Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Batman: Earth One Review

Among the pantheon of superheroes, Batman's origin is certainly one of the most compelling and identifiable. Scarred by the trauma of witnessing his parents gunned down by a mugger during a harmless family outing young billionaire Bruce Wayne literally puts his life on hold and vowing justice against the evil that robbed him of the two most precious people in his life thenceforth committs every fiber of his being to achieving the peak of mental and physical perfection. Eventually developing the alter ego of the Batman, Bruce assumes the facade of a vacuous and narcassistic playboy during the day while at night, strikes fear into the hearts of Gotham's criminal underbelly while inspiring hope in its good people as the city's Dark Knight.
There have been quite a few interpretations of Batman's origins both in comics and cinema. The most noteworthy probably being Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli's grim and gritty Batman: Year One series, pretty much considered as cannon to any current reader of the comics, and Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, which is just as much a thought provoking psychological exploration into Bruce's drive and motivation for putting on the cape and cowl and choosing to be a hero as it is a rousing action/adventure story.
And now, just in time for The Dark Knight Rises no less, we have Batman: Earth One, the long awaited graphic novel by writer Geoff John's and artist Gary Frank in which The Caped Crusaders origins are re-imagined for a new generation of reader's. I had been looking forward to this for a long time and, John's definately takes some liberties with the mythology, probably to the disdain of more than a few hardcore purists, I found myself liking the book quite a lot.
Undeniably one of Earth One's most compelling aspects lies in its very human and fallible presentation of its central character. Contrary to his current depiction in comics and, to some extent, on film, this Batman is not yet the brilliant crime fighting strategist, not yet the cunning martial arts master, and not yet the stealthy sleuth who can creep beneath his enemies noses completely undetected. No, the Batman we are presented with in Earth One is a reclusive and angry young man not as interested in protecting the innocent and inspiring people for good as he is the single minded goal of uncovering the conspiracy behind his parents murders and dispensing violent revenge against the people ultimately responsible. He does not have the convenient amenities of a batcave or batmobile and his gadgets, or "gadget" I should say, does not always function properly in the heat of the moment. He is brash, arrogant, and his forays into to constumed vigilantism do not usually end with the bad guys lying in an unconscious heap on the floor. While I found this version of the character to come off as cold and not quite as sympathetic as the Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins who gained a sense of closure for his parents murders yet chose to become a hero anyway, I  thought he was nonetheless a very compelling character as we see him grow from a snobby and entitled little rich kid to a penitent and almost tormented adult for the role he unwittingly played in the tragedy that claimed his parents lives. On a purely ascetic level, it is interesting to note that this is really the first depiction of Batman in comics were you can see his eyes, as they are not whited out and hidden like they have always been in the monthly books. The result is pretty striking as rendered by Gary Frank's exceptional, life-like artwork, causing the reader that extra degree of identification with the character's vulnerability and humanity.
Some gymnastics are made with the supportive characters of Batman's mythology especially Alfred who, in a true departure from the fastidious, dry humored and stiff upper lipped domestic housekeeper we all know and love, is a gruff and gnarled veteran of the Royal Marines who forged a close friendship with Bruce's father, Thomas Wayne, after saving him in combat. Contrary to his virtuous "against the grain"  depiction in Batman: Year One, police sargeant Jim Gordon, Batman's loyal alley and confidant, in this book, is rather a disenfranchised and world weary drone in a hoplessly corrupt system he gave up trying to save after his wife died under "mysterious circumstances."  Perhaps the most radical character re-imagining is that of Detective Harvey Bullock who, in a far cry from the slobbish, outspoken, in your face cynic he was shown to be in the comics and to a greater extent, in the 90's Batman animated series, is a handsome, squeaky clean, agonizingly cheery and all around naive ex reality t.v. star from the west coast looking to re-invigorate his career by making a name for himself in Gotham City though his confidence is eroded later on when he witnesses first hand the horrors the city breeds. Earth One also feature's one of the most creepy and immoral versions of The Penguin I've ever seen on page and a truly terrifying serial killer who looks like he came right out of the pages of a Thomas Harris Hannibal Lecter novel.
One of the things I enjoyed most was how each of the featured characters experiences their own unique arc throughout the course of the story which, by the end renders them all the more recognizable to their counterparts in the DC Universe proper, particularly Batman who, (spoilers!) after saving Gordon's daughter from certain death at the hands of one of the story's villains, begins to comprehend the bigger picture of the symbol he could represent to Gotham and starts to transcend his former role as a mere vigilante lost in the scramble for his own gratification to a hero committed to an ideal greater than himself.
Overall, I really enjoyed Batman: Earth One and would definately recommend it to fans of the comic book medium. It is a fresh and engaging look at Batman, not as just a super hero, but truly and inescapably one of us as well.



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