A New Take on Batman
After reading Superman: Earth One just over a year and a half ago I was really looking forward to the future of Earth One and when I hear that Batman was the next one to come out, and that Geoff Johns and Gary Frank were working on it I was counting down the days till it came out. I've always wanted to see how Johns would handle a Batman story as well, as after getting me back into Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Aquaman, I'm sure he'd do a great job with the Caped Crusader.
After his parents are killed, Bruce Wayne trains to become Batman, investigating the deaths of his parents, hopefully to bring the person behind it to justice, with the his "butler", Alfred. Meanwhile Harvey Bullock arrives in town, and soon notices the corruption in the Gotham City Police Department, which answers to Mayor Oswald Cobblepot.
This was an amazing book, and one of the best re-telling of Batman's origin story that I've ever read. The reason I feel I love this re-telling so much is that Johns went bold, deciding to change a lot of things, and although they weren't huge changes, with the main principles being the same, they were noticeable. Don't get me wrong I'll always prefer the original origin, but for a modern era this seems much more suited. Besides this the best thing about Johns writing was the character development, and especially in the likes of Bruce/Batman, James Gordon, and Bullock, as Johns showed that although he is making changes, that he knows the fundamentals of these character's perfectly. The dialogue was also amazing, and the interaction Bruce/Batman had with people was brilliant, and I especially loved the relationship development of Bruce, and Alfred, and how although it was the fundamentally the same, it was still something different. The way Johns handled the villains in this book was also brilliant, and although I'll go into a bit more detail later, I felt it was perfect for an opening book, as you don't want a villain that's too far in the spotlight, as it takes away from the development of the hero, Batman. There was however one possible negativity that I could think of, and that was the time it took to read, which was little under an hour, whereas most graphic novels usually take me a couple, to a few hours. Now for me this wasn't a bad thing, as it showed how exciting, and interesting the story was, as well as the fact that it was paced perfectly. There will however be some that will feel cheated by this, which isn't a good thing, even though I'm not one of them.
The art from Gary Frank was nothing short of outstanding, and I really enjoyed it. I feel that his style really suited his story, and he always seems to work wonders alongside Johns. First off I'll talk about the amazing cover that Frank produced, which shows Bruce, and Alfred standing at Bruce's parents grave, with a morbid, rainy surrounding, and a silhouette of Batman's head behind them. Now I loved this, especially the morbidness, showing that this is a terribly painful time for Bruce. With the silhouette in the background it also shows that this is the moment when Bruce became Batman, as although he'd probably never thought of becoming Batman, he would have been wanting justice, and vengeance, so the symbolism was nice. I do however find it a bit cliché how it always rains at funerals in media, but none the less this was still a fantastic cover. The interior was just as outstanding, and I loved the tone, and layout that Frank produced, giving real drama, and depth to the story. I also loved how Frank showed the characteristics of the character's, as you could tell that although Gordon was turning a blind eye to certain crime, that he was still a good guy just as easily as you could tell that Bruce was an angry, misunderstood person, and that Cobblepot was a despicable, evil man, which was brilliant. Besides this Frank did an excellent job of drawing the character's as a whole, as although there were some changes, they looked as close to the character's us Batman fans love, whilst still being something new, and unique. The way Frank handled the action in this issue was also amazing, as it was really dynamic, and gave more life, and excitement to the story, and overall his art was fascinating.
The start of this story deals with the death of Bruce's parents, Thomas, and Martha Wayne. Besides this we also saw a different side to the two, as Thomas was the sure winner of the current Mayor election against Cobblepot, and Martha drives for the rights of the mentally ill. It was however the later that interested me the most, as the reasoning for this change in Martha's background was that instead of being a Kane prior to marrying Thomas, Martha was an Arkham, who's family history is haunted with mental instability. I loved this change, as it would help shape other things that would come in this story, showing that although Johns was re-telling Batman's origin that he was also showing his creativity as a writer. The death sequence itself was also as usual very emotional, and although this isn't the best showing of this classic sequence, it was still very well handled.
This story also showed a more inexperienced Batman at the start, which I loved. I just loved how this showed a mortality to Batman, as with being used to seeing Batman escape from nearly anything, it's nice to be reminded that this wasn't always the case, and that there would have been a time where he was less experienced, and more clumsy. In following this we also see how Bruce plans on resolving these early mistakes, and how he can become better. I also liked the fact that Alfred appeared to have learned Bruce how to fight, as although there is no outright definitive proof of this, we do see the two fight, showing that Alfred can more than handle himself, which leads me to believe that he probably taught Bruce, which was a nice addition.
Talking about Alfred I was very happy with the changes that were made to him, as although I love the Alfred we know from the ongoing series, I enjoyed seeing a new side to the character, which was much more fitting to a modern take on Batman. Anyway, Alfred starts as Thomas' planed head of security, having previous military experience. Upon Thomas, and Martha's death, Alfred becomes Bruce's guardian, and tells Bruce that he's his butler. This was also a very clever way of making Alfred something different, whilst ultimately having him as a butler, and I really enjoyed this. The new look in design was also a nice change, and Frank did a great job of that as well.
Alfred wasn't the only person to have a change in characteristics, with the other noticeable change being to Detective Harvey Bullock, who in this version is a slim, cop from Hollywood that had his own TV series called Hollywood Detective. I found this a very fun change to this character, as although there will be some that dislike this, I personally enjoyed it, as although there were a lot of changes to him, Johns would show hints of the character we all know from the ongoing series. I also enjoyed seeing the way he interacted with Gordon, and the development in their relationship was almost as interesting as the development of Bruce, and Alfred's. It was also interesting to see Bullock adapt to the different environment of Gotham, and overall Johns did a brilliant job with this character.
This story would follow in the same footsteps as Superman: Earth One, as we get the introduction of a new villain in the form of the Birthday Boy. The Birthday Boy is a serial killer who has a fascination for girls of a certain age, calling them Amanda. To be honest there isn't a great deal to like about the Birthday Boy, and although I still feel that it was best to have a low level villain for this first book, he won't be one that I'll remember in years to come. I did however also like that he was a big muscular enemy for Batman, giving him a proper challenge, and when it came to fighting he was decent enough, and although the fight was exciting mainly due to Batman, he did give Batman one hell of a fight.
Although the Birthday Boy is the villain that we see Batman up against in this story, the true villain is none other than Mayor Cobblepot, who Batman fans will know better as the Penguin. Now although Cobblepot doesn't get his hands too dirty, relying on goons, and the Birthday Boy, he is every bit the villain that we know from the ongoing series, and besides that fact he's mayor there wasn't many changes to him. I did however like the fact that he wasn't called the Penguin in this story, making it seem that much more realistic, as well as slightly unique, as although Batman fans will know Cobblepot as the Penguin, it makes it slightly different. I also loved how Cobblepot was maniacal, and really didn't seem to care for anyone bar himself, which although not surprising, did add more character to him. The fact that Cobblepot used his positions as mayor to his advantage was also interesting, and I loved how he'd manage to have every cop in his pocket, even the less likely of candidates like Gordon, showing the level of power he'd amassed.
This was a phenomenal story, and although some long time Batman fans may be upset by this, I'm sure most people will like it. I'd also say that if you enjoyed Superman: Earth One, then you should at least try this, as it's just as good, and just as exciting. The changes were also very interesting, and the overall story was very dynamic, and dramatic. Johns also showed a great level of understanding for the character's, as although he made the changes I talked about, deep down every character was the exact same on the inside, with the same fundamentals. Due to all this I'd highly recommend this book (and Superman: Earth One if you have already read that), and can't wait for the sequel, especially after the fabulous teaser at the end of this book.