With all of the hoopla over the DC reboot last September, it was thought that this long-gestating project would be thrown by the wayside. Thank goodness it wasn't.
For those who are unaware, DC has long been trying to revitalize their line in the same way that Marvel did with their Ultimate Line. Some, like DC's First Wave series, failed to ignite an serious interest. But they did have a critical and financial hit with Superman: Earth One. The concept was very much like that of the Ultimate comics: take an established superhero and retell their story for the modern world. The difference between Earth One and Ultimate Comics was the formatting Marvel went with a monthly series. DC decided to go with hardcover graphic novels. Superman Earth One, written by J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by Shane Davis was an exciting and fresh take on the Man of Steel. But it has been 2 years since another Earth One book has been published.
That all changed last week with the arrival of Batman: Earth One. And it was well worth the wait.
The most famous retelling of the Batman story is probably Frank Miller's legendary Batman Year One. For DC to take another crack at this story, they needed fresh concept. And they found with with this idea: Batman wasn't always Batman.
The name was always the same, but the near-perfect warrior/detective didn't start out his never-ending war on crime as a master, but as a novice. A young Bruce Wayne tackles the corruption of Gotham only to be hamstrung not only by the criminals he fights but from his own colossal blunders. This idea makes the story incredibly exciting because the safety net is removed. Batman can really get hurt. And in this universe, he could really get killed.
The first thing to say about the book is that it is beautiful. I usually focus on the writing, but the art in this story is superb. I lingered on the images page after page. This is a testament to the fantastic skills of artist Gary Frank. His ability to capture emotion in a character's face in unparalleled in comics today.
And of course any follower of this blog knows the high regard in which I hold the great Geoff Johns. The graphic novel format is a bit of a departure for him. He is usually given to long build ups to epic events over several issues in a series. Here he has one shot to tell a complete story. He doesn't make the rookie mistake of simply dressing up the hero in a modern context. He makes some very real changes. One of the biggest departures is the depiction of Alfred who is an ex-soldier who falls into the role of Bruce's butler. He seems to have much more in common with Liam Neeson's character in Taken than with a valet from Downton Abbey. Other characters may also seem different than you remember, like Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Bullock. But Johns also is smart enough to know to make these cosmetic changes while leaving the core of the character intact. Bruce is driven and vengeful, but he still holds to his hatred of guns. Alfred is stoic and violent, but he still guards over his charge like a father.
The story also opens to some tantalizing plot elements. Thomas and Martha Wayne are killed on the eve of what was sure to be a successful mayoral campaign. This leads Bruce to the obsessive idea that there was a conspiracy to have his father killed. In this brave new world Johns writes, we see this open as a possibility. Also, Martha Wayne is from the Arkham family, who have insanity run in their family. This always casts a shadow over Bruce's mission, casting doubt as to whether or not his actions are that of man who has finally snapped.
Johns and Frank pace the story with such finesse that you can feel the strings tightening until they pull you to nail-biting, action-packed confrontation.
I should also mentioned that this is probably Geoff Johns most violent work in mainstream comics. The story employs a serial killer called “Birthday Boy,” whose scenes are graphic and disturbing These scenes have the appropriate effect of pushing the tension to the inevitable fight between the killer and the Caped Crusader. But they are very disturbing I am not someone who minds violence. But I hate suffering. When I see victims of violence in comics crying or begging for their lives, it sticks with me in an uncomfortable way. I would have much preferred if Johns had not gone to such a dark place.
Having said that, the overall book is of the highest quality. Even with its hefty price tag of $22.99 I found the cost a bargain for such good storytelling. If you like Batman, you will want to pick up Batman: Earth One.
4.5 out of 5 stars