Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist(s): Gary Frank, Jon Sibal, and Brad Anderson
I’m gonna go right out and say that Geoff Johns is my favorite comic book writer. While I read comics before here or there, and Civil War did get me hooked on comics (not kidding, I might get into that later at some point), it was his run on Green Lantern that solidified my love for them, superhero and whatnot. Watching Superfriends and reading a DC encyclopedia piqued my interest, but reading Sinestro Corps War made him my favorite comic writer and GL my favorite superhero. He was able to take one particular property that, while it was popular, was oftentimes overshadowed by the big guns like Batman and Superman. He streamlined and expanded on the mythos, characters, and everything else that made GL awesome, while also honoring the history and introduced new elements that became permanent and relevant fixtures of the DC Universe, turning it into a cosmic comic book powerhouse. It was because of him that there were MULTIPLE Lantern books running and I think at one point Green Lantern (and I mean ANYTHING GL, not just one particular character) was overshadowing the stuff that used to overshadow them. Sure, he retconned stuff here or there, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when new people take over stuff that someone left on. Even during New 52 his run on Green Lantern was mostly unchanged…mostly. He turned Sinestro into one of the biggest anti-heroes in comics. His run even inspired, for better or worse, the live-action Green Lantern movie, but more relevantly Green Lantern getting adapted into recent movies and tv shows (though it’d be great if Green Lantern: The Animated Series could come back).
Unfortunately, while I love his comics, that doesn’t mean I love EVERYTHING he’s written. While he is DC’s Chief Creative Officer, he still does great writing, like the current Justice League series (and I mean the current issues out right now; early issues felt generic and almost 90s-like, though it got better with Throne of Atlantis), he made Aquaman awesome again, Forever Evil felt bloated but it was actually compelling seeing SUPERVILLAINS save the day, especially considering most DC superheroes acted like complete jerks, and he produces and writes for some of the current DC movies and shows, like Flash and Arrow. But then there’s also the more questionable stuff he’s done, like Infinite Crisis, Flashpoint, Trinity War and early issues of Justice League up until Throne of Atlantis and the Forever Evil tie-ins. There’s still some other stuff of his I haven’t read and have heard good or mixed things, like his Flash (Wally West stories; I’ve only read his Barry Allen stories), Teen Titans, Justice Society, and Booster Gold runs and 52, but I look forward to reading them at some point when I get the chance. This is where Batman: Earth One comes into play.
Like I said in my Superman: Earth One Volume Three review, the Earth One imprint was meant to do what previous attempts at what DC did to copy Ultimate Marvel for their books didn’t follow through. And again, it actually worked, both in the sense that DC is sticking with it and the stories are pretty good. But they’re not perfect. Batman: Earth One, especially with THIS story, is kind of a mixed bag. Volume One was good and all, reimagining characters and elements of Batman like no whites for Batman’s eyes (taking a cue from live-action stuff; kinda looks silly but also okay), Alfred being an ex-Royal Marine and total badass, James Gordon and Harvey Bullock being partners, Penguin is mayor (before he gets killed by Alfred) and Bruce Wayne also being a descendant of the Arkhams on his mother side, along with a few other things. Some of this stuff was actually adapted into the Gotham TV show, which is pretty good though also kinda weird at times. Volume One sets up a good foundation, but Volume Two kinda muddles things a bit.
The story begins six months after Volume One. Bruce Wayne is still Batman and fighting criminals, but a mysterious criminal is killing off certain elite Gotham City citizens. Basically, it’s The Riddler since he asks his victims to answer a riddle and if they don’t answer or answer incorrectly, he kills them (later on it’s revealed that he kills anyway regardless if the answer is correct or not). Another problem is that it’s never revealed who The Riddler is. It’s fairly obvious to almost anyone that knows Batman stuff that his real name is Edward Nygma, but it’s never established in this story. That’s an alluring element of his character, his name being a reference to “enigma”. Instead, Riddler is just portrayed as some guy with a question mark fashion fetish, wears a green leather duster jacket, no shirt so his bare chest is exposed, and kinda looks all greasy looking. I get it’s supposed to be an alternate version, but it could’ve been more compelling. It could’ve been something like the Goth look he had in The Batman cartoon, only more practical. And while his killing spree helps drive the plot and he has motives for doing it (he was a lieutenant of Penguin until his death and he’s killing other members so he can control Gotham), his victims are also just namedrops of characters or relatives of characters from the comics like Clarissa Crane (mother of Jonathan Crane), Jack Drake ( father of Tim Drake), and Alvin Pierce (father of Jefferson Pierce). Volume One provided a good setup for Riddler as Volume Two’s villain, just not properly executed. Though I’ll admit the riddles were interesting.
