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I felt compelled to share and analysis to this gorgeous full page panel in Frank Miller’s “Year One” because it succinctly encompasses many notable elements present in the graphic novel. On the narrative level, this panel is very representative of the entire story. Unlike his previous Batman tale, “The Dark Knight Returns,” Frank Miller’s “Year One” is composed of unambiguous dialogue, internal thoughts, and narration. In this panel, it is clear that Jim Gordon has many things on his mind, including his relationship with his wife, his duty as a police officer, and the mysterious character of Batman. This panel’s artwork is also very characteristic of “Year One.” David Mazzucchelli beautifully complements Miller’s minimalistic narrative with his near photorealistic artwork; in “Year One,” the speech boxes are easily read and understood, while the intricate illustrations command the reader’s prolonged attention in order to fully appreciate their complexity and profundity. This panel in particular showcases Mazzucchelli’s incredible attention to detail—not only do the sheets have an intricate pattern to them, but their texture accurately conveys the weight and positioning of Jim Gordon and his pregnant wife Barbara, on their bed.
In addition to the aforementioned narrative and artistic qualities of “Year One,” for me, one of its most defining characteristic is its unparalleled thematic depth. And although “Year One” has many themes, the largest, and perhaps most noteworthy, manifests itself in Jim Gordon’s internal conflict, regarding his conception of the world, and remains unresolved at the end of the graphic novel. But before we continue, let’s examine Jim Gordon’s character and philosophy in order to better situate his momentous conundrum within the framework of the graphic novel.
In the beginning of the “Year One,” Jim Gordon sees world in simplistic binary terms. Much of this is related to his job as a police officer, which, by his beliefs, requires him to uphold and enforce the law. This means that everyone is either an innocent civilian, who must be protected, or a guilty criminal, who must be brought to justice—there are no exceptions. But as the story progresses, he confronts two main phenomena that challenge his beliefs, namely Batman and the police and civil servants of Gotham city. Batman problematizes Jim Gordon’s worldview because he cannot be neatly categorized as either a civilian or a criminal; Batman breaks the law by violently assaulting people, but, he only attacks criminals, and as a direct result of his actions, the crime rate in Gotham has been reduced. Similarly, the fact that the Police Commissioner and the Mayor of Gotham city are corrupt, challenge Jim Gordon’s worldview because they directly oppose his belief that title dictates behavior. In other words, the police are NOT inherently lawful, despite being required to be by their occupation. By the end of the third section in “Year One,” Jim Gordon begins to deeply question his philosophy and conception of the world, leading to an internal crisis.
This carefully constructed panel highlights Jim Gordon’s monumental internal struggle through several short, yet thoroughly effective speech boxes. In this panel, Jim Gordon begins to work through his philosophical problem stating, “He’s a criminal. I’m a cop. It’s that simple. But—” (Miller 70). The subtle nuance found in the final word of his statement, “but,” alludes to the fact that Jim Gordon no longer holds firm to his previously held worldview; his mind has not been completely changed, but the seeds of doubt have sprouted. This becomes clear as he further qualifies the simplicity of his previous assertion, stating, “I’m a cop in a city where the mayor and the commissioner of police use cops as hired killers” (Miller 70). At this point, the reader becomes distinctly aware that not only are their exceptions to Jim Gordon’s binary model of good and evil, but that one’s title has no intrinsic bearing on his behavior. Jim Gordon continues along this line of reasoning as he reflects on Batman’s actions, thinking, “he saved that old woman,” “he saved that cat,” and “he even paid for that suit” (Miller 70). Here, it becomes clear that one’s title is irrelevant, and that one’s actions, and the resulting consequences of those actions, are all that matter. Although Batman is labeled as a criminal, his actions are exemplary of heroic behavior; and on the other hand, despite being labeled as law enforcement, the behavior of Gotham City’s police force aligns it with criminals. With that said, despite what appears to be quite compelling evidence, Jim Gordon does not unequivocally resolve his internal struggle in this panel—he does not reach a definite conclusion about the validity of his worldview. Instead, he is left to feel the immense weight of Batman’s fate and the future of Gotham City—cleverly represented by the heavy “hunk of metal”—that lie precariously in his hands.