Batman: Earth One
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Cover: Gary Frank
Publisher: DC Comics
(Be sure to click on the pictures for high res versions.)
Much like Marvel did with their line of Ultimate comic books, DC tried starting a fresh new line of comics unhindered by previous continuity. Their first attempt at a new line of comics was the launch of All Star in 2005. This comic, presumably named for 1940’s All Star Comics that merged with National to become DC Comics, started with All-Star Superman and was ostensibly killed by Frank Miller’s All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder. Their second attempt was launched in the form of DC: Earth One, starting with Superman: Earth One, and continuing with Batman: Earth One.
In this new iteration of Batman, the reader is treated to a brand new interpretation of his origin story. Now, this story has been done several times, whether it’s the original comics, or Batman: Year One, any of the number of times writers and artists have flashed back to the iconic moment in later comics, or even in movies and TV shows. In this version, Oswald Cobblepot (aka The Penguin) is the corrupt Mayor of Gotham City. Dr. Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s father) is a billionaire philanthropist (as always), and is also running for Mayor in an attempt to clean up his beloved city. The rest of the story plays out from there. One could offer a more in-depth synopsis, but as this story is intended to be a fresh start with no ties to previous continuity, and also a hopeful attempt to get NEW readers involved in comics and attract people that might not be familiar with Batman (as unlikely as that is), I want to avoid spoilers. If you’re familiar with Batman, the obvious plot points are there, so you don’t need to know, and if you’re not familiar, I don’t want to ruin the book for you.
The first thing one might notice about this story is its visual style. The work from Gary Frank is absolutely amazing. There’s an intensity, darkness, and grittiness to almost every panel. Its design is stunningly realistic, and far less exaggerated than one might have done for Batman. It’s like the anti-Tim Sale, not stylized like Bruce Timm, or hyper anime style like Dustin Nguyen. It harkens back to Dave Mazzucchelli’s art, crossed with a level of realism similar to that of Alex Ross, but without the painterly presentation.
Also, the costume design is wonderful. Bruce gets two here. The first is that traditional grey outfit with the black bat, but this time looking very homemade with noticeable fabric textures, zipper flaps on his pants, buttons attaching the cape to the shoulders, and combat boots. The second is more fully realized Batman, with a black and yellow oval emblem, traditional superhero knee-boots, a cape that is flush with the cowl, etc.
Another thing to notice is the lack of white eye-covers for Batman. Love it or hate it, this reviewer loves it. It adds another level of realism. Also, overall, the raised 3D emblem, the lack of white eye-covers, and the noticeably rubber/leather/vinyl look for his gloves, boots, cape and cowl, all call back to the 1989 Tim Burton Batman look, which is a cool touch.
Another point of praise comes from the back story. In most versions of Batman, the back story focuses on Thomas Wayne, and his relationship with Bruce. Thomas gets a good bit of play in the origin portion, which is great. But in all of the “present day” stuff, where the back story continues through flashbacks, the reader is treated to more of Martha Wayne. Her back story was touched upon once or twice in stories like Batman: Family and Streets of Gotham, and a fake story was given in Batman: RIP, but this book gives her a brand new maiden name and a whole new background.
There’s so much to like in this story, from the new version of Detective Harvey Bullock, to the creepy disgusting version of Penguin which plays off like a combination of his regular crime-boss/criminal portrayal and his lecherous hedonistic portrayal in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, while avoiding the monster-aspect (the best of both worlds). This new version of Alfred is another love it or hate it issue, but this reviewer found it rather fitting, especially his role in the story’s climax. Other items of praise come from the fantastic character arc given to Jim Gordon, and little touches like the ending with Barbara Gordon and the story’s mystery man that gets set up as the villain in the next story (fans will know who it is). One wishes to go into more detail, but that would involve too many spoilers.
It’s not all good, though. There are some faults. The pacing seems a bit too rushed. Though, it’s primarily the result of the format. With such a short story, things just feel compact and under-developed. Not enough that it detracts from the story. But more that it leaves you wishing there had been more, which in a way is a rather complimentary complaint. If a story leaves you wishing for more, it usually means that you enjoyed what you got and merely wanted more of it. Another issue which struck this reviewer in a negative way is the fact that this story has Lucius Fox designing Bruce’s Bat gadgets, instead of simply helping (which could have been done as a nod to Nolan’s films). Not a major issue, but still something that detracts from Batman’s traditional character traits (his intelligence). Also, there’s one (thankfully ONLY one) moment near the beginning of the story that shows Bruce as a horribly awful spoiled child, which even for a new reinterpretation seems too out of character. Thankfully it never comes back into play.
This line of comics is apparently set to continue with Superman: Earth One Volume Two, which is scheduled to be released on November 6, 2012. Furthermore, Batman: Earth One Volume Two was announced at DC Comics’ OGN panel. My only hope is that, with FOUR titles dedicated to Superman and Batman, DC quickly announces titles based on other characters. At any rate, if these next entries are as fantastic as the last two, they can’t arrive soon enough!