Saturday, 2 May 2015

Batman: Earth One, Volume 2 Review (Geoff Johns, Gary Frank)

The main DC universe is Earth-0, which is where most of DC’s comics take place - Earth-One is one of dozens of parallel universes within DC’s Multiverse where the characters you know and love are different. Earth-One’s Batman is much less accomplished than the regular Batman though this is an origin series so he’ll get there eventually! 

Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Earth-One series is a bit like the classic Batman: Year One, as it focuses on the early days when Bruce Wayne decided to become Batman. We see him honing his skills (which are still very limited), developing his arsenal (he doesn’t even have the Batmobile), building up his list of contacts (Gordon doesn’t know what to make of him yet), and establishing himself as a force for good in Gotham City (Johns has the press doing the “is The Batman good or evil?” thing). 

Following Mayor Cobblepot’s death in the first volume, Jessica Dent, District Attorney Harvey Dent’s twin sister (who only exists in the Earth-One universe), has stepped in as the new Mayor of Gotham. But a new threat has emerged - a man who kills with his riddles - and there’s talk of a killer crocodile-type creature lurking in the sewers. Incompetent Batman to the rescue! 

How you read this book will depend on your experience with Batman. I’ve read more than my share of Batman over the years so a lot of this book didn’t interest me, but less experienced readers might enjoy this more as it takes things back to basics. It’s a fine contemporary Batman origin for new readers to jump onto. 

The book suffers from following in the wake of Scott Snyder’s recent Batman: Zero Year story arc, the second half of which was an epic Riddler tale. Johns’ Riddler story in comparison is much less impressive because it’s so small scale and it’s the Riddler doing things we’ve seen him doing before - though I understand why it has to be this way as Batman isn’t nearly up to the task of taking out a major threat yet. 

The other big problem is how uninspired the story is. Riddler putting up bombs around Gotham and sending out riddles - these are entry-level ideas for the character. A subway bombing - didn’t we just see that in Batman: Eternal? Not to mention the Chris Nolan flavour the script exudes. Also, I thought Earth-One was supposed to add some twists to the familiar characters yet the Riddler is essentially the same person he’s always been. 

Because the main story is so thin, Johns pads it out with inconsequential subplots. Killer Croc is hiding out in the sewers because nobody understands him, Bullock’s drowning his sorrows because the job’s grinding down his idealism, Selina Kyle makes a cameo, and Bruce and Jessica talk about improving Gotham using Bruce’s resources. 

A forced love story is finagled out of that last one (yup, Jessica’s another childhood sweetheart of Bruce’s!) but Jessica brings up a good point: Bruce’s billions could do much more for the city than his floundering as Batman ever could, especially given how ineffective he is (though he’s gotten better since the last book). Bruce literally seems to think chasing bad guys over rooftops and punching them is the be-all and end-all of Batman! 

At one point he bumbles onto a crime scene, stomping over evidence and then tells Gordon that he’s the detective, not Batman. So we’re meant to believe that when Bruce decided to become Batman, he didn’t reckon that some detective skills might come in handy in capturing the crooks? He’s good at riddles except he comes off as very short-sighted and quite dim throughout - it’s blind luck he finds Riddler at the end, not because of his amateur sleuthing skills!

Alfred is by far the most changed character in Earth-One. Like Bruce, he’s become far stupider but he’s also incredibly impulsive and violent who, at one point, is actively encouraging Bruce to kill! 

I do realise this is an alternate Gotham so it’s all meant to be different, and it is albeit in very slight ways; but I’d have hoped that the changes would make for, at the very least, an entertaining comic. The changes Johns has made don’t make for a better story but for quite a lacking Batman imitator that makes you wish you reading other Batman books instead. 

I love Gary Frank’s artwork and there are several splash pages that are just awesome to look at, though they’re images we’ve seen before. A simple visual of Batman leaping off a building or Riddler’s ? burned onto the side of a building are amazing. Full credit to the supporting art team of Jon Sibal’s inks and Brad Anderson’s colours for bringing Frank’s pencils to vivid life. 

If you’re a new Batman reader, you’ll probably get a lot more out of this than I did. For me, Earth-One is a weak origin that doesn’t do anything particularly special to recommend it and is a very ordinary Batman story to boot - my interest was gone for too many pages. For a better Batman origin AND a great Riddler story rolled up in one, check out Scott Snyder’s Zero Year; for the best Batman origin, it’s still Year One.

Batman: Earth One, Volume 2

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