Batman: Earth One
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Gary Frank
Inks by Jonathan Sibal
Colors by Brad Anderson
Letters by Rob Leigh
$22.99 / Color / 144 Pages
Published by DC Comics
Who is Batman? It depends on who you ask. But between all the iterations from comics, television, movies and back in comics, there remains some timeless key moments that build itself up to become the modern identity of Batman. His origin has been told dozens of times (and will no doubt be told dozens more), but this week’s release of the original graphic novel Batman: Earth One hones in on the spirit of Batman like few others. While it doesn’t stick completely with the “original” stories of Bruce Wayne’s metamorphosis into a black-clad street adventurer, that’s a good thing.
Longtime collaborators Geoff Johns and Gary Frank have used the benefit of context and time to re-examine Bruce Wayne’s childhood years, and his life after the fateful day his parents were gunned down by a random hoodlum, to refashion the world around it — and bring in the tapestry of Gotham City and its characters built over time by every creator who has written for DC. Johns has found some pretty seamless ways to encircle the Penguin into the arc, as well as finding a new life for Alfred Pennyworth as a military veteran roped into a new career as a butler for his fellow veteran and fallen friend Thomas Wayne.
Batman: Earth One bounces back between Bruce’s childhood years before and after his parents murder, contrasting that with first outings as the caped crimefighter the public would come to call Batman. Taking inspiration from everyone from Bill Finger and Bob Kane to Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, the scenes dealing with young Bruce and his parents, and later Alfred, come alive with the wistful optimism that’s stamped out after those seminal gunshots rang out in a theater alley. The mustached James Gordon also makes an appearance, carving out a unique character arc of his own that goes from beaten down milquetoast to righteous man’s man that’ll leave readers begging for more.
Gary Frank really shines in his artwork here, as both storyteller and character actor. This book could be read wordless and still carry the story thanks to the very telling emotions on display through facial expressions and body languages, especially that of Harvey Bullock. If I had to pick one scene to that best exemplifies Frank’s tenacity on this, it would be the knock-down, drag-out fight between the adult Bruce Wayne and Alfred; from body movements to panel composition, and knowing when to draw everything and when to pull back, Frank really delivers and makes me think he’s been in a few fights of his own.
As he tries to fill out his role as Batman, it’s interesting to note that in Batman: Earth One, Bruce Wayne fails more times than he succeeds, but succeeds where it counts. This isn’t the Bruce Wayne that is master of his domain, but a young Batman learning to be the man we all know he will become. Entrenched comic fans shouldn’t avoid this on the basis that “you’ve already read Batman’s origin,” as it provides some inventive new twists and some remarkable easter eggs, not unlike seeing a motion picture adaptation of your favorite hero.
If you’re the type to argue against this book from diverging from the original source material, I’d argue that those comics are still there for you. And this new one, Batman: Earth One, is here for everyone else.
Story: 4.5 / Art: 4 / Overall: 4.5
(Out of 5)
Batman: Earth One is on sale now at comic stores, and will be available in bookstores July 10, 2012.