Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Gary Frank
Publisher: DC Comics
Superman: Earth One caused quite a stir with it’s rather different take on the Superman mythos, and because of that, many didn’t really like it. Still, you got to admire the courage it took to mess with a familiar and successful formula. Batman: Earth One isn’t nearly as much of a radical departure, and because of that, some may still not like it. This story is pretty similar to the classic origin of Batman. Oh, there are difference here and there, tweaks to the formula and new connections made between familiar characters, but because it isn’t all that radically different, some may wonder why this story is even necessary. Personally, I thought it was an enjoyable telling of how Batman got his start, with enough differences to catch you off guard every now and then without going too far off the beaten path of Batman’s iconic origins.
This is also a much more realistic take on the Batman mythos. In the first few pages, we see one of Batman’s gadgets not work, him miscalculate a jump, and eventually end up falling down into a bunch of trash. Later we see him impetuously try to take someone down without giving heed to the tactical situation. It’s kind of startling to see a Batman make so many mistakes, look so vulnerable, and not always be two steps ahead of everyone else, but it’s also rather fascinating. There’s one rather interesting moment where Bruce is confronted with his readiness to carry on this crusade. Alfred (who’s markedly different here, more on that in a moment) doesn’t believe he’s ready because he doesn’t think Bruce will to do all that is necessary. It’s an intriguing confrontation because that’s always been one of Batman’s key characteristics; Batman will do whatever’s necessary to get the job done, sometimes going much further and crossing more lines than other heroes may be comfortable with. Bruce hasn’t quite reached that point early in this story, and it’s fascinating to see him confronted with that shortcoming and how he reacts to being called out on it.
While Batman and Bruce remain mostly the same as usual, with a bit more human-ness and vulnerability added in, other characters have greater differences from their norm, but still retain their core. Alfred is a good example of this. Here he’s a war vet and a security specialist. He comes to the Waynes to help protect the family, but after the tragedy with Bruce’s parents, he’s cajoled into staying on as the “butler.” He’s not the warm, sage, dry-witted father figure we’re used to, but he’s still Alfred; he still has Bruce’s best interests at heart and is still a reluctant ally and aide in Bruce’s quest. Jim Gordon is pretty much the same guy, but he starts off in a much different place than we’re used to seeing him; cowed, withdrawn, overprotective, and more concerned about self-preservation. Of all the characters, I think Harvey Bullock’s arc is the most interesting. He’s markedly different at the beginning of the story, almost to the point of being unrecognizable. He’s idealistic, handsome, confident, and driven. However, by the end we begin to see the seeds of how he ends up eventually being none of those things.
Gotham City can have that affect on people. It wears them down with a relentless tide of evil and villainy. Faced with the true horrors of just how evil the world can be, how can anyone continue to fight for something better, to stand for what’s right, to hope that the tide can be stemmed or even slowed? At best, one can only hope to merely get by, to survive as intact as possible. That’s the path that Bullock is set on by the end of this book, and it’s a path so many travel in our world as well. It’s true, the world can be a bleak place at times, to the point where it may seem like the easiest thing to do is just become resigned to it all and try to survive as best as possible. I’ve always found it interesting that Jesus never denied that the world we live in is a dark and bleak place. He never said things would be easy. “In this world you will have trouble,” he said. He himself was very familiar with the trouble and evil of this world. However, he also knew that something could be done about it. “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) There is hope in the face of darkness because of Jesus. He faced the worst this world had offer, and he emerged victorious. Betrayal, torture and death could not conquer him. He suffered, died and rose again, and in doing so proved that those things can not hope to win. There are greater forces than the evil of this world; God’s love and mercy, his hope and forgiveness, his compassion and comfort. There will be times when we will be confronted with the evil, the real evil of this world. In those times, it can be easy to slide into despair and resignation, to think that there’s nothing that can be done, just like Harvey Bullock. But there is something that can be done, and in fact it has already been done. This world and all its evil have been overcome; because of Jesus, we can take heart and have hope even in the darkest of the darkness.
Earth One: Batman is an interesting take on the Batman mythos. It’s not radically different, but just different enough. It’s a more human and vulnerable take on the familiar story, and also a gritty and bleak take on it all. Geoff Johns tells a familiar story in an unfamiliar way, and he leaves lots of threads and hints left dangling with the possibility of taking them up in other tales from this slightly altered world. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing that.
Score: 5 of 7
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