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Batman: Earth One: Volume 1 (DC Comics, 2012; OGN)

Guess what! It’s a Batman origin story!

DC’s Earth One line of original graphic novels is an attempt to write updated, narrative-driven versions of its characters’ origins. At least, that’s what I take its mission to be after reading Batman: Earth One’s first installment. The familiar elements are there—the Zorro movie, dead parents in the alley, Alfred, Gordon, Bullock, etc. But Geoff Johns adds in plenty of new elements as well. Harvey Dent’s sister, Thomas Wayne’s mayoral bid, Alfred’s transformation into a Wintergreen-style confidant and soldier, to name a few.

What makes this Batman story feel most different, however, is its pacing. As an original graphic novel, it already casts aside some of the structural features of monthly comics. There are no cliffhangers, no big twists in the middle of the book to make a reader come back for the next issue. Some of that comes at the end, to entice a purchase of its second volume—but even that feels like a product of operating at a different scale. This first volume concerns a very specific chapter of Bruce’s life as Batman—it ends with a change to his status quo and worldview, and a subsequent volume can’t be the same. As a result, the tease of what comes next feels as much like the turning of a page as it does a hook.

But being different does not, by default, make a thing good or enjoyable. From a technical standpoint, it is good—the writing is tight and intentional. It balances humor, pain, fear, and loss. It does work structurally. And it has a sense that death is more final than in main-line superhero comics. And I did enjoy it—but if you aren’t a fan of alternate takes on familiar characters, you may have a harder time.

Regardless, I can’t imagine anyone balking at Batman: Earth One’s art. Gary Frank’s pencils are some of the best out there. But in this case, having the luxury of time lets him nail every page. And the same goes for Jonathan Sibal’s inks and Brad Anderson’s colors. Its visuals are amazingly polished.

I don’t think Batman: Earth One is mandatory reading—at least, not based on a single trade. And I am sure that there are people out there who will see it as too far a departure; perhaps, there are some who will see it as too little of one. But it is an expertly crafted book, and if you are interested, you should check it out. And if you are into reinterpreted, modernized versions of characters, you won’t be disappointed.

Collected in

  • Batman: Earth One, Vol. 1 (OGN)


Writer: Geoff Johns | Penciller: Gary Frank | Inker: Jonathan Sibal | Colorist: Brad Anderson | Letterer: Rob Leigh

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