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Batman: Earth One

DC Comics

Writer: Geoff Johns; Artist: Gary Frank

Jul 12, 2012 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Batman: Earth One is a graphic novel seeking to recast the iconic character’s origin for a new generation of readers, courtesy of star writer Geoff Johns and star artist Gary Frank. But with so many iconic tellings of an iconic origin story, we have to wonder exactly who this book is for.

Sorry, but Batman’s story does not and cannot exist in some vacuum; whether it’s Michael Keaton or Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One or, especially, the multi-billion-dollar franchise starring Christian Bale that’s fresh in everyone’s mind since it’s ongoing. The origin of Batman. It’s iconic, it’s tired, it’s the easiest thing to screw up and the toughest thing to make better. So kudos for the attempt.

If this was more of a one-off “Elseworlds” issue, such as would appear in a prestige format for $5 or as an annual double-sized summer issue, maybe it would be okay. But this is no mere “what if,” but an ambitious retelling that has keen art and some cool tweaks but ultimately fails to be anything better than average.

Alfred is recast as a former military operative who can be more active in the violent side of Batman’s prep, strategy, and training. It’s a decent idea, but doesn’t have the heart of the original version. Is it more interesting to read about a guy being supported in crime fighting by a highly trained tactician and fighter or to read about a less-militarily inclined domestic servant helping the caped crusader despite his misgivings and his gentler nature because of his love for the boy?

Central to the Batman mythos is his parents’ murder driving Bruce Wayne on a never-ending quest for closure, but equally central are the villains. The best Batman rogues define him in juxtaposition, usually showing the darker side of obsession with compelling and twisted backstories. No such villains here: the recasting of Oswald Cobblepot (known in regular continuity as the Penguin) as Gotham’s corrupt mayor was half an idea, yet any freshness is hampered by too much dedication to the canonical incarnation. Such as when he tries to stab Batman with an umbrella. Seems a stretch. The other big bad, some over-muscled, masked goofball obsessed with birthdays, was problematic on a couple counts, primarily 1) no compelling backstory to give weight to his admittedly creepy MO and visual, and 2) his inclusion as a sort of contract killer doing Cobblepot’s dirty work is overly cartoonish in a world that’s trying to stay away from the overly cartoonish. In this world where Batman’s inability to get his grappling gun to work properly is a big story point, it’s harder to accept a pragmatic, corrupt mayor contracting assassination work to a circus freak when he could just pay a guy with a gun.

The story arc of this new version of Detective Harvey Bullock might have more legs if his story had more breathing room. His story’s final beat of hitting the bottle hard happens all-too-quickly and with the subtlety of a sledge hammer.

A new approach is a double edged sword. The best parts of this are the incorporation of the Arkham lineage into Bruce Wayne (on his mother’s side of the family), which would be a cool tweak if they’d done it in the context of the New 52, perhaps. Also enjoyable: James Gordon (future commissioner, presumably) as a mostly ineffective cop who steps up a bit over the course of the story. And the depiction of his daughter Barbara, the future Batgirl, is a bright spot

Gary Frank’s deft, detailed pencils give that more-real and weightier edge to something trying to be, well, more real and edgy, so in that sense it fits like a cowl. His depiction of gadgets and costumes are great; his characters can really act with their faces; his people look distinct from each other. The choice to show Batman’s eyes, rather than white eye slits, is an interesting and effective choice in making Batman more man than myth. All of this window dressing would have made a better narrative that much shinier. But it’s a custom paint job on a ‘98 Corolla.

Which is to say: this is okay, but nothing to get excited about. Maybe someone who’s never read or watched Batman in any context would like it best. (

Author rating: 5/10

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Average reader rating: 2,125/10


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