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Written by Jeph Loeb, Illustrated by Tim Sale

This ode to Frank Miller's "Year One", itself a noir take on Batman's early career, provides a note-perfect genre piece that should thrill anyone looking for a Batman whodunit. The story has Batman, early in his career, taking on the mob and a serial killer who strikes on holidays. The story is drum tight through thirteen issues (350+ pages), set from Halloween to Halloween, with a poetic pacing and use of graphic tension found only in top-notch graphic novels. Harvey Dent is heavily featured along with a young Jim Gordon. For Batman scholars, Dent's presence alone provides a backdrop of foreboding.

The usual rogue's gallery weaves through the book, including a jealous Joker, out to outdo the serial killer, a cornered, yet elegantly neurotic Riddler, and a wildly abstracted, sensual Poison Ivy, along with a little more mind-altering mayhem from the Scarecrow and Mad Hatter.

What I appreciated most about Jeph Loeb's telling is that the criminals are reduced to their elemental symbols, where a gesture or a glance conveys as much as a panel of narrated text. The clues are perfect red herrings in the grand whodunit fashion. Fans of Batman know bad things are going to happen when a stranger passes a rose to a character who then pricks their finger on its thorns. Similarly, even a hardened Gotham detective shudders upon seeing a murder victim with a smile on his face. My only misgiving about this book is that if a reader wasn't acquainted with Batman and the usual Arkham cast, the subtletly of this telling will almost certainly be missed. On the other hand, this'll be a great place to start an education.

Tim Sale's art is compelling. Noir's a difficult effect to convey in comics, and it comes through beautifully in a shadowy, mostly gray and earth tone palette behind strong inking. This cool, muted ground provides the perfect foil against which to contrast the costumed villains, ratcheting up the tension another notch.

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