First published in 2012 ‘Batman: Earth One‘ is written by Geoff Johns with pencils by Gary Frank, inks by Jonathan Sibal, colour by Brad Anderson and letters by Rob Leigh. You can pick up your copy @ Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com now.
I have to admit I’d seen this book around but hadn’t read it until Geoff Johns previewed some of the artwork and discussed the upcoming volume 2 which as as yet does not have a publication date. All the talk of Bruce being part Wayne and part Arkham really piqued my interested and so I ran out on to the convention floor to pick-up a copy. Sadly I couldn’t find one at SDCC or in San Diego at all so as soon as I landed back in the UK it was off to Forbidden Planet to get my hands on it and I am so glad I did.
There hasn’t been a fully fresh, original take on the Bruce Wayne/Batman character in the comics in years and that instantly makes this book a breath of fresh air. In a strange way this is probably the most realistic take on Batman outside of the Christopher Nolan films. From a story standpoint Johns is looking at the character as a real man, the mission statement of the book is very much ‘what if a real man decided to become Batman?’ and the answer is a guy in a costume who doesn’t really know what he’s doing.
The book runs 144 pages long and manages to squeeze in the full origin story of Earth One’s Batman. Some of the key elements of the origin remain: Thomas and Martha taking Bruce to the movies; being shot in the alleyway, the pearls and Bruce being raised by Alfred, but they’re all slightly altered to fix this new universe.
The best of all the changes is the revelation that Martha’s maiden name is Arkham. The character of Bruce Wayne has always been tied to the city of Gotham by the Wayne family name; their history and Wayne Enterprises but to double this up by having him tied to Arkham Asylum and the dark Arkham legacy blows the doors wide open on story development. Mayor Cobblepot puts it best when he says ‘The Arkhams built this city. The Waynes paid for it.‘
The city of Gotham is still recognisable and all the characters any reader would expect to find are there but none are found in the same position. Two of the biggest shifts in character are for Detective Bullock and Gordon. Any fan of ‘Batman: Year One‘ will remember the James Gordon who arrived in Gotham and instantly put the backs up of other officers around him due to his integrity and determination to turn thing around. Here that honour goes to Harvey Bullock, ex-host of the ‘Hollywood Detectives‘ who has come to Gotham looking to solve the biggest cold-case of all… the Wayne murders.
What of James Gordon himself? He’s a broken man, shaken by the supposed murder of his wife he’s become a bent cop like the others turning a blind eye to ensure the safety of his daughter Barbara. His arc in this book is an integral part of the Earth One Gotham that I won’t spoil here as it brings some of the highlight moments.
Barbara is perhaps the most unchanged character here. Her appearance in as a guest star but one that could move her towards becoming a major player in future Earth One stories. She is still a librarian and still shares a close bond with her father. Her familiarity is almost a comfort blanket amongst all the changes.
The story itself is a revenge tale centred about Bruce searching for his parents killer, it’s a simple story but one that works incredibly well with all the new information that has to be absorbed. If you were reading a straight re-telling of the original Batman origin it can easily to dressed up in huge bells and whistles because in the end we all know what’s going to happen but here we are in completely unknown territory yet Johns guides us through it as if it were any other Batman tale.
The script is unwavering in quality weaving in flashbacks to Bruce’s past whilst continuing a strong narrative in the present. There are no characters that feel shoehorned in purely to give as a look at how their life might be in this universe and the end result is a hugely enjoyable book which will leave you clamouring for volume 2.
The artwork is standout throughout. British-born artist Gary Frank has worked on previous Batman titles for DC as well as titles under the Superman and Wonder Woman banners. For Marvel he has worked on characters from both Avengers and X-Men universes. Here he paints a dark picture of Gotham that, if possible, is even more shadowy than in mainstream titles. Batman is often shrouded in shadow with small details picked out to enhance his increasing presence amongst the underworld. Unmasked faces show great emotional detail which help to portray the huge range of emotions that the script calls for.
Full page panels depict a great depth with a highlight being young Bruce appearing from his parents mausoleum surrounded by bats but other pages have a great flow to them with detail peppered throughout. There are no huge cityscape shots of Gotham here but it’s appearance in the background shows it to be the city we have all come to know.
Arkham house has a brilliant yet creepy design and one of the lingering images for me is the panel where Bruce asks his mother if the red appearance it takes on is blood. This is still a serious house on a serious earth but with yet more to explore.
Inks and colours echo the dark, watery feeling to the book with the above cover a shining example of what to expect on every page within and they round out what is one of the most solid stand-alone stories ever to come from the Batman universe.