Batman: Earth One

Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Gary Frank
Inks by Jonathan Sibal
144 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

It’s sometimes hard to tell if you’re supposed to laugh at a comic or not, and that’s the uneasy feeling I got when reading Batman: Earth One. DC’s "Earth One" series of graphic novels recasts their characters into the modern day, tweaking and changing the origins as necessary. (Not to be confused, of course, with Marvel since unveiling their "Season One" line that does the exact same thing.) Of course, with DC since re-launching their entire main line of comics, I couldn’t help but wonder if Batman: Earth One was even necessary. Reading this graphic novel, with its uneven tone and wholesale changes to the character, I’m still not sure.

The idea of changing Batman’s origin and rogue’s gallery is hardly unique. Director Christopher Nolan’s re-interpretation of Batman in his films Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises are certainly the most well-known of these shifts, unafraid to change origins and backstory as part of an introduction to a new audience. That’s also the idea with Batman: Earth One, but some of these changes seem a bit too much "because we could" rather than ones that will excite a new reader. Batman: Earth One opens with Batman chasing a bad guy across a rooftop, and in rapid succession we get the wire on Batman’s mini-harpoon gun snarl, Batman leap for a building and miss the edge (and plunge to the alley), and then finally Batman ignoring a shopkeeper’s store getting robbed. It feels like a parody, but one that isn’t being played for humor. Eventually Johns makes the point that Batman is in over his head, but the way that Johns and artist Gary Frank present those opening pages, it doesn’t initially come across that way.

From there, Batman: Earth One continues with numerous recasting of familiar faces into new positions—Jim Gordon as a spineless cop! The Penguin as Mayor of Gotham City! Harvey Bullock as a television show host! Alfred Pennyworth as a retired Marine and drawn like an older Christian Bale!—but almost never do any of these changes feel natural or somehow more interesting. Add in moments like Bruce Wayne being directly responsible (multiple times) for his parents attracting the attention of their mugger/killer, and this rapidly degenerates into one word thought over and over again: "Why?" None of these changes feel intriguing or somehow able to grab a new reader’s attention more than picking up the current runs of any of the Batman comics being published by DC Comics; Batman: Earth One seems determined to merely be different for the sake of being different.

That’s not to say that Batman: Earth One is a complete failure. There are some bits here and there that work well. When Frank draws a map of Gotham City with the streets almost swirling around in a vortex around the center, it’s wonderfully unsettling just as it’s supposed to appear to the reader. The final page of Barbara Gordon is also a knock out, both visually and in terms of writing; it’s a great moment for the character, with her pile of books in front of her and that satisfied smile with her single word comment, "Cool." But still, those bits aside, Batman: Earth One feels deliberately unlikable in places. Bruce is never a character you can warm to, either as a child or adult, and I found myself a little mystified on why I’d want to read more about him. That’s also true with most of the supporting cast, with their scowling and pinched faces and unpleasant attitudes.

In trying to recast the Batman characters for 2012, I feel like Johns and Franks lost sight of what made the character interesting. Add in that there are so many good Batman comics being published right now that each take a different tactic, and it makes the presence of Batman: Earth One all the more mystifying. This might have been a good idea when it was announced a couple of years ago, but this updated version of Batman has managed to feel outdated upon arrival.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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