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Geoff Johns is the luckiest fanboy on the planet. Not only is he the Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics, but he has reinvented entire characters and series and made them work. Johns is one of the best writers currently making comics and he has faced down a lot of very big ideas for comics that many would never be able to approach due to their monstrosity (Flashpoint, Blackest Night, Brightest Day), but what is probably his most daunting task is what he has done recently, reinventing the Batman.
It's probably not a stretch to say that the story of Batman is one of the most well-known stories, if not just in America then the world. Taking the legend of the character and bringing it into the modern day and 'updating' it seems like such a predictable and shopworn idea for the current context of storytelling, in any medium, that it's enough for a non-comic reader to roll their eyes. But if there is anyone in this world that can take that idea, applied to a superhero nonetheless, and make it work, then it's Geoff Johns.
There are many things within Johns' created Batman world that differ from the Dark Knight that we know now. Much like the Batman: Year One story, we're witnessing a very inexperienced Bruce donning the cowl. As a result, many of his gadgets don't work all the time and he finds himself in situations that he's not totally prepared for. Those things might not be the kind of Batman stories you want to read, but they are a nice departure from the mountains of Batman books where he knows everything to do and never fails.
While this isn't the Batman you're used to, it's still very much Batman because the traits of the character are still there. Bruce might run into a situation he didn't see every angle of and get in trouble but since he is Bruce he still believes in his ability to get out of it. These are the best kind of character beats that you can get in a comic book because they show the human side of these characters that we're supposed to be able to relate to “because they're just human” but we can't anymore.
Johns' Batman: Earth One strays as far from the well-known interpretations of characters as much as it honors them, which might seem like an oxymoron to you but it's true. We get different takes on the idea behind characters, which is something Johns is really good at at this point, but some of them aren't entirely centered on the realm of believability. This might seem like a trite complaint, but if you're touting this book as a “realistic take” on the Batman mythos (DC was) then this is reasonable.
His presentation of classic characters Barbara Gordon and Harvey Bullock are quite memorable. These work because of the ironic twists of fate that you can see developing within them and how that will transform them into some version of the character that we've known all along. The best character in this book, however, is Alfred. The back story and physical presence of Alfred has been drastically altered to the point that it makes more sense for him to go along with Bruce's masked romp then when he's simply his butler.
If the world-bending story Johns has laid out here isn't to your liking, then Gary Frank's art should be the primary selling point. He offers very detailed and expansive drawings even in pages that have upwards of five or six panels. I will say that it does get a little tiresome to see his frequent use of smirking or horrified facial close ups. While his art is extraordinary, if not a little repetitive at times, it's really brought to life by the inker Jonathan Sibal and colorist Brad Anderson. The way they make the pages pop help move the story along and really give us a lot of different views of Gotham as more then simply the dark dreary city with fog coming out of the man holes.
Batman: Earth One is one of the most worthwhile original graphic novels I've come across in a long time. It's puzzling that it took so long for this to come out because it offers a fresh and energetic take on the age old story that so many others have long copied and watered down. Geoff Johns is truly a master story teller and I wish he did more Batman-oriented books, but we can always wait for Volume 2.
Rating : 9 / 10
Head over to page 2 for our review of Batmand and Robin!