Batman: Earth One Written by Geoff Johns, Penciled by Gary Frank
I’m going to just come clean hear and say that I have a strong prejudice toward Marvel Comics and, more importantly for my purposes here, against DC. This comes from my younger days (in the early 1980s) when Marvel’s storylines were really very much superior to those produced by DC. The first major story arc that I ever followed was Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Dark Phoenix saga beginning in The X-Men #129 and reaching its stunning and tragic crescendo in #138 with Jean Grey’s comrades fighting a desperate and ultimately futile battle on the Moon trying to save her from the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. That was, for me, the high point of comic book storytelling.
It was only a few years later that DC seriously upped their collective game by releasing Frank Miller’s gloomy, yet gripping, The Dark Knight Returns (1986). This was a real step forward in terms of the application of literary naturalism to major label comic books. It featured (among other things) the Joker as a stone cold mass murderer, Green Arrow as a one-armed communist, and a main character whose main approach to information gathering was bone shattering torture. Yet, while I found this pretty compelling when I read it back in the day, I still retained by preference for Marvel standbys, such as the Avengers, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk (and of course the X-Men).
|Gordon going "Bad Cop"|
in Earth One
Of course, times change. Marvel has certainly done a great deal to expand its brand through movies and television. The movie renditions of The Avengers have moved from strength to strength, last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie was truly excellent, and after a bit of a shaky start, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has really found its footing. Still, many of my friends who are more (so to speak) comics purists have grown tired of Marvel’s improbable plot lines and returning dead characters back to life and have moved off into other, less mainstream imprints like Dark Horse and Image.
DC too has made forays into other media. The Dark Knight movies have been notably successful, and have shown that DC is committed to creating its own noir-ish niche. Their television offerings include Arrow, which has grown into an excellent, character-rich narrative, and The Flash, which hasn’t (at least not yet). They’ve also revamped their comics lines with The New 52, which has provided some different (and very interesting takes) on some traditional characters, particularly Batgirl. They’ve got a series of new releases coming up which I’ll talk about in a subsequent post, but for now I want to talk about yet another step in the emerging Batman narrative.
|Alfred in Earth One|
In 2012, DC released Batman: Earth One, a new take on the Batman origin story written into their Earth One story environment. Written by DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and penciled by Gary Frank (who has also worked for both Marvel and Image), Earth One continues DC’s comic noir approach, telling the story of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents in a dark, crime-ridden Gotham ruled by a corrupt administration led by Mayor Oswald Cobblepot (aka The Penguin). Some other major differences include James Gordon as a detective beaten down by corruption, and Batman’s companion Alfred, not so much a butler as a former British commando and grey eminence. The art is darkly beautiful, often recalling Miller’s work (although showing more similarities to Martha Washington Goes to War than to The Dark Knight Returns) and the story has the kind of gritty, bordering on horror elements that one has come to associate with DC modern output.
|Frank Miller's Batman|
Batman: Earth One represents yet another transformation in the way that the Batman character is framed, one at once more profound and more subtle than that executed by Miller in The Dark Knight Returns. Miller’s Batman is a product of the 1980s: cities decaying after the end of the postwar boom in the 1970s, spineless liberals and their coddling of criminals, and a federal government more concerned with international politics than with domestic collapse. The villains are horrific. Two Face threatens to blow up an entire building. The Joker slaughters the entire audience of the David Letterman Show and then poisons a pack of cub scouts for good measure. Gotham City is plagued by a street gang more intent on simple slaughter than with any economic motive. The solutions proposed are simple: savage beatings and some light torture. Eventually the federal government decides that Batman’s methods are unsound and Superman is sent to sort him out. He is ultimately forced underground, to continue his campaign to beat evil into (physical) submission with the help an army of former street gang members.
|More of Miller's version|
Batman and the Joker
|Batman kicking butt in Earth One|