Batman: Earth One [Hardcover]
Release Date: 10 July 2012
Creative Team: Geoff Johns (Writer), Gary Frank (Artist)
Over four years ago, DC announced over two Earth One books to be released in the not-too-distant future, Superman: Earth One (released in 2010) and Batman: Earth One, and while the re-imagined Superman origin story has been out for what feels like eons [the second volume is already well in development and close to release], eager fans have finally gotten their/our hands on this gem. With one of the most prolific writers in the industry tackling a new origin of the Caped Crusader, and with some absolutely stunning artwork, the anticipation for this was nearly as equal as The Dark Knight Rises. But the most important question regarding this book is, were the changes interesting enough to warrant this new saga?
While I could easily take in any twist of the Superman origin story out of curiosity, I'm much more protective of Bruce Wayne and his journey - no offense to Kal-El, but anything to make his arc richer and more interesting is well worth the effort. In regards to Bruce, he already has such a complex, nuanced, engaging beginning that the idea of twisting it in someway seems...well, unnecessary. So, naturally, as a rather sizable Batman fan, curiosity drove me to check this baby out as soon as possible, and overall, yes, this is a different (not exactly new, just different) take on Bruce Wayne that makes his journey diverse enough from other mythos to make it worth a read. This is truly a Bruce driven by revenge, not justice, a young man who can think of little else but the death of his parents and has zero experience fighting in the real world, leading to disastrous results as he engages Gotham's criminals.
Two character bits that interested me the most, right off the bat: a Jim Gordon that doesn't push, that does what he's told and minds his own business, controlled by fear, and Mayor Oswald Cobblepot, who seems to have been implicit in the Wayne murders over fifteen years ago. Taking Jim Gordon, the only man Batman could ever really trust (next to Alfred), and making him a shell of what he could be, trying to stay under the radar and not attract the attention of scary men, is a twist well worth exploring in its own book. For the first half of the narrative, Gordon remains the frightened cop, but thanks to his worst fears becoming realized, we see the birth of the Gordon we all know and love. Perhaps it happened too quick in the life of these Earth One books, but when Jim is pushed too far and turns into the man with a renewed moral code, it's a beautiful sight to behold. And the first exchange between Gordon and Batman is equally fantastic.
And Mayor Cobblepot. Now I'm not very hip with the intense, detailed mythology of the Batman comics, so I don't know if, when, or how often the Penguin was mayor of Gotham City, but regardless, I like this plot point, and I like the overall story to it all: his role in the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. That is interesting, and the plot of a conspiracy to murder the Wayne's is absolutely gripping in its own way. Additionally, as the books narrative comes to a close, Cobblepot meets his maker, and his death is publicly blamed on Batman. Nice twist to the narrative, and leaves Batman in a familiar place in the eyes of the Gothamites and with his resolve to be better, to improve, Bruce Wayne and Batman are well placed to become the dark knight we all know he can be.
So we have a Gordon as a servant to the corrupt, and Cobblepot as mayor pulling strings around the city. Another fantastic re-imagining of a character in good ol' Wayne Manor butler Alfred Pennyworth, who is no longer the old, frail man who spouts off the exact right advice Bruce needs, but instead is a kick-ass fight instructor who has mentored Bruce into a thinking, calculating, vengeful fighting machine. The dynamic between these two is so different from what we as fans are used to, that these two engaged in discussion is well worth picking up the book alone.
The world around Bruce is different from what we're used to, but the character himself is still very much the recognizable icon we all know and are intrigued by. In the category of differences, the most substantial element is that he is motivated purely by revenge in this narrative, a passion that Bruce has felt in all Batman stories, but has given way to justice. Bruce isn't quite there yet, but it's a hurdle that's on the horizon. For now, Bruce is obsessed with the notion of a conspiracy revolving around his parents death, and Batman is the instrument of fear that he will use to bash the truth out of guilty parties. The Batman is forming, slowly, but he's in there.
As you can see from these sample pages to the right and bottom center, the art is exquisite, and worth the price tag alone.
In the end, Batman: Earth One is different just enough and investigates alternate aspects of the narrative to the point it justifies the new series. Hopefully, whenever the next Earth One book lands in stores, it won't be another four years after its announcement. Strike while the iron is hot type of thing. Anyway, good beginning, setting the stage for some unique developments to come, and I, for one, am looking quite forward to whatever Johns has in store. Grade: B+