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Religious Imagery and References in
Batman: Year One
written by Frank Miller
This page presents excerpts from Batman: Year One which feature some of this influential story's religious references and imagery. Batman: Year One was written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli. Batman: Year One: is similar to many other comics written by Frank Miller in its relatively high density of religious characters and references. This canonical expansion of the classic Batman origin story is regarded as one of the most influential Batman stories ever published.
From, Denny O'Neil, "Introduction" in Batman: Year One trade paperback, published by DC Comics (2005), pages 4-5:
Frank Miller... was generally acknowledged to be the best writer-artist to enter comics since the early 1960s; indeed, some said he was the best ever.
Below: From: Batman: Year One #1, page 3: James "Jim" Gordon arrives in Gotham via train. As this is "year one," Gordon has not yet become Commissioner Gordon. At the train station, Gordon is approached by a bald religious devotee wearing a robe, apparently a Hare Krishna (i.e., member of the Hindu denomination known as ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness). The Hare Krishna offers to sell a religious book to Gordon for a "small donation." Gordon declines, but the Hare Krishna asks again, only to be choked brutally by Lieutenant Flass, the man meeting Gordon at the station. Flass, it turns out, is one of the principle villains of Batman: Year One. Flass is a murderous corrupt cop who is eventually jailed through the efforts of Gordon and Batman. It is interesting that Flass calls the Hare Krishna a "skinhead." The term "skinhead" is most commonly used to refer to members of white supremacist movements, including the Christian Identity Movement, and is not typically used to refer to Hare Krishnas.
Corrupt Catholic Priest
Below: From: Batman: Year One #1, page 7: Corrupt police officer Lieutenant Flass and and corrupt police commissioner Gillian B. Loeb discuss an incident in which corrupt Catholic priest Father Donelley tried to bribe Gotham's new honest police officer, Jim Gordon. Catholic priests, most of them righteous (but some of them not) seem ever-present in Frank Miller's superhero comics.
Dialogue from scene above:
Lieutenant Flass: ...so Father Donelley, he slips Gordon a fifty with the handshake . . . and Gordon, he looks at it like his hand's got a disease. Then he throws the fifty in the padre's face. Gives the squad a two-hour lecture. Puts Schell on probation. He's just not fitting in, Gill.
Commissioner Gillian B. Loeb: I had such hopes for that boy . . .
Lieutenant Flass: I could get the boys together -- soften him up.
Commissioner Gillian B. Loeb: No. Not while I'm in town. There's enough heat on me as it is. No. You'll absolutely have to wait until I'm at the conference in Washington . . . two weeks, Flass . . .
Church Mission in Gotham's Worst Part of Town
Below: From: Batman: Year One #1, page 10: Bruce Wayne, intent on beginning his long-delayed war against crime, has returned to his native Gotham City after years training abroad. He does some reconnaissance by walking into the worst part of the city - the East End. This part of town combines elements of a traditional "Skid Row" and red light district. Bruce Wayne has not yet formulated the "Batman" identity at this point. While walking throught the East End, Wayne notes the homeless people sleeping in front of Sprang Mission, a charitable mission set up by a Christian church. The exact denomination responsible for establishing Sprang Mission is never identified, but given Miller's track record, he probably thought of this as a Catholic mission.
Bruce Wayne's thoughts in this scene:
It's a twenty block walk to the enemy camp. It's been educational. I was sized up like a piece of meat by the leather boys in Robinson Park. I waded through pleas and half-hearted threats from junkies at Finger Memorial. I stepped across a field of human rubble that lay sleeping in front of the overcrowded Sprang Mission. Finally the worst of it. The East End. Hard to believe it's gotten worse.
Bruce Wayne Talks to His Deceased Father and Receives the Bat Symbol
Below: From: Batman: Year One #1, pages 20-22: During his first foray into amateur crime-fighting, Bruce Wayne is severely injured by common street criminals and prostitutes who are clearly unafraid of him, despite his fighting prowess. Bruce Wayne manages to get himself home to his mansion. While he lies dazed and bleeding, he realizes that he needs a way to make criminals afraid of him, so he can more effectively fight crime. Bruce Wayne speaks directly to his deceased father, whose murder has inspired him to embark on this unusual path. As if in answer to Bruce's pleas, a bat crashes through a window. Bruce Wayne now knows the symbol he will use to create fear in criminals: a bat.
This scene can be read as a prayer. Is Bruce Wayne actually speaking to his deceased father? Does his father hear him? Is Bruce Wayne speaking to God, his "Father" in Heaven? On the most literal level, Wayne seems to be addressing his Earthly father, the late Thomas Wayne. Yet even in this scene, it is not clear whether Bruce Wayne has a literal belief that there is an afterlife to which his mother and father have gone. In fact, one could argue that if Bruce Wayne had a normative Christian-type belief in an afterlife, he might have been able to eventually accept the death of his parents enough to begin living a "normal" life. Instead, Bruce Wayne constantly re-lives the murders of his parents and transforms himself into an inhuman engine of vigiliante vengeance.
