Batman: Earth One review

Batman Earth One

Gary and I are tackling BATMAN from the beginning, before he knows what he’s doing and with a very different ultimate goal in mind. He’s never left Gotham. And our Gotham and the people in it are very gray. Our heroes unlikely. Our villains hidden. Our story is only beginning with volume one.

It’s essentially the first piece of the jigsaw. He’s not the Batman people know, but he might be one day. He’s certainly not yet a superhero. The fun is to watch him piece the persona together drawing on his experiences and the influences of those around him and, at this stage, the idea of becoming a ‘superhero’ hasn’t even entered his head. –The Source Interview With Geoff Johns & Gary Frank

I thought it was vital to open this review up with those quotes. It’s important to make it very clear that this is not a New 52 origin tale of Batman. This is an entirely different timeline, like an elseworlds. Think of it as DC’s version of an Ultimate Universe. This isn’t really a stand alone graphic novel as much as it is the first issue of a much more expensive and sporadically published series. It’s not the Gotham you know. It’s not the Gotham I know. And I don’t think I like it.

Content

I have either mixed or outright negative feelings about most of what goes on in “Batman: Earth One”. I love Geoff Johns’ “Aquaman” and “Justice League” has its moments, but Batman never feels right in that series. For example from one issue of Justice League: after just meeting the Green Lantern earlier in the day, Batman comes right out and tells him his secret identity. But as I said this book, “Batman: Earth One” isn’t part of that New 52 continuity and you should read it with an open mind and it should be judged on its own merits as a totally unique way of viewing the Batman mythology. BUT many of the changes feel like they were made simply for the sake of being different rather than actually striving to be an improvement on the mythology. I love what Marvel did with their Ultimate Universe. They cut the fat that accumulates over decades of retcons and reboots to create a streamlined version of the mythology and the world that they created in the process has real consequences. Characters die in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe and they stay dead. Things change. Actions have meaning. Earth One is the same way when it comes to consequence and I like that much about it but whereas the Ultimate Universe was more focused on making the same old story less convoluted so it could be accessible to new readers, DC is making the same old story accessible to new readers while re-imagining it entirely. The alterations are far more drastic and in that way it could be more attractive to readers but for me these changes stripped something from the core of the Dark Knight legend that attracted me to it in the first place. The world that they’ve created for Batman is one that…well, I feel that had I seen this as a child I would never have grown attached to it. It would never have sparked my imagination! 5 year old me would not have looked at Batman as a role model or hero. What I’m saying is that every Batman fan can argue about how brooding, strong, smart, gadget-centric, brutal, or stealthy Batman should be but there is one thing that we can all agree on: We all think that the idea of Batman is cool. I don’t think that Earth One Batman is cool. He is not a man who worked hard to achieve something incredible. He is not a man who gave up a life of luxury for vengeance that ultimately lead to a greater life of selfless acts of courage.

And he’s not intended to be that kind of character. Take this line from the DC blog:

…re-imagining the World’s Greatest Detective as a flawed and fallible young man fumbling his way through feelings of isolation by pinning them on a quest for vengeance. This Batman is no protector of innocents; he’s an angry vigilante with little interest in heroics, and with a lot to learn about the city’s mean streets.

It’s not that I don’t like it because it isn’t the Batman I know. I don’t like it because it isn’t a character with an interesting journey or a personality I care about. He’s just a jackass in a costume.

The story here is that a spoiled brat gets his parents killed (Yep, it’s pretty hard to argue it isn’t Bruce’s fault in Earth One) but his head is so far up his own ass that he decides it wasn’t his fault and there was a bigger conspiracy at work here. He then grows up wanting nothing but revenge. He has a theory as to who was responsible, a guardian willing to train him in combat, and an almost limitless amount of money to carry out his plan…only there isn’t a plan. He dresses up in a bat costume and starts running after everybody whose name was associated with his parent’s murder case. There’s no stealth, there’s no strategy, there’s no intimidation, there’s no thought put into his vengeance at all, only anger and a costume. It’s just a guy in a batsuit clumsily chasing after a couple of ex-cops and public officials and I almost wanted him to get his ass kicked, honestly. He isn’t out to fight crime, end corruption, and inspire a city. All of that happens by accident in “Batman Earth One”–that’s the thing that sets this origin story apart from all the rest– and it’s not very exciting to me. The plan for Earth One it seems is that as the series goes on and we get the inevitable Volume 2, Batman will of course gradually evolve into the Batman we all know. But for me that’s not possible. By never having Bruce leave Gotham and receive all of his training from Alfred it strips something vital from Batman–from any hero’s journey: the struggle. This Batman never sacrificed anything. He never left the only father he ever knew (Batman), gave up his fame and fortune to travel to the darkest places in the world for a decade. He’s just a rich guy with a terrible plan to get back at 2 or 3 people. The protagonist of “Batman: Earth One”, Bruce Wayne is a one-dimensional protagonist who I never felt any attachment to and that’s a major problem.

