Batman: Earth One ReviewAugust 1, 2012
One of my favorite things about comic books is how writers can take any story that’s already been classified as canon and re-imagine and rewrite it. This is especially true with superheroes’ secret origins. How many different versions are there of how Superman’s baby-capsule crash landed in a farmland in Smallville? How many different ways do Bruce’s parents have to die? As much as the most current adventures of our heroes hitting the shelves every Wednesday, we love hearing those origin stories over and over again, be it in print, TV shows, or comic books. Take a quick gander on any given shelf of graphic novels and you’ll see just how many of those collections are original tellings and retellings of the stories.
The Batman seems to be getting this treatment far more than most, and it makes sense. He is an urban legend, a myth, the bogeyman. It isn’t surprising, and is actually expected, to have different versions of his stories circulating. Batman: Earth One stacks up pretty well among the various tales about how the Dark Knight came to be.
Is it better than Batman: Year One? I wouldn’t say so, but I might have to read that one again to be sure. Is it a good book? Yes, it is.
Batman: Earth One was released July 10, 2012 by DC Comics. It’s written by Geoff Johns, who is famous for his work on Green Lantern. The artwork is supplied by Gary Frank, who has created notable works in Action Comics, The Avengers, and Superman: Secret Origin (See? another one). It follows close on the heels of Superman: Earth One, which is a reinvention of Superman’s origin story. Batman: Earth One is in the same tradition as its Superman counterpart and the speculative part in me looks at the titles of these graphic novels and likes to think that DC has created yet another universe with these all-too-familiar characters. The hardcover is printed with its own art and with no dust jacket. This is good since I don’t like dust jackets. The most striking feature on the cover is the Batman’s visible eyes. I’m not used to seeing his eyes. This shows him as vulnerable, accessible, and maybe even imperfect.
Villains and heroes alike are retooled in this book. Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Alfred, and the Penguin all come alive with passions and motivations that make the story plausible and believable. With these characters humanized, it makes the act of one angry man to put on a bat suit and jump across rooftops seem a little less crazy and a lot more believable. The writing flows in a way that’s easy and fun to follow. It has reasonable cause and effect scenarios and paints Bruce Wayne in a way where he isn’t the master planner that he eventually turns into during his later years. Instead, he’s more of a brash young man with misguided motivations and a lot of anger and guilt.
The art and colors compliment the story well. It bathes the reader in a sense of familiarity as Gotham City and its inhabitants come to life with detailed backgrounds and expressions. The book doesn’t take much of a trip away from the regular coloration of a Batman novel, either: a lot of dark blues and greys. It’s comforting, but it makes you long for the more colorful villains in the Rogues Gallery. The Penguin is a natural and vicious enemy for Batman, but his color scheme is so drab. However, that’s a minor complaint as his character turns into a vivid portrait of greed and corruption. Not only is this told by the words of Johns, but with the pencil strokes of Frank as well. I could feel his contempt creep under my skin while reading the dialogue and taking in the expression drawn in such detail on his face.
This is one of those books that I can read more than once. This is a good thing as I constantly run out of comic books to read and my times prowling the graphic novel shelves at the store are growing longer and longer. Re-readable books are a good fallback and this one certainly belongs on my shelf of such graphic novels.
As many times as these stories can be told and in as many different ways, they are essentially all the same. Martha’s pearl necklace always breaks and the pieces tragically hit the ground. Thomas Wayne always tries to jump in front of the bullet. Young Bruce is always frightened by a bat, or some bats, in the beginning. Batman always dons the cowl in some dramatic fashion. These are the familiarities we love. While we may not need to have these stories told again and again, we certainly do crave it. I will almost always snatch up books like this and read the story again, and it wouldn’t hurt anyone else to do the same.