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BATMAN: YEAR ONE (1987)

Writer: Frank Miller, Artist: David Mazzucchelli

Reps: 404, 405, 406, 407

Many people, when asked to name the one book most responsibile for defining the modern Batman, would list Frank Miller's excellent take on the hero's possible future, The Dark Knight Returns. They'd be wrong.

Frank Miller did pen Batman's defining moment, but while The Dark Knight Returns changed the way we look at comics, the pivotal book for Batman was Batman: Year One, first printed in 1987 and collected in 1988. This book gives us Batman at his very core -- just starting out in the vigilante business, still uncertain of his direction. We see his first fumbling attempts and the inspiration that drove him to don the black cape and cowl. We see Alfred's protests and support. We see Harvey Dent, the crusading district attorney, before his own shift to crime -- back when he was an ardent, if secret, conspirator in Batman's crimebusting spree. And we see Selina Kyle, a fiercely independent streetwalker who is inspired by Batman to don a costume of her own, although she turns to crime instead of crimefighting for her kicks.

We also meet Jim Gordon, newly transferred to the Gotham Police Department and bucking the corruption that runs straight to the top. We see his professional side and the events that led to his tenuous alliance with the mysterious vigilante; we see his personal side, the struggles in his first marriage and the indiscretion which led, much later, to his second.

It's hard to imagine a better Batman tale than this, and I encourage anyone who's a fan of the character to track this book down and read the definitive version of his first year in the costume.