A Different Side to the Dark Knight…
The origin story of Batman has been told countless times. In “Batman: Earth One,” superstar writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank take a stab at telling an entirely new and unique take on the Dark Knight’s beginning…and the result is stellar.
The Batman that we all know and love from the movies and comics is already a fully-fledged badass, taking on the worst that Gotham has to offer and always coming out on top…but was he always this way? Surely Batman must have had a few setbacks on his climb from hero to super-hero…right? This is the story that Johns and Frank set out to tell, reminiscent of Frank Miller’s wildly popular and best-selling, “Batman: Year One.”
Now, before any Bruce Wayne / Batman purists get all up-in-arms over the tinkering with the widely-known and cemented origin story of the Caped Crusader, know that Earth One is intended as an alternate story-line to the Batman mythos…similar to the best-selling, “Superman: Earth One,” told by writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Shane Davis.
In fact, Johns has stated that he hopes to continue with this alternate story in future – self-contained – graphic novels, outside of the main story arcs presented by the monthly issues published by DC Comics.
What is immediately striking about Johns’ and Frank’s version of the Bat’s origin story, is the sheer number of liberties taken with the established mythos and characters in that universe. Yes, Bruce Wayne’s parents are still killed and his journey begins with a desire to hunt down the murderer(s)…however, everyone from Alfred the Butler (a totally different take), Commissioner Gordon (before he’s made a name for himself), Barbara Gordon, Oswald Cobblepot (aka: “The Penguin”) and Lucius Fox are re-invented (to a degree) in terms of the genesis of their relationship with Batman.
However, I can’t tell you how satisfying it was when Johns’ and Frank brought everything together in the end…of which, I’ll allow you discover on your own. All at the same time, these relationships remain very familiar – but simply told in a different way – in a way that establishes and even solidifies how Batman came to attract such allies and their loyalty.
Another thing that struck me and immediately set the tone for what I might expect from the remainder of the book, was found in the first few pages. Batman is chasing a baddie down, only to have his famous grapnel hook fail on him by back-firing and then later missing a ledge while attempting to jump from one building to another – a feat he normally does with absolute ease – only to fall helplessly to the ground on his back into a pile of garbage (letting out a very non-Batman, “Ow”) and the “perp” gets away.
Shortly following his failure (and likely because of it), Batman comes across a robbery in progress…and instead of dishing out the usual ass-whopping we are accustomed to, he walks away! It is this uncertainty – so antithetical to the confident Batman we know – that it is almost shocking. Even seeing Batman drive a normal (non-Batmobile) car while referring to a map of Gotham, threw me for a loop!
The reader is continually asked to keep in mind that this story is of the earliest days of the Dark Knight, when he is growing into his own at the very beginning of his road to becoming a legend.
Throughout the book, Bruce Wayne is an angry, impetuous, arrogant and almost careless protagonist. It is clear that he is primarily motivated and focused on solving the murder of his parents and has had given little thought or desire to be the crime fighter and last hope of Gotham that he will eventually become.
In fact, it is during the course of taking down a serial killer who preys on young girls (a pretty dark and gruesome part of the story), that Bruce finally seems to understand the true evil that lurks in Gotham City and that he might be the only one to put a stop to it…and, more importantly, an evil that is bigger than that which took the lives of his parents. Gotham is overrun with corruption and fear, and it takes a while for Bruce to realize that he could be the solution. However, until that point, he is singularly-focused on his own demons and the feelings of guilt surrounding his parents murder.
Gary Frank’s art is an outstanding compliment to Geoff Johns’ words. His ability to emote through expressions, especially in the eyes, is amazing. It was because of Frank’s art that I felt that I was so easily able to give life to Johns’ words and the emotion intended by the writer…most notably in the exchanges between Bruce and Alfred…a relationship that Mr. Johns completely reinvented.
Also, on a personal note, I love Frank’s version of Bruce Wayne. For many readers, we all have an ideal of what we think Bruce Wayne should look like and for me, Gary Frank came exceptionally close to how I visualize the Billionaire-Playboy-Gone-World’s-Greatest-Detective…with Kevin Conroy’s voice, of course. 🙂
Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel?
Batman: Earth One is a completely different re-telling of the Batman origin story. Truth be known, some people are going to love it, while others will hate it…I firmly place myself in the former category and am looking forward to the next chapter of this alternate storyline.
The book is also a complete story from beginning to end (144 pages) and is therefore told entirely differently than how the monthly comics are intended to be read. Johns’ has stated that he really likes the graphic novel format for this story and hopes to put out more like it…and judging from the interest surrounding this first book, I’m confident that he will have an opportunity to do so…and quickly I hope, because I can’t wait for the next chapter of this story.
By: Dana Sciandra