There are three characters in the comic medium who don’t need their origin retold. Those are Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman. Almost everyone knows their stories, since they are ingrained so deeply into pop culture. Their origins, while simplistic, are near perfect. So whenever a new origin story is told, it needs to leave an impact, or it will be lost amongst the lesser origin retellings. Superman: Earth One had this problem, and didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. In the end, Superman: Earth One delivered just an average Superman story. But Batman: Earth One uses the formate better than expected, and shows the potential for the original graphic novel format.
What Geoff John does here is give us a slightly new origin story. Some of the origins of characters like Thomas Wayne and Alfred have changed drastically, but the spirit of their origin is still there. Thomas and Martha are killed outside of a theater (movie this time), and Bruce uses that as his motivation to become Batman. They are clearly new interpretations, but they feel like the main universe incarnations. Everything seems familiar, which adds to the surprise when Johns spins classic things on their heads. Seeing James Gordon be the typical sad Gotham cop is disheartening, and isn’t the only thing that changes for the better. Gordon has always been the cop with infinite amounts of drive to help Gotham, but his reasoning here makes his drive seem more earned. The main universe Gordon is great and all, but this tweak it for the better. Alfred is a little gruffer here, but it does help when he is assisting Bruce. Batman does some dark things, so having someone who has seen dark things as well makes the journey that much easier. I’m not well versed in the main universe’s Alfred, so I won’t comment on the differences.
Johns writes a great Bruce Wayne/Batman. This story is about the Bat’s early days, so Johns adds his great talent for humor into these situations. The Batman persona is more of a mask for Bruce instead of the other way around. Bruce also hasn’t learned how to balance the social life and being Batman, which we don’t see much anymore. Johns doesn’t add much to the origin of Batman, but he didn’t need to really. The origin works so well, that changing the surroundings of it can be enough. This is something that a lot of writers don’t think of. ”New chance to tell the origin story? Let’s make it really different,” says the bad writer.
Gotham itself feels like a new city. It’s still crime ridden and horrible overall, but it has the feeling of “we don’t know this city.” Johns doesn’t use the city as much as other writers, but he doesn’t need to here. This Earth One needs it’s main characters established first, then the setting second. When the sequel eventually comes out, I’d like to see Johns work more on establishing Gotham as character. That could be considered the only complaint in otherwise well written graphic novel.
Gary Frank’s art is nothing short of stunning. The cover is dated 2010, and it shows that the time was well spent. Every scene is impeccably detailed. Each character has a distinct look, to the point that even extras in crowded scenes each have a distinct look. Characters have such life to them, making the reader truly feel for them. Veteran readers have read about the night Bruce’s parents died hundreds of times, but seeing Bruce’s face destroys any great mood you were in. Alfred posses a Marine’s physique, which adds to the believability of him helping Bruce. Much like John’s script, the city feels young. As if the worst is yet to come. The costume, which thankfully doesn’t change, improves over time. It’s a small detail, but seeing the early Batsuit appear to be cheap is cool. As Bruce learns the way of the Bat, his suit improves. The few action scenes, as you can see above, are some of the best you’ll see on the stands. The flow like a story board for a movie, and never feel stiff. When you get to the splash page above, it’s hard to not want to stop and stare for a few minutes. The Shazam backups have been a great part of Justice League, but I wouldn’t mind if Frank stopped those and chose to focus on the sequel to this instead.
After Superman: Earth One, I wasn’t hopeful for this type of graphic novel. The Marvel Season One books haven’t done much to warrant these, even if they sell well. But Batman: Earth One shows that they can work out well, if done correctly. Even at $22.99, it’s filled with greatness.
Batman: Earth One gets 4.5/5.