Warning: spoilers ahead!
You know, I really do enjoy some of Geoff Johns’ work. Blackest Night was a very well done, on point, no-nonsense nine-issue (counting #0), miniseries about Nekron, a personified vision of death, sucking the life and emotion out of all beings and bringing them back as zombified forms of what they once were. It was highly intriguing and incredibly emotional. Brightest Day on the other hand, was terribly bland and long, picking up the pieces from Blackest Night. But, not only does Johns have his hand in most of the Justice League and Justice Society stuff nowadays, he has also currently, and previously, focused primarily on Superman, Green Lantern, and Aquaman. While I’m not generally a huge Green Lantern fan, his Superman: Secret Origin with Gary Frank, the artist on this new Bat book, was a fully realized and prophetic retelling of the beginnings of one of America’s truest of fictional heroes. As you can see, it really is a mixed bag when it comes to Geoff Johns and his work; recently becoming DC’s Chief Creative Officer may be the reason for his inconsistency. That, and how many books he seems to continuously work on all at once. Not slowing down anytime soon, the DC titan has somehow found the time to rewrite Batman’s origin story, and while it’s well written, the story is short and its character mechanics and developments are too real world and vulnerable for my tastes.
Earth One, aside from the main universe, is an ongoing DC series that allows writers to weave superhero stories free of continuity, reintroducing the characters to new readers and to the modern times. Following J. Michael Straczynski’s take on Superman in Superman: Earth One, Geoff Johns brings to new and old fans alike, a modern retelling of Batman’s origin, free of Ra’s Al Ghul and his League of Shadows, in Batman: Earth One.
At the start of the comic, we’re introduced to a weak and unaccomplished Batman, a terrified Detective Gordon, and a badass, military-trained Alfred Pennyworth. We soon learn early on that Penguin is the mayor of Gotham, has a serial killer called The Birthday Boy on his payroll, and that he had formulated the plot to have the Wayne parents killed because Thomas Wayne was close to succeeding him as mayor. A young and still bitter Bruce decides to put on a cowl and begin to fight crime as a bat to avenge his parents’ death, as the story usually goes. What isn’t explained though, is where Batman received his training, and if his vulnerability is any indication, he didn’t receive any. Wayne falls off buildings, gets into public confrontations, and wears a costume that doesn’t seem to protect him in any violent situations.
By the end of the book, Penguin is killed by a shotgun-wielding Alfred, Gordon is no longer afraid of the crime in Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne is finally presented with an unsatisfying sort of closure to his parents’ death and the realization that he needs to “build a better Batman.” For Bruce and Gordon together, the heinous acts committed by The Birthday Boy within the walls of Arkham, which isn’t an asylum but a mansion that Bruce’s mom grew up in, seemed to build within them stronger and more callused minds; it was the evil experienced that changes them and makes them better crime fighters, not any sort of prior training. And at the very end of the story, a way is paved for a more focused Batman, an appearance by Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl, and the introduction of an old villain, The Riddler.
While all of the little twists and turns within the story, such as Arkham being the former residence of Bruce’s mother and Penguin being mayor of Gotham City, are completely intriguing because reasons for those elements are not explored, the overall story is short and too drastic a deviation from the original story that it’s hard to ever imagine Batman as the crime-fighter depicted in all of the other on-going Bat books and films. I have come to understand Johns’ alterations as a more relateable and realistic take on Bruce Wayne and his rise as Batman, but when reading comics, who ever actually wants to read about a weak, ignorant Batman and a pathetically fearful and controlled Jim Gordon? I may be slightly over exaggerating, yes, but we read comics to escape reality, not to bring a fictional character as far as possible into it (Christopher Nolan’s incredible trilogy aside). Gary Frank’s art, however, is dark and vibrant, prominent and well defined. He makes up for what the story lacks: a true turning point in the lives of the characters, because to me The Birthday Boy was just an everyday Bat villain.
Geoff Johns’ attempt at a Batman origin story is commendable. His writing never falters but his storytelling does, as is usually the case with his other below-average books. Batman: Earth One is good for what it is: a quick, intriguing fix for Batman fans who’ve read everything else, proving to us readers that Johns is more than capable of donning the cowl if Scott Snyder or Grant Morrison ever get bored with the character.
7.0 out of 10