Bruce Wayne's thoughts in this scene:
Father . . . I'm afraid. I may have to die tonight. I've tried to be patient. I've tried to wait. But I have to know. How, father? How do I do it? What do I use . . . to make them afraid? If I ring this bell, Alfred will come. He can stop the bleeding in time. Another of your gifts to me, father. I have wealth. The family manor rests above a huge cave that will be the perfect headquarters . . . even a butler with training in combat medicine . . . yes, father. I have everything but patience. I'd rather die . . . than wait . . . another hour. I have waited . . . eighteen years . . . eighteen years . . . since Zorro. The Mask of Zorro. Since the walk. That night. And the man with frightened, hollow eyes and a voice like glass being crushed.
[In his mind's eye, Bruce Wayne recalls the memory that is never far from his mind: He sits between his parents in a movie theater. He walks away from the theater with his parents. A mugger points a gun at them. The criminal shoots his father and mother, killing them both, before running away into the night. Young Bruce Wayne kneels beside their fallen bodies.]
. . . since all sense left my life. Without warning, it comes . . . crashing through the window of your study . . . and mine . . .
[A bat crashes through the window Bruce is staring at.]
. . . I have seen it before . . . somewhere . . . it frightened me as a boy . . . frightened me . . . yes. Father. I shall become a bat.
Jim Gordon: "I pray..."
Below: From: Batman: Year One #2; reprinted in Batman: Year One trade paperback, page 27: Police officer Jim Gordon, before he became Gotham City's police commissioner, handles a hostage situation in an unorthodox, fearless manner. He shows the crazed hostage-taker that he is putting his gun on the ground and coming to him unarmed. In Jim Gordon's narration, he says he prays the customer understands what he is doing. Does Jim Gordon literally pray in this scene, or is he simply using a figure of speech?
Jim Gordon's thoughts in this scene:
Last month Branden and his swat team calmed down a riot in Robinson Park. Didn't even leave the statues standing. Those kids don't have a chance -- he'll push that poor bastard over the edge -- I take the ugly weight off my hip . . . I hold it up like a dead rat and pray that the man understands . . . Behind me Branden curses. I head for the front door. I'm sure nobody can see my knees wobble.
Below: From: Batman: Year One #2; reprinted in Batman: Year One trade paperback, page 30: Police officer Jim Gordon, before he became Gotham City's police commissioner, sits on his bed beside his very pregnant wife Barbara. He reflects on the world his unborn son will face. Gotham is a dangerous place. Jim Gordon says he prays that his son be strong enough and smart enough to survive in Gotham.
Jim Gordon's thoughts in this scene:
Another kick. Strong boy, little James . . . I pray he's very strong. And smart enough to stay alive. How did I let this happen? How did I screw up so badly . . . to bring an innocent child to life . . . in a city without hope . . .
A Visibly Christian Building Superintendent
Below: From: Batman: Year One #3; reprinted in Batman: Year One trade paperback, page 54: Gotham City S.W.A.T. team members search a mostly-abandoned building for the fugitive Batman. The come upon what was once the apartment belonging to the building superintendent. A number of items in the room suggest a man who was fervently Christian:
- a cross hanging on the wall
- a bumber sticker that reads "HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS"
- a poster that reads "GOD IS..."
- an open Bible on the table
- a statuette of Jesus (or perhaps an angel or Mary)
Below: From: Batman: Year One #4; reprinted in Batman: Year One trade paperback, page 84: Batman approaches the home of a powerful Gotham City mobster known as "the Roman." The Roman is speaking to his nephew, Johnny. Johnny tells the Roman that his mother (the Roman's sister) prays for his success. The Roman says he needs his sister's prayers. The Roman and his family members may have an appreciation for prayer, but they seem to have little regard for Christian ethical living.
Dialogue in this scene:
The Roman: Johnny Little Johnny. You're a man now. A strong man. And how is my sister? My beautiful, faithful sister?
Johnny: Mother is well, sir. She sends her deepest devotion. She prays for your continued success.
The Roman: I fear I need her prayers, Johnny. I need her son. And you have shown that you are brave as Horatius, Johnny. Have I told you of Horatius? One man on a narrow bridge -- holding the line against hundreds -- until--
Johnny: It has thrilled me every time, sir. I am, of course, yours.
Later Jim Gordon thinks about how things are going on Gotham City now that he and Batman have started getting corrupt officials and police officers arrested or out of office, and now that they have begun confronting the mobsters who have for so long held sway in the city. He notes what has happened between "the Roman" and his beloved sister:
Jim Gordon's thoughts: The Roman's been at war with his sister ever since he tried to get a hired knife slid between his nephew's ribs. I had a few run-ins with his sister, back in Chicago, a few years ago. I don't envy the Roman.
Webpage created 20 May 2007. Last modified 20 May 2007.
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