Batman: Earth One Delivers Fallible, Approachable Dark Knight
Publication Date: July 4, 2012
Publisher: DC Comics
· Geoff Johns
· Gary Frank
Book Review: Batman: Earth One
by R.J. Carter
Published: July 4, 2012
In my forty-plus years of reading comics, I consider myself pretty jaded to alternate origins of Batman. There've been plenty. When DC invented the Elseworlds concept, it seemed the only thing they could think to do was either land Kal-El's rocket somewhere else, or mix it up with the Batman origin. Not that I didn't like any of those -- I greatly did, particularly Holy Terror, In Darkest Knight, Speeding Bullets and Gotham by Gaslight. But really, how often can you pull it off with anything resembling creativity without throwing in some wild exotic element?
Geoff Johns and Gary Frank do not insert any hairpin curves. No "What if the Joker was his brother?" or "What if Bruce was adopted by John and Martha Kent?" scenarios. In fact, in Batman: Earth One, they alter the origin of Batman hardly at all: Thomas and Martha Wayne are shot outside a theater in front of young Bruce's eyes. Bruce vows revenge, dons a bat-man costume, and begins a crusade.
The changes that Johns and Frank create are all at the human level, and not just within Bruce himself. Alfred Pennyworth is Bruce's "butler" but he was also a Royal Marine. Jim Gordon is a Gotham cop, but one who's been beaten down and knows how to keep a low profile. Harvey Bullock is a handsome Hollywood detective who's transferred to Gotham in search of headlines.
Batman is more man, less legend. His gimmicks backfire on him. He can't make the same leaps a fleeing suspect can. He falls. He gets hurt.
He's never been more real. And making him real makes him more of an inspiration to those around him as the story progresses.
The little shifts in things make this a captivating story. The first hook comes when the reader realizes Martha Wayne's maiden name is Arkham. When we first meet Martha, it's as the campaign manager for Thomas Wayne's mayoral run. She's wearing a bright red tunic blouse, with a bright yellow campaign button on the left breast. It's quite a Robin motif, and I'm sure it's one of the many purposeful Easter eggs left in the book. Thomas himself has had death threats, ostensibly from his opponent, and has brought in his old war buddy, Alfred Pennyworth, to serve as security. But before any of that can fall into place, Thomas is taking his family out to the theater, same as every week, to keep a sense of normalcy for young Bruce, prompting an outraged Alfred to remark: "A normal life? In this mansion? With butlers, maids and cooks? This isn't normal, Tommy. You don't know what normal is. Being a Wayne, you never have. Life's ugly outside this palace of yours."
Bruce himself is more than a little on the spoiled side, and it's this attitude that plays a large part in his parents' death, layering the adult Bruce's vengeance plans with a healthy amount of guilt. And while Batman attempts to pin the crime on Gotham's mayor -- Oswald Cobblepot, who himself has a psychotic serial killer in his employ -- Harvey Bullock attempts to solve the decades old Wayne murder, putting Gordon and his daughter Barbara, back in the crosshairs of political danger. When these lines of investigation intersect, when evil makes a crushing impact on optimism, and good leaves a catalytic impression on apathy and cynicism... that is when the legend of the Batman truly begins.
One of artist Gary Frank's greatest assets is his ability to deliver facial expressions, particularly through the eyes. That's particularly important in Batman: Earth One, because this design concept does not include the eyeblocks of the cowl; you can see Batman's eyes instead of white slits. This allows for a range of emotions to be put on display, and further makes this Batman look more like "a guy in a costume" rather than a mysterious dark knight.
If you're a fan of Batman but have grown weary of the hype and the unrealistic settings he is forced into by being an infallible human in a world of super beings, you will find yourself quite satisfied with Batman: Earth One. It's character-driven, shows growth, and leaves you wanting more from this new world.