By: Adam Basciano
“Batman is not a hero. He is just a man. Fallible, vulnerable, and angry. In a Gotham City where friend and foe are indistinguishable, Bruce Wayne’s path toward becoming the Dark Knight is riddled with more obstacles than ever before. Focused on punishing his parents’ true killers, and the corrupt police that allowed them to go free, Bruce Wayne’s thirst for vengeance fuels his mad crusade and no one, not even Alfred, can stop him.” (DC Comics)
Superman: Earth One made some changes to the Superman mythos we’ve come to know, but it is still unmistakably Superman. The same template applies to Batman: Earth One, although this book makes more striking changes. Much like the narrative structure of Batman Begins and television’s Arrow, this story employs flashbacks and is told in a non linear way. So what stays the same and how is it different? Alfred is under the employ of Bruce Wayne’s parents. However, rather than taking over the position from his father as the butler, he is called to Gotham by Thomas Wayne, to serve as security during his mayoral campaign. Yes, Thomas Wayne ran for Mayor of Gotham, but is still a doctor by trade. In fact, that’s how he and Alfred met. Alfred as a member of the Royal Marines and Thomas as the medical doctor. Each saved the others life. The Wayne’s are still gunned down in an alley, while attending a screening of Zorro with Bruce. While usually played out as a result of a random mugging, this time, the Wayne murders seem like an organized hit. This is pretty obvious, in the way they are “lured” out of the theater. Also unique to this incarnation, is the fact that the gunman holds Bruce at gun point. Usually, Bruce is just watching stunned, but largely ignored by the shooter. Bruce Wayne is still inspired to become Batman, and takes the image of the bat because he fears them. Instead of falling into the cave as a kid, he enters his parent’s mausoleum and is swarmed by bats. Truth be told, I like the falling into the cave aspect better. Feels grander and seems more poetic. Finally, we have Jim Gordon and Bullock, who are still partners. The death of his wife, and the hardness of the city, has turned Jim Gordon apathetic. Meanwhile, Harvey Bullock is the new transfer with ideals of grandeur and hope to fix Gotham. This was a complete 180 from the status quo and honestly takes the most time getting used to.
I really like the idea that in Batman: Earth One, Martha Wayne is part of the Arkham family. That alone, combined with, the death of his parents, and the horror that befell his grandparents on his mother’s side, adds a layer of crazy to Bruce Wayne, that makes putting on a Bat costume and fighting crime all the more justifiable. This book makes no mention of Bruce traveling the world to learn any skills. That’s because Alfred takes a more hands on approach to the Batman persona. That’s a great change, I mean sure, we always hear about how capable Alfred is in combat, but here we get to see it. Sure you can see some martial arts in Bruce’s fighting style, but it’s more brutal and a brawler style of fighting to it. Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin was also extremely well done. Having him the mayor of Gotham City, was a nice call back to both Batman 66 and Batman Returns. He’s very sly in a public setting, and ruthless in private. He really does control Gotham City; He has no loyalty to anyone but himself, and doesn’t hesitate to have the people working for him killed, if they don’t get the job done. Reading this book after watching even a season of GOTHAM, you can see that the show heavily pulled from this book where Alfred and Penguin are concerned. Both Alfred and the Penguin have shocking scenes in the finale of this book. Alfred knows how to make an entrance. The confrontation between Batman and The Penguin at the end was very reminiscent of the finale of 2003’s Daredevil film, starring current Batman, Ben Affleck. Fans of that film will know what I mean when they read and see the scene.
I had a few problems with Batman: Earth One. First, the pacing. Someone should have reminded Geoff Johns he was writing the adventures of Bruce Wayne, and not Barry Allen. Everything happens so fast in this book, As a reader, you never get to digest, or sit with what you’re reading and seeing on the page. I didn’t much care for Penguin’s henchman, Ray Salanger aka the Birthday Boy. A serial killer fascinated with young girls who resemble his first victim. He kidnaps them and has a “birthday party” for them, before killing them. While that is horrifying to think of, it screams of a generic plotline from Criminal Minds. Having the Penguin admit to putting a hit out on the Wayne’s, only to then say he was beat to the punch by a random mugger is a cop out. If you’re going to make the change, you’ve got to be all in or don’t do it at all.
Gary Frank is a really strong artist; He was the artist on Geoff John’s Superman: Secret Origins. My main complaint with the art there, being that Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane were slavishly depicted to look exactly like Christopher Reeve & Margot Kidder respectively. Thankfully, that’s not a problem with Batman: Earth One. Batman and the rest of the characters aren’t modeled after any actor to previously have played these characters. Instead, they fit the general archetype of what these characters have looked like before, but with Gary Frank’s twist. The only characters who look drastically different from their comic book counterparts are Harvey Bullock and Alfred. Bullock looks more like Harvey Dent to be honest, while Alfred looks like a slightly younger, buffed up Sean Connery, with a little more hair. Alfred is an absolute badass in the book, and his look definitely reflects that. Gary Frank definitely appears to pay homage to past Batman incarnations in his work. The opening segment gives off a Batman (1989) vibe. As if he combined parts of two scenes from that film to create the sequence in this book. There’s also a scene that involves Alfred rescuing Batman and driving him home in the backseat of his car, As if it was lifted right off the celluloid of Batman Begins, and transferred to the page. As I said, you can see the influences the GOTHAM television series took from this book. That is apparent in the art as well. The panel fixated on Young Bruce as the police arrive on the scene in Crime Alley, looks exactly as it appeared in the pilot episode. As far as the Batman costume goes, I like that it is more Grass roots” looking, It looks like a cloth material with black Bat logo to start. Over the course of the story, the costume is improved and takes on a sleek leather type of look to it, this time with a Bat symbol inside the yellow oval. Once again, when looking at the updated costume, it recalled the material of Ben Affleck’s Daredevil costume. By the way, I am happy that the yellow oval has returned, as I’ve always been a fan of that aesthetic. Two of my favourite images are the bats swarming Bruce Wayne as he enters the Wayne Mausoleum, and the cover. Both images are iconic to the character, and both exude, the pain, darkness, fear and sadness Bruce Wayne experiences. These two pieces of art tell as much of a story, as the rest of the book does.
Batman: Earth One was a good Batman story. The problem is, it being written by Geoff Johns, I expected it to be great. Part of the problem is the Batman origin story has been handled so perfectly in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Batman Begins, and Batman: Year One, that almost nothing this book could have done, would have exceeded those. Still, the story offers some exciting new twists on the mythos the sequel can build on. That coupled with spectacular artwork makes this a worthwhile read for Batman fans new and old.