Bloody hell, it's good. I love it to pieces. My favourite is the punch-the-air issue #3, against Branden's SWAT team, but I love the whole thing. It's perfect, as far as I'm concerned. It's lean, mean and Miller's best Batman work, continuing his Daredevil collaboration with Mazzucchelli (although it doesn't reach the heights of Daredevil: Born Again).
Firstly, some history. Frank Miller's TDKR contract committed him to also doing a Batman origin story. The workload proved too much for him to draw it as well as writing it, though, so they brought in Mazzucchelli as artist. It was planned as a graphic novel until Denny O'Neil suggesting doing it in the monthly Batman series... but DC had just done Crisis on Infinite Earths, with the plan of relaunching every DC comic with a new first issue. Miller vetoed the renumbering. "I don't need to slash through continuity with as sharp a blade as I thought. Doing the Dark Knight has shown me there's been enough good material... I didn't feel that fleshing out an unknown part of Batman's history justified wiping out 50 years."
It ended up being Batman #404-407. This changed the pacing. A monthly comic book gave Miller fewer pages to play with... but I love the effect of this on the storytelling. Miller and Mazzucchelli do so much with body language. Single panels can convey as much characterisation as entire pages from other creators. "We can't help, Merkel. Orders. Breaks my heart," says Gordon, leaning gloriously against a car as he lights a cigarette. Or, when "those idiots are firing out the windows", Selina just standing there as cool and elegant as a Weeping Angel as she lets her cat come to her.
It's Bruce Wayne's first year as Batman, obviously. He doesn't even wear the costume until April. He's young, inexperienced and in over his head. He underestimates his opponents, gets shot by the police and makes enemies who are bigger and scarier than him. This is awesome. He's not indestructible and he's not yet a monolith. He can still be hard-pressed by corrupt cops, a slimeball commissioner and a city where the police are hand in glove with organised crime. In other words, it's real. It's scarier than costumed gimmick supervillains. (THE BABY. THEY GO FOR JIM'S BABY.) It's like the world of the Kingpin. There's child prostitution and our heroes can't even do anything about it. (When Bruce tries, the girl he's trying to help sticks a knife in his leg.) You can feel the despair in issue #1, before Batman's started making a difference.
"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."
The art's perfect. It's dark, grimy and muddy. The colours are dull and ugly, as if someone pissed on them. Similarly, the Batman costume is realistic, a version you'd actually wear if you were fighting crooks on fire escapes at night.
Gordon is magnificent. It's as much his book as Batman's. Goodness me, he can fight! And oh, what happens with Lieutenant Essen hurts. Selina is cold and unlikeable, but that's deliberate. "Assistant. Now I'm his assistant. I'll have to do something really nasty next time." She does, though, drag the very underage Holly out of prostitution (eventually, in June) and support her thereafter, so she's done one good thing.
Batman tortures Skeevers. That's unambiguous. Otherwise, though, this is a good Batman who punches the cop who shot at the cat, rescues Jim's baby and saves the lives even of policemen who are basically murderers. ("Hey, he didn't move, man." "He was going to.")
Alfred's comedy insults begin here. Page 87 made me laugh.
This might be my favourite Batman book. It's either this or The Batman Adventures: Mad Love. (Avoid Year One's 2011 animated adaptation, though.)