Filed under: Comic Reviews, DC Comics | Tags: Batman, Earth One, GaryFrank, GeoffJohns
Hot off the heals from the success of last year’s Superman Earth One, DC released its next original graphic novel this week featuring the new beginnings of Batman. With Geoff Johns and Gary Frank on board as a writer and artist respectively, this book gives off a whiff of quality – even the hardback cover contains three different textures on it - but are the contents up to scratch? Both Craig and Gary review…
I’d like to start by raising my biggest concern and question surrounding this book – I’m not entirely sure who the target audience is? What confuses me most is how this could be the type of book that a total comics novice could pick up as a starting place, or it could be the ultimate fan boy’s dream to see their favourite Bat characters told with new and interesting takes that couldn’t possibly take place in today’s continuity. I’m not entirely convinced that the book knows which of these it wants to be, swinging wildly between the two camps. Can it be both? It could have been, but since it hits both ends of the spectrum so hard, it kind of gets lost in-between.
Let’s look at it as a starting point for new fans first. Its time of release is perfect – a couple of weeks before Dark Knight Rises hits the cinema, here’s a book that cinema goers can go and pick up once they’ve been wowed by the film and come out all wide-eyed and eager to explore Batman in the world of comics. If it’s an origin story where modern readers can relate, then this is probably a good place to start – you get the inevitable death of Bruce’s parents and his dedication to avenge them and clean up the streets of Gotham. There’s your expected cast of supporting characters with Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, with some familiar villains like The Penguin. I’m sure if you’ve never read anything that explores the origins of Batman before then this will be fairly entertaining, but it is just pretty much the same origin story we all already know and love. If anything, it may be a little confusing for new readers who then go and pick up some of the other titles not set in the same universe.
And that’s because this book wants to screw about with the Batman universe to make it into something different for those who already know the story. Personally I don’t think the changes were big enough for me to think of this as an ‘interesting new take on Batman’ – but instead left me frustrated and questioning why these changes were made, what purpose did they really serve? Alfred as an ex-Royal Marine – cool, we’ll get some excellent training sequences as he imparts all of his knowledge onto Bruce? Nope. Instead most of the changes were trying too hard to be clever nods to those who know enough about the world of Batman already – like Martha Wayne’s surname being Arkham and Bruce being friends with Harvey Dent (and his twin sister?!) as a child. It feels like Geoff Johns has tried to fit as much Batman mythos into this single book as possible – something I don’t remember happening with the Superman Earth One book. I’m also a little confused about where this story actually fits into the DC 52 universe – if it’s even supposed to – I thought Earth 1 was the normal Earth that most books took place on?
It brings me back to my original question about who this book is aimed at, but possibly more importantly why does it exists altogether? Modern updates of old classic tales isn’t just something DC have been playing at – Marvel have been getting in on the act too with their similar release of original hardback graphic novels under their Season One banner. Having only read the X-Men Season One book, I do see parallels between the two. There’s a forced attempt to bring the stories into today’s world, with references to modern technology like mobile phones and Blu Rays, but rather than make these stories feel more relevant I fear it’ll make them look dated in years to come. I can see how Marvel and DC are keen to bring in new readers to their books and are using these as a gateway into buying more, but what’s wrong with packaging up some of the classic stories that made us all fall in love with these characters in the first place?
It’s not all bad, it does have a few things going for it – for example it’s a good looking little book. Gary Frank puts a lot of effort in making sure that the story flows well, creating memorable looking characters – something that’s pretty important since most of the book doesn’t feature much in the way of masks or costumes – so being able to tell characters apart is always a good start (but not something that every artist can achieve). There’s some really interesting design choices, like the Penguin looking like Richard Nixon and making the decision not to put the usual black make-up round Bruce Wayne’s eyes while he wears the Batman cowl – giving him a real amateurish look. The only truly original element of the book comes in the form of a new villain – The Birthday Boy – a nightmarish serial killer fascinated by the slaughter of young girls. I was expecting much more like this, creating a brand new world for Batman to be part of, rather than a distorted version of the one we already know.
My recommendation for anyone looking to start reading Batman would be to stay clear of this – Frank Miller’s Year One is a much better place to start, and covers practically all of the same themes as this book, only better. I suppose by questioning what DC is trying to achieve by releasing books like these is futile, since the answer will always be about money - I only hope that truly original Batman material can become more frequent and not be reliant on coming from the handful of creators that give us it already.
Craig – @hastiecraig
Last year’s UK release of Superman: Earth One was a direct to graphic novel release from DC that was a breath of fresh air for a character I never really felt much of a connection to. With the Batman release however, I wasn’t 100% sure how much of the Batman story I know would be messed with. Truth is there’s not a massive amount of change – more of a rewording than anything else in much a similar vein as the New 52 reboot, which never really changed all that much apart from creative teams and a restart of the numbering. Hardly the risk-taking event it was billed as, but then it’s given us some quality material to read week after week.
With the New 52 fresh in my head, I guess this hardcover is in-line with that missed opportunity from DC, that being said I found myself enjoying this one-off release more than I expected. Bruce Wayne is still Bruce Wayne and he does become Batman, that’s a no-brainer, but Geoff Johns and Gary Frank seem to have captured that early amateur approach to the early days of Gotham’s crime-fighter. Losing his parents is still the pivotal moment in his transformation but the where, when and who is much more intricate even though it comes down to that chance thug and the Waynes being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Main support for Bruce comes in the form of Alfred Pennyworth in much the way we’d expect, but this comes about as he’s named legal guardian in the Wayne’s will. An ex-marine and friend to the Waynes who’s entrusted with their son – a troubling and unexpected task for Alfred. This plot intermingles with the goings-on throughout the city – from the cops turning a blind eye to daily crimes, the corruption throughout the city and Mayor Oswald Cobblepot gaining another term with the demise of his opponent Thomas Wayne – there’s even a serial killer thrown in for good measure.
Here we get a glimpse of Batman aiming to gain vengeance for the death of his parents while trying to kick-start an uprising against the underhanded dealings that make Gotham a hellhole. These mixes of plots are paced well throughout the book and its here that we really get to see Johns and Frank portray Bruce and Batman as just a man. Messed up with the goings-on in his life but striving to fight against the negative aspects of both lives he inhabits. There are also other nods to possible links in this book to aspects we already know and a cliff-hanger where we get a brief glimpse at who could be the villain in a 2nd volume.
This was a book I enjoyed and one that I will return to read again. The problem with this and many other titles out there is that there’s not enough risk being taken at least in comparison to the indie market or smaller publishers. Yes we know the character and yes there’s an air of expectation on what fans should see in releases, but that’s where this may differ from an on-going title. A one-off release like this hardcover offers more freedom and where DC chickened out with the New52 reboot on Batman and most of their titles on the risk-taking front – this was a much more likely opportunity to take those risks, to test the water and breath new life into a much-loved character, but ultimately the chance has been missed. That being said, there was a far greater sense of “freshness” about this than anything I’ve read from DC recently.
G-Man – @gjwatson85
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