Batman: Year One is the kind of comic that’s spoken of with hushed reverent tones. The four issue miniseries is often included under the banner of “best comics ever made.” And it’s also one of the rare stories that deserve that praise. But while many have heaped praise on the genius of artist David Mazzucchelli—and his collaborator Frank Miller alongside letterer Todd Klein—not enough have talked about the colorist behind the book’s striking palette, Richmond Lewis. In the light of The Batman, and the massive impact that Year One and Lewis’ colors had on the movie, it’s the perfect time to revisit the book and celebrate the woman who colored—and recolored—Batman: Year One.
Batman: Year One (Batman #404-407, 1987)
It’s hard to overstate the impact of this comic. If you’ve ever read any Batman, you’ve likely read this story. Gone to a comic shop and asked what comics to read to get into the Caped Crusader? This was almost certainly the book that got put in your hand. But Batman: Year One is more of an atmosphere piece than an in depth character exploration. It’s a brilliant noir tale that feels textured and gritty, flickering neons and ever-changing shadows. And that’s thanks to Lewis’ extravagant and unexpected color choices.
Pink skies and teal reflections make Gotham feel like a living, breathing city. Jim Gordon lives in dark blue shadow with yellow highlights, hinting at the future costume of his ally. There’s an unreal quality to the colors that make each page pop. And it’s what makes Year One so special. Working within the four color printing system that defined newsprint comics should have limited Lewis, but instead it challenged her painter’s mind to think outside the box. And it would not be the last time that Lewis would reimagine the palette of Gotham and its most famous son.
Batman: Year One Hardcover Collection (1988)
In 1988, Lewis recolored the entire four issue series for the first collected edition. There was a simple reason behind the choice: the hardcover printing would use full color rather than the striking four colors that from the single issues. It’s a testament to Lewis’ skill and dedication that she handpainted the comic, having fun with a larger range of choices. Her powerful choice of limiting certain palettes to certain pages make this a really refined adaptation of the original four issue run. One of the most interesting things to note is that it’s here where Lewis began to lean more heavily into reds and oranges than pinks. That’s something that ended up shaping the color palette of The Batman and influencing the visual aesthetic of Reeves’ movie.
In the DC Direct solicits for this edition, Lewis shared her reasoning behind repainting the story. “I wanted to bring a sense of drama to the story, from simple color to the more complex,” she shared. “But overall it’s pretty restrained. I tried to use a limited palette, so you won’t see every color on every page, except in those places where the full range is called for.” DC reprinted this version for years, including in the early ’00s with a slight remaster—which is where our comparison image comes from.
Lewis’ Impact on The Batman (2020)
From the earliest days of talking about The Batman, Reeves has brought up Year One as an inspiration. It’s something that shaped not only the aesthetic but also the narrative. It’s why the film follows a young Bruce Wayne. The neo-noir detective plot feels ripped from the pages of Year One. But it’s those Lewis colors that will immediately come to mind to those who’ve read the story. It’s not just the red lights, bathing the wet pavement, but also the version of Selina Kyle. In Richmond’s original colors, Selina is a creature of the night. Kravitz even wears the same costume Richmond and Mazzucchelli introduce her in. Their representation of the apartment she shares with a young friend is nearly identical to what we see in The Batman. And Richmond’s pastel shadows and neon reflections often seem to jump from the screen.
In a cinematic age that’s defined by comic book movies, it’s ever more important that we recognize the artists that make these films possible. And in The Batman, Reeves has given us an opportunity to revisit and celebrate some of the best comic book coloring of all time.
Featured Image: DC Comics