book, but if you're going to have a more grim and more realistic tone, make what Bruce does as believable as possible. I could see Superman pulling that off, but not Batman. There's also a scene where Bruce is chasing a car out of costume and jumps off the roof of a building to land on the truck perfectly. I could see him doing this wearing the Batsuit because the cape would glide him down but he pulls an Ethan Hunt stunt here. The biggest one is when Gordon falls off a bridge to catch his infant son and Bruce jumps in front of him to grab the child. From that distance, it would have either killed them all or put them in the hospital with a lot of broken bones.  It just really bugged me. Would have worked better if Bruce was dressed like Batman because Gordon would have caught the baby and Batman would have caught Gordon and lifted them up with his grapple gun to safety. Also, Holly kinda annoyed me a little bit with constantly saying "Selina!" in almost every sentence.

"Selina! Things are blowing up!"

"Selina! It's Batman!"

"Selina! You punched Stan!"

The direction by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery was pretty well done for the most part. I loved how they included the month and date throughout the film. They really kept it in the same spirit as the graphic novel and I enjoyed that. The look of the characters and Gotham was great too. 

   One of the biggest highlights is the voice cast who brought these characters to life. Ben McKenzie from The OC gives a great performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman. I know McKenzie got a lot of flack from fanboys who wanted Kevin Conroy to yet again for the thousandth time reprise the role he made iconic back in 1992. Guys, while Conroy is a great Batman, I wouldn't want him to play the character all the damn time. We need more variety, which makes things interesting. Sure, some actors may play the role much better than others, but it is fun hearing different actors take on Batman both in live action and animation. I also think Conroy would be wrong in playing a Bruce Wayne who is in his late 20s. A Batman who's been around a good number of years? Definitely! But, we needed someone much younger and McKenzie did a great job. He pulled off Bruce Wayne, playboy Bruce, and Batman well. He's no Kevin Conroy or Michael Keaton, but he did his thing with the character. My favorite line is when he grabs a drug dealer and says...

"You can't hurt me! Nothing harms me! I know pain! I know pain! Sometimes I like to share it with someone like you!"

Or when he crashes Falcone's dinner party and says from the darkness...

"Ladies. Gentlemen. You've eaten well. You've eaten Gotham's wealth. It's spirit, but your feast is nearly over. From this moment on, none of you are safe."

     Bryan Cranston from television's Breaking Bad was marvelous as Gordon. Just when I thought that Bob Hastings (Batman: The Animated Series) and Gary Oldman (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises) were the only guys I could see playing Jim Gordon, Bryan Cranston knocks it out of the park. This guy should play Gordon in the next set of live action Batman movies. Not only does he have the perfect voice, but he also can pull off the look. Outstanding performance!

Whoever suggested Eliza Dushku to play Selina Kyle/Catwoman deserves a raise. Like, seriously! I can recall years ago saying that I would love to see her play this character either in animation or live action and my wish came true. Eliza Dushku, who many remember as rogue vampire slayer Faith on the hit television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer and briefly in its spinoff Angel, was fan-fucking-tastic as Catwoman! She's got the chops to really play the bad girl that Catwoman really is. She's sexy. She's fiesty! She's purrfect! While I liked Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, I would love to see Miss Dushku play the role on the big or small screen.  She's up there with Michelle Pfeiffer and Adrienne Barbeau as far as I'm concerned! 

Everybody else was pretty good too. Katee Sackhoff, from Halloween Resurrection fame, was good as Detective Sarah Essen, the woman Gordon has a kissing affair with. Jon Polito was good as Commissioner Loeb.  Alex Rocco was great as Carmine Falcone. I like how the character looked like Marlon Brando in The Godfather. Jeff Bennett has a small role as Bruce Wayne's trusty butler Alfred and does it well. No Michael Caine, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., or Michael Gough but not bad at all. Robin Atkin Downes has a small role as pre District Attorney and Two-Face Harvey Dent. Fred Tatasciore played the douchebag corrupt cop and former football player role well as Flass. I can see why they turned Flass into a disgusting fat slob in Batman Begins because he was on the inside.  Lilianna Mumy was okay as Holly Robinson even though she kinda got a little annoying in a younger sibling kinda way. Grey DeLisle was alright as both Gordon's wife Barbara and Vicki Vale. All in all, great cast.
Overall, Batman: Year One is a good adult oriented animated Batman movie following The Dark Knight's first year in crime fighting and the beginning of his alliance with Jim Gordon. I definitely say check it out, especially if you love the graphic novel.

