Comic of the Month – Batman: Earth One

As well as recently relaunching their entire line of comics, DC have also separately begun publishing a series of graphic novels under the Earth One banner, of which this is the second (the first was, of course, Superman by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis, with a second volume due in November). The idea (as I understand it) is to present these heroes in a more realistic setting; in fact, it simply gives writers another chance to play around with their origin stories, something that has been going on for quite some time – see, for example Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One story, or the many Elseworld volumes.

This, then, is the comic equivalent of a writer using a Greek myth or a Bible story as their starting point: half the fun is in knowing the original narrative. This isn’t to say it doesn’t tell a good story, but most of my enjoyment certainly came from seeing how Jones had incorporated already existing characters into his vision of Batman and Gotham. As this is what I’m mostly going to discuss you may not want to read any further if you haven’t already read the book (and intend to). Suffice to say that if you are interested in the character, you will want to get your hands on this. It seems to me a much more successful reinvention than Superman: Earth One, but then I’ve always preferred the dystopian Batman to the utopian Superman.

We first met Batman in the early days of his career. His costume, and the failure of his equipment, (there’s a wonderful full-page panel of him landing on a pile of bin-bags) immediately indicates a more realistic version of the character. After this initial introduction we are given the latest presentation of his parents’ death, the event that will motivate him to fight crime. His father is still incredibly wealthy, but now has a political dimension, standing for Mayor of Gotham. Jones also slightly alters the murder scene, making Bruce more culpable for leading his parents to their killer. The most striking change is in the character of Alfred who becomes an army buddy of Bruce’s father who is (rather implausibly since he turns up on the night they are killed with no sense they are in regular contact) named as Bruce’s guardian. When struggling to come up with an answer to Bruce’s, “Who the hell are you?” he decides on, “I’m your butler”!

A number of other well-known characters also appear. Oswald Cobblepot (better known as the Penguin) is Mayor of Gotham – and apparently has been for some time as he was Bruce’s father’s rival. James Gordon and his daughter Barbara, Harvey Bullock, and Harvey Dent all put in appearances, but there is also a new villain to be dealt with. Gary Frank’s art is excellent, perfectly suited to the realistic look of the book.

There are plenty of hints at a sequel – Barbara Gordon drawing a Batwoman costume and a final panel with a silhouetted figure commenting, “What a riddle.” I, for one, am certainly looking forward to it.

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