Volume 1 itself is quite rushed. This was a problem shared by another recent original Batman graphic novel called “Batman: Death by Design”. There are too many ideas in this book for how limited the page count is and the end result is something that is poorly paced and I never found myself empathizing with the characters as a result. What empathy I had for them was derived from the fact that I know who they are in other stories–not this one specifically. If I just look at this one story as if I’ve never known anything about Batman or Gotham or all the supporting characters–which is what I feel I should do as a reviewer– then this is NOT a very interesting story on its own merits. Its as if they were so afraid of boring people or being called a retread of “Batman: Year One” that they skipped past the Waynes and who they were, Gotham and what it is, Alfred and where he comes from, and the death of the Waynes as quickly as possible. The story doesn’t flow, it jumps around and it’s obviously edited for time. There are many instances in which the dialogue suffers because characters spout off how different they are from the classic continuity you know rather than conversing like real people just so the reader understands Earth One is more edgy and exciting than whatever they’ve seen before…which it isn’t.

As much as I hated the rushed pacing of this book, there is one section that was handled beautifully and that’s the silent open. It’s actually one of the better segments of any bat-book this year. The whole story begins with Batman stalking someone through the alleys and rooftops of Gotham like a monster in a horror movie. One panel shows the villain scurrying away with a looming shadow behind him, the next panel is Batman’s persistent footsteps, and so on and so forth. No dialogue, no monologue, no prose–sound effects and imagery alone have an incredible impact and prove what great storytelling comics are capable of. Batman felt like a force of nature in those first few panels and I was getting excited but it was all downhill from there for me.

Continuing to talk about the art: well, it’s Gary Frank. If you’re reading the Shazaam backup stories in Geoff John’s “Justice League” right now then you don’t need me to tell you how great of an artist Gary Frank is when it comes to facial expressions, backgrounds, and action sequences. Although I have numerous problems with the story I feel that it looks absolutely beautiful and many will want to buy it for the artwork alone. My only complaint with the art is that some of the redesigns were a bit distracting. Alfred is now apparently played by Sam Elliot. And in case you didn’t notice, there is a huge emphasis on how Alfred is much more of a badass in Earth One. Although, I don’t know how you could miss it. I think DC made Alfred’s badassery clear with the none-too subtle cover which shows Alfred bringing a shotgun to a funeral. I guess this Alfred will mourn for the Waynes but if they rise from the grave, you better believe they get the boom-stick. The other distracting redesign for me is The Penguin, or should I say Joe Pesci.

Those aren’t all of the redesigns in the book, nor are they the most drastic ones. One totally re-imagined classic character is definitely going to have everyone talking and that character is probably the most fascinating character with the best arc in the whole damn book! Another noticeable change is that the lenses are gone from Batman’s cowl, which works in some scenes but looks awkward in others.

Supplemental Material

There isn’t any. When it comes to $20+ hardback graphic novels, I like to see a foreword, an introduction from the author, maybe even a few early sketches by the artist, or a page of the original script but this book offers diddly-squat. The only bonus material in “Batman: Earth One” is a final, full-page advertisement for you to buy more graphic novels.

Value

The book just didn’t do it for me and I won’t be recommending it to a lot of people, at least not at $22.99. It’s a 144 pager, sure but the recent “Batman vs. The Black Glove” was like 300+ pages and only $8 dollars more (cheaper if you go on Amazon) and I gave that book a 10/10. I’d say wait and pick this up when it goes on sale, or better yet wait for it to come out in paperback form. Maybe they’ll even add some supplemental material so you get a bit more bang for your buck. There simply aren’t enough memorable moments to make this a must-buy but at the same time, the drastic changes will spawn a lot of discussion and interesting arguments about what works and what doesn’t. If you’re highly involved in an online community or you have long conversations at the local comic shop with the employees and your fellow Bat-fans then you’re definitely going to want to pick this up. But for me, when I spend $20 bucks on a graphic novel, I want it to be something I’ll want to read again and again. This isn’t it.

Overall

If you’re worried about this being a complete retread of “Batman: Year One” don’t be. The problem isn’t a lack of new ideas it’s that it tries to cram too many ideas into too few pages and many of these ideas aren’t that good. If a writer’s idea of Batman’s first adventure is him fighting a giant named “The Birthday Boy” who serves candlelit birthday cake and wears a party hat before murdering little girls they’re trying too hard to be creepy and it looks dumb to me. If a writer’s idea of Bruce Wayne is a spoiled little brat like Joffrey Lannister then I’m not going to like him. And if Batman isn’t out to strike fear in the heart of a corrupt city through creating an urban legend or at least trying to inspire its citizens as a symbol of justice then there is no point in him dressing up as a bat!

I think “Batman: Earth One” is a beautifully presented book and the opening pages were impressive, but it ultimately fell flat for me.The re-imagined characters lack the qualities that made them interesting to me in the first place and their new characteristics make them characters that I care little about. It does end on an intriguing note–as I said, this is a Batman who inspires by accident and it isn’t until the conclusion that he actually has what any good hero needs: ambition– and I believe that the next chapter (whenever that may come) will be a major improvement. I recommend reading this when it comes out in paperback form. It doesn’t hold up well as a stand-alone read since it’s so hurried in its pacing and lacks a satisfying conclusion–it’s more of a prologue to a much bigger story to come. Maybe by the time a paperback comes out we’ll have part 2, but then again it took 3 years to get this book…so who knows?

I’m giving it a fairly low score of a 4.5/10 not because this isn’t “my Batman” and I hate change or anything. There’s enough proof over the past 70 years of Batman comics that I shouldn’t have to say how malleable Batman is and how well he can work under any circumstances. It’s that “Batman: Earth One” feels like it was more focused on changing the appearance and last name of characters rather than making them interesting. It was more focused on altering the past we know in shocking ways rather than telling a compelling story.

SCORE: 4.5/10

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