Batman himself is pretty typical of a young superhero starting out and not doing well. He steps on evidence in a crime scene and when James Gordon says “you’re not much of a detective, are you?”, he replies “That’s not my job”, doesn’t wear body armor and his lame excuse for not having body armor is, and I quote from the comic itself, “Do you know what body armor says about a guy? It says he needs body armor”. I get that this is a young Batman and he’s starting out, so he’s kinda cocky, but c’mon! At least in Batman: Year One when he was starting out in that, he was testing himself, to see if he’s ready. Earth One Batman either goes in guns blazing or somewhat attempts to think things out, almost resulting in disaster but he gets by okay, sort of. Gotham City, no matter the continuity, is ALWAYS a dangerous place, so like the Boy Scout motto, “be prepared”, Batman! As Bruce Wayne he doesn’t exactly do a very good job of trying to distinguish between himself and Batman, always staying a recluse. I understand that was a problem for the Burton movies, but at least it was convincing. Here, the friggin new mayor, and I’ll get to her, figures out he’s Batman.
Supporting characters in the story are all right, but kinda go in weird directions. James Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and Alfred are compelling and cool new spins on the established characters. Killer Croc himself, while kinda one-note, is interesting, being portrayed as a man with ichtyosis and his teeth razor-sharp because he was in Haly’s circus and forced to file his teeth into sharpened fangs, and living in the sewer because of being ostracized by the outside world. Instead of becoming a villain, he ends up supporting Batman and I actually like this direction, hopefully it won’t get messed up. Lucius Fox and Selina Kyle (Catwoman), and Sal Maroni show up here or there, but at least Lucius helps out. Selina just shows up in a apartment she broke in and healed up Batman, then disappears and in the end she’s laying down on a cat-themed bed and says “meow”. Sal Maroni is a two-bit criminal missing a tooth and just simply serves a typical function that people who know Batman fulfills, that being the creation of Two-Face.
But probably the characters that are the most polarizing are Jessica and Harvey Dent. The Dent family in this series is portrayed as being opposed to the Arkhams, no matter who the individual is, including Bruce Wayne and his mother Martha. Again, Bruce is established as being a descendant of Arkham as well as Wayne, but it’s never elaborated why Gotham is wary of the Arkham family. Yes, in all continuities, the Arkham family has a troubled history, being plagued with insanity and horror, creating Arkham Asylum to help insane people but really making things worse and becoming a cesspool of madness, and just saying Arkham Asylum or anything Arkham will fill anyone with dread. In this story, it’s never elaborated on what the history of the Arkham family is or why people are so wary of anything Arkham. I get it’s a new universe, but this is the second installment of the series, at least reveal something. And Harvey Dent is just an outright jerk, always bullying Bruce simply because “he’s an Arkham” and “doesn’t want his sister to catch crazy from him”, from childhood to adulthood. How does a guy like him become District Attorney? Jessica Dent is fine, but the reveal that Bruce and her were a couple and still have feelings doesn’t really do much, but at least it isn’t as bad as Rachel Dawes in the Nolan movies. And guess what? Remember how I implied that there was a gender reversal for a certain archnemesis for Superman in my Volume Three review? The same thing happens here. Yeah, in Superman: Earth One Volume Three, Alexandra Luthor becomes “Lex Luthor”. In Batman: Earth One Volume Two, Jessica Dent becomes Two-Face, or is starting to. See, Harvey gets stabbed then has a molotov cocktail to the face by Sal Maroni, whispers to Jessica “don’t let me die”, and dies. Jessica is grief-stricken and holds Harvey so close, the burnt right side of his face touches the left side of her face and sorta gets burnt I guess (it’s never exactly shown, just smoke coming from the side of her face) and while she’s in recovery, she develops dissociation identity disorder and starts talking like her brother, saying to Bruce “stay away from my sister”. It’s okay, but it’s also forced and a weird coincidence that both these stories come out in the SAME YEAR and end with gender reversals of established villains. It’s a good setup if it’ll be explored in a future story, since she’s a love interest AND Gotham City’s mayor.
Gary Frank’s artwork is okay, but I’m more preferable of other stuff he’s done and including his collaborations with Geoff Johns, especially his Superman art, in regards to this. The characters can look compelling, but other times look creepy and weird with their smiles or angry faces, especially with Harvey Dent.
What started out great with the previous volume is muddled with this volume. Hopefully whatever comes next will have a better execution.