Batman: Year One Story Structure
Love stories and cops go together like bacon and eggs: Lethal Weapon, 48 Hrs, Rush Hour, Tango & Cash, Turner & Hooch, Bad Boys, Hot Fuzz… The “Buddy Cop” story is a genre all it’s own, and Batman: Year One is in the Top 10!
If you’re hoping to write a buddy love story graphic novel, Batman: Year One is a great example to learn from.
Spoiler Warning! Below is the plot structure of Batman: Year One using Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet as the basis for the breakdown (see my review of Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat, an excellent storytelling resource). For an explanation of each “beat” please refer to Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. Thanks!
PREMISE: Batman: Year One is a buddy cop story about Lt. Jim Gordon, a clean cop in a dirty city, who must either fight the corruption on his own (risking the lives of himself and his family) or partner with Gotham’s menace to society, Batman.
Opening Image: Gordon sits alone in a crowd with a concerned look on his face; he’s not looking forward to his new job in Gotham, especially with a kid possibly on the way. He wants out of the filth while Bruce Wayne, alone in his private jet, wants in.
Theme Stated: Gordon meets Commissioner Loeb who tells him to be a TEAM player. This story is about choosing sides. Which team will Gordon play for?
Set Up: Answer: his own. When his assigned partner, Flass, attacks a kid for no reason, Gordon silently prepares to take him down. We learn he’s brought dirty cops down before but made mistakes. He can’t make mistakes this time, especially with his wife, Barbara, pregnant. Meanwhile, Bruce also prepares for battle, training his fighting moves, but he, too, isn’t ready. He says, “something’s missing”.
Catalyst: A month passes and Gordon has been a good cop, much to the dismay of his corrupted co-workers. Late one night, they jump Gordon and threaten him to play ball. He hears Flass’ laugh; Gordon’ll have to do something to survive.
Debate: But can these two make it alone? Bruce tries by picking a fight with a pimp, which goes horribly wrong, while Gordon makes a calculated attack on Flass, playing dirty to stay clean – not ideal, but it’ll serve for now.
Choosing Act Two: Thanks to Flass, Gordon says he now “has what it takes” to survive on his own: leverage and determination. He jumps in, a hero cop willing to go against the grain of his “team” – but for how long? Meanwhile, Bruce also decides to jump in on his own, as Batman.
B-Story: Alone in the fight and with a baby on the way, Gordon feels the weight of a city “without hope” (or so he assumes). Who could restore hope to Gotham and Gordon?… A wordless panel of Batman silhouetted against the night sky.
Fun n’ Games (Promise of the Premise): The first time we see Batman in action. He’s an amateur, making mistakes, but working and people take notice, especially the corrupt when Batman crashes a high society party. Gordon has been put on the case of catching Batman, with sexy Detective Essen as his partner, and 100% support from the dirty officers.
Mid-point: But when Batman is wrongly accused of attacking Essen, and the corrupt officers use it as an excuse to take him out, Gordon begins to help Batman. He chooses to not back up the overzealous officers as Batman whoops ‘em silly and escapes in a cloud of bats (while also saving a stray cat! What a guy!).
Bad Guys Close In: Bruce goes abroad to recover from the fight and while he’s away, Gordon grows less interested in finding the identity of Batman and more interest in Essen.
All is Lost (& Whiff of Death): But the love affair with Essen is short-lived. Sitting alone in the dark, holding a gun (hint at suicide, maybe?), Gordon tries not to think about Essen and tries not to think about Batman. But how can he keep going it alone?
Dark Night of the Soul: Gordon tries to break it off with Essen without much success while Batman gives him a chance at bringing down Flass and Loeb (through a drug lord turned rat named Skeevers). But when Loeb threatens Gordon with blackmail about Essen, he has to make a choice.
Choosing Act Three: And after interviewing Bruce as the possible identity of Batman (suspicious that Bruce actually is Batman), Gordon makes his choice by telling Barbara about his affair. Like Batman, he won’t be a “team player”.
Finale: With the trial against Flass and Loeb nearing, the corrupt prepare to attack Gordon where it hurts: his family. They kidnap his son but they don’t get far, Gordon is close behind, as is Batman (as Bruce – due to it being daytime). There’s a final showdown on a bridge and Bruce saves Gordon’s son from plunging to his death. Gordon thanks him by “forgetting” his face. They are now partners for Gotham.
Final Image: The trial goes forth, bringing Flass and Loeb down. Gordon is promoted, he and Barbara are seeing a counselor, but Gotham is in a panic due to The Joker. Good thing help is on the way: Gordon’s friend (and teammate), Batman. Gordon smiles (opposite from the beginning).