The last few years have been very kind to comic book fans; more specifically, very, very kind to Batman fans. From the near-excellence of Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy and the huge amounts of animated features, such as "Under the Red Hood", to the New 52’s "Court of Owls" story and the like, it seems that we’ve been spoiled with the total awesomeness that the Caped Crusader brings. That being said, his origin, without a doubt one of the most iconic origins in all of comic-dom, has been retold again and again. There is, however, a very recent retelling of it that should not be overlooked. Ladies and gentlemen, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Gary Frank, "Batman: Earth One" may be one of the absolute best origin tales that this writer has ever read.
Now you are probably thinking: “Johns? How the hell can he stack up to the likes of Miller’s Year One?” or even “What about Batman Begins? That was damn near perfect!” While those origin stories were excellent in their respective ways no doubt, Johns brought very new elements to this story, and was absolutely not afraid to take risks in his retelling of Batman’s beginnings. He not only made you feel closer to Bruce Wayne than the likes of Miller, but he brought you even closer to the supporting cast as well as Gotham City itself in ways that even Nolan’s Batman Begins hadn’t. Without spoiling the major events in this satisfyingly long graphic novel, fans of Batman will eat up the re-imagining of Johns’s take on Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, Jim Gordon, and even characters like Martha and Thomas Wayne, Harvey Bullock and Oswald Cobblepot, aka the villainous Penguin.
Since I refuse to spoil the book for those of you who haven’t read it, I’m begging you: Please close this page, buy and read Batman: Earth One, and then come back and read the rest of the article. Please. With all of your favorite toppings on top.
So you’ve read it. Let’s get the giddy fanboy out of our system, eh Bat-fans?
Yeah. That felt good. Let’s break it down, shall we?
Batman: Earth One did something that the previous incarnations, at least to my personal knowledge, have never done before: delve way deeper into what exactly happened with the lives of Thomas and Martha Wayne. You would think that with the key-role that those two play into Batman’s entire motivation, someone would have tackled it before. Here, Johns revamps their stories in a way that fans had never even dreamed possible. The very fact that he had changed Thomas Wayne from a doctor to a caring mayor candidate partially explains Batman’s desire to set things right in a city that’s so damn corrupted. What was even more mind-bogglingly impressive was how he made Martha Wayne much more prominent in the way that she was connected to Arkham Asylum. Yes. He’s taken a character, an extremely important character to the origin of Batman, that no one has ever done anything interesting with, and turned her into a living explanation into why Arkham Asylum is the madhouse it is, and further begs the question of Batman’s sanity.
What was equally impressive was Johns’s handle on Gotham City itself. He goes into explicit detail on how corrupt it is, and why the cops, even Jim Gordon, won’t take a stand to the dark forces that hold Gotham by the throat. The addition of Oswald Cobblepot as the city’s mayor was absolutely genius, and was a very nice throwback to stories such as the 1992 film Batman Returns, and even to an extent, an episode of TV’s Batman starring Adam West. The Penguin is a villain that has never gotten much time in the spotlight, and the way Johns had tied him into Batman’s origin was absolutely fantastic. With the Penguin, Johns also introduced a new villain, the murderous Birthday Boy. My God, if you thought that Victor Zsasz was frightening, you haven’t seen anything yet. He was absolutely fantastic.
With the villains, you also get some of the good guys and their new motivations. Take Jim Gordon for example: in every incarnation so far, he’s the good cop; the one that did the right thing even if it meant he was going to be in mortal danger for it. While, yes, we eventually see this Jim Gordon in the later pages of the book, you discover that even a man as good as Gordon is, can succumb to the corruption of Gotham’s criminals. That, with the further establishment of his love for his daughter Barbra, made him such a compelling character in this particular origin story. This book also gave Gordon a partner in an extremely revamped Detective HarveyBullock, who was very different, yet just as effective as his previous incarnations.
Perhaps the best part of this story was Johns’s new version of Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler and father figure. In this particular book, Johns took the character, and made him just as, if not even more so, badass than Batman himself. Instead of the butler we’re used to, this Alfred is, in a nutshell, Sean Connery meets Clint Eastwood. He’s strong, a war hero, an excellent mentor, and is a more powerful ally than he has ever been before. As great as Johns’s re-imagining of characters such as the aforementioned Oswald Cobblepot and Detective Bullock, as well as Harvey Dent and Luscious Fox, his take on Alfred is without a doubt the most impressive.
Nearly 75 years old, Batman is a character that we’re all familiar with. For someone in 2012 to take a character so well-known, and give him an origin that is so refreshing and spectacular, Batman: Earth One is an excellent read, and Geoff Johns has earned a spot in my own personal hall of fame for comic book writers. While, I’ll admit, this is not the best retelling of Batman’s origin, it’s certainly up high on the list. It's a fantastic read for any Bat-Fan, and is something that I’ll refer to as a “must read” to anyone. If you haven’t done so already, please pick this up. You’ll be a better person for it, and will look forward to its promised sequel starring one of the best and under-used Batman villains of all time.