Ever since I saw Batman Returns at the age of four years old back in 1992, I and many other Batman fans have had a craving for Catwoman, one of Batman's most iconic villains besides The Joker of course, to get her own movie. Back in the early '90s, it looked like quite the possibility with Michelle Pfeiffer reprising the role she made so iconic and Tim Burton was in talks to direct. Sadly, things didn't go as planned for Warner Bros. wanted to go in a more family friendly direction due to the all mighty parents of the world complaining that Batman Returns was too dark, violent, and adult as it was merchandising Happy Meal toys at McDonald's. I actually still own some of mine just so you know. Anyway, this put a huge damper on a Catwoman movie happening. We did eventually get a Catwoman movie in 2004 starring Halle Berry who wasn't even Selina Kyle and the setting wasn't in Gotham City. It was just one big joke on us Batman fans. We probably still won't get a solo Catwoman film starring Selina Kyle going off on her own crime spreed adventure in the streets of Gotham. But, we did see the femme fatale back in Gotham City with The Dark Knight Rises. We also got treated last year to not only Buffy The Vampire Slayer star Eliza Dushku playing the iconic cat burglar in the animated Batman: Year One movie adapted straight from the classic Frank Miller graphic novel, but we also got an awesome extra feature on the two disc DVD and the Bluray where the next DC Showcase short animated film was a solo Catwoman story! Yay!!!! 

   One night while on the prowl around Gotham City, Catwoman discovers a stray cat who is running from a bunch of thugs who are trying to kill it. Catwoman hides the cat and retreives a necklace around the cat's neck with rubies embedded in it. The jewels belong to crime kingpin Rough Cut. Catwoman unleashes her fury on Rough Cut and his boys at a local strip joint where there's a shoot out and she chases them down without the help of The Batman. 
Like Batman: Year One, Catwoman is a very mature animated film. At 13 minutes, it is a pretty fun, sexy, and action packed animated short. The script was done by Batman: The Animated Series scribe Paul Dini who is known as the guy who created the popular character Harley Quinn and has written a lot of great Joker stories both in The Animated Series and with the Arkham Asylum video game. I dug the whole strip club scene where we see a hot blonde take off her bra and dance around that pole with her cartoon boobs flapping although I can only imagine they are flapping since we can't see them due to the PG-13 rating but we know they are flapping around like a bunch of racoons in a gooney sack trying to get out. We also get a very nice pole dance by the very vicious yet sexy as hell Selina Kyle before she wraps her trusty whip around Rough Cut's throat wanting to know why he wanted the necklace. 

The direction by Lauren Montgomery is pretty good too. I do wish that we actually got a feature animated Catwoman film that was 70-75 minutes instead of a 13 minute short, but it works for what it is. All the sex appeal, shoot outs, car chasing. Selina stealing some poor dude's motorcycle. Catwoman causing a truck to flip similar to The Dark Knight where Batman flipped the Joker's vehicle of choice. And we also get a small cameo of little Holly Robinson at the end. All in all good stuff. Eliza Dushku returns as Catwoman and does it purrfectly. Lilianna Mumy returns as Holly Robinson. John DiMaggio was good as Rough Cut. Kevin Michael Richardson was good as Moe. And Tara Strong who is best known as Batgirl in The New Batman Adventures era of The Animated Series as well as playing Tommy's little brother Dil on Rugrats was good as stripper Buttermilk Skye. All in all good cast. 

Overall, Catwoman is definitely one for the guys and the women who love the Catwoman character. Plenty of exotic and action fun to be had here! 


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