Since Frank Miller wrote and illustrated the ultimate final Batman story in "The Dark Knight Returns," great attention was paid when he penned a new version of the first Batman story with "Batman: Year One," leaving the artistic duties to David Mazzucchelli (with Richmond Lewis painting the colors). Miller came up with several great moments in "The Dark Knight Returns," most notably when the Joker snaps his own neck, but the part that stood out for me was when Batman explains to Superman the different lessons they learned from the example of their respective parents. Stephen King once said you were either a Batman person or a Superman person, and Miller came up with a nice way of capturing their inherently oppositional natures. The four issues of "Batman" (#404-407) that made up this mini-series are not part of the constant debate as to the greatest graphic novel of all time (still "Watchmen" for me), but all things considered I think "Batman: Year One" is the better story.
If "The Dark Knight Returns" comes down to Batman versus Superman and the world's finest realizing they must be on opposite sides, then "Batman: Year One" from start to finish is about Batman and Jim Gordon coming to the realization that they need each other. Miller and Mazzucchelli develop stories that are not really parallel, but which are heading to the same end point. Gordon arrives in Gotham City for the first time by train while Bruce Wayne flies back home after twelve years abroad, each thinking they should have picked the other mode of transportation. Gordon is a cop and Wayne wants to be a vigilante, Gordon is married with a pregnant wife and Wayne's only real relationship is with Alfred, and Gordon is learning how things work in Gotham City while Wayne is simply waiting for the missing piece, the one thing he can use to make the criminals afraid of him.
Miller and Mazzucchelli tell the story in four acts. In this deluxe edition Chapter One, "Who I Am, How I Come to Be," is captioned: "He will become the greatest crime fighter the world has ever known...It won't be easy." The point is to get to the pivotal moment when Bruce Wayne declares "I shall become a bat," but leading up to it having Wayne experiencing familiar that put his mission in doubt. Meanwhile, Gordon shows that he will not submit to the corrupt or violence inherent in the system in Gotham City. His final line in the story is equally important when he thanks bad cop Flass by saying, "You've shown me what it takes to be a cop in Gotham City."
"Chapter Two: War is Declared," notes: "He had trained and planned and waited eighteen years. He thinks he's ready..." The implication is that he is not and there is a key scene when Batman appears in costume and stands there on a balcony holding on to a fifteen year old burglar while a couple of others whale on him because he refuses to be a killer. Batman and Gordon cross paths for the first time, and the lieutenant is told to bring in the vigilante or else. But before Gordon can do that, the commissioner decides to fire bomb the slum building that Batman is hiding in.
"Chapter Three: Black Down" is where the power shifts: "They've got him CORNERED. They've got him OUTNUMBERED. They've got him TRAPPED. They're in TROUBLE..." Significantly, Gordon has been ordered to stay out of it while the Gotham City P.D. tries to take Batman, who has clearly become a hero to the common people. But the character development of Gordon in this chapter is more important, because he comes to have reason to hate himself equally in his professional and personal life. By the end of this one Gordon has framed the equation: Batman is a criminal and he is a cop, but a cop in a city where the mayor and commissioner use cops as hired killers and the criminal saves an old woman, a cat, and pays for a suit he has technically stolen. However, what is key is that Bruce Wayne has already come to the conclusion that he needs an ally and an inside man. That is to say, he needs Jim Gordon on his side.
"Chapter Four: Friend in Need," declares "He's out to clean up a city that likes being dirty. He can't do it alone." The question is simply what will be the event that brings Batman and Jim Gordon together. Miller and Mazzucchelli come up with something that is at the nexus of several of the key subplots that have been developed in the story, and although Selina does don a Catwoman costume for the first time, that fact that there the story avoids villains in costume until a telling bit of foreshadowing in the final panel helps keep the emphasis on Batman being a new idea as far as the denizens of Gotham City are concerned. Still, this story comes down to not just how Bruce Wayne became Batman, but how Batman and Jim Gordon ended up on the same team.
In the back of the deluxe edition you will find Mazzucchelli's four-page comic book afterward, promotional and early drawings, marked-ed up copies of Miller's script paired with rough layouts, and looks at the final results. All told there is over 40-pages of such sketches and art in the back of the book. Denny O'Neil writes the introduction and Miller has a postscript of sorts at the end, so there are plenty of reasons to have this special hardcover edition even if you already have the original four issues of "Batman" salted away in your comic book collection and are actually willing to take them out of their plastic bags.