After almost three years of waiting, Geoff Johns’ and Gary Frank’s Batman Earth One finally gets the sequel it deserves and damn, is it gorgeous. DC’s Earth One line was launched way back in 2010 with Superman Earth One, and though there haven’t been a terribly large amount of books in this universe, the few we’ve had have been simply fantastic.
The second volume of Batman Earth One is either the fifth or sixth book in the universe depending on what’s happening with Teen Titans Earth One, a book that supposedly is not based in the same universe, yet falls under the Earth One banner. In any case, Batman Earth One is the series to get into for a fresh take on the Dark Knight with, in my opinion, one of the best artists in the business. Coming in at around 150 pages of action, new twists on familiar characters, riddles, and even more action, this sleeveless hardcover is well worth the $24.99 cover price.
Anyone who has read the first volume will know that this Batman is a little different than the one most of us are familiar with. We have a Bruce Wayne who, it appears, never left Gotham, instead being trained by Alfred, a one-legged former Royal Marine. Bruce is initially out for revenge against the corrupt mayor, Oswald Cobblepot, a slightly taller and slimmer version of the Penguin, who schemed to have the Waynes killed only for them to be shot by a random mugger in an alleyway. Bruce is a descendent of both the Waynes and the Arkhams, often bullied by a young Harvey Dent for his mother’s side of the family and their penchant for turning into nutbars.
Detective James Gordon is probably the most wildly different character simply because he’s joined most of the GCPD in their corruption, though his reasons are not for money, but rather the safety of his daughter, Barbara. Gordon teams with the vain, handsome Harvey Bullock in a relationship that I feel might have been the basis for the older corrupt Bullock and young idealistic Gordon of the Gotham TV series. By the end of volume one, Batman has saved the day, Gordon has cleaned up his act and is ready to fight Gotham’s corruption. Bullock, so disturbed by a basement full of bodies, is now falling into an 80’s Tony Stark level of alcoholism, and Mayor Cobblepot lies dead in the street, a victim of Alfred’s mighty shotgun. Where do we go from here?
Where we go is six months into the future as a couple of new menaces rear their ugly (or reptilian) heads as the Riddler and Killer Croc appear to cause Batman some trouble. In the months since Mayor Cobblepot’s murder, pinned on Batman of course, five city officials have taken it upon themselves to seize control of the Penguin’s criminal network. Well let me tell you, Batman is having none of this. However, he first has to contend with a madman trapping groups of people, asking them riddles, and killing them if they answer incorrectly.
Meanwhile, there’s a new mayor in town, Jessica Dent, twin sister of District Attorney Harvey Dent. The two of them have figured out that the five officials exist, but still don’t know who they are, leading them to Bruce Wayne. Bruce is the one man who’s made it his business to stay out of Gotham, therefore making him the one man they can trust.
On the Gordon side of things, he and Batman are investigating the Riddler’s first crime scene, an elevator that plummeted to the bottom of the shaft, killing everyone inside. Batman steps on evidence and is told by Gordon to watch what he touches with his gloves so as not to smudge any fingerprints. This is not Batman, the world’s greatest detective, at least not yet. We also get to check in with Detective Bullock, now spending his off-duty (and most of his on-duty) hours drowning in a bar, sporting a good amount of face fuzz, and, in one panel, what looks to be the beginnings of his trademark gut.
For any Batgirl fans, prepare for disappointment. Despite the implication that she would don a cowl in this book, Barbara spends the entire book off-panel, at school in Berkley instead of punching bad guys in their stupid mouths.
After another group of people, also really bad at riddles, are found dead, Batman barely misses the Riddler who bashes him with a shovel, sending him out a window, onto a balcony and into the care of a woman who, if the last page of the book is any indication, is Selina Kyle. Actually, screw that. It is Selina Kyle. Batman leaves the apartment and, thanks to the explosion, has to change into his third costume of the series so far, this time with a hexagonal yellow plate on the chest with a black bat symbol and a slightly sleeker mask.
Not one to let almost falling to his death slow him down, Batman heads into the sewers where he meets Killer Croc! After a short fight we find out that ol’ Waylon just wants to be left alone after escaping from the circus. With a little help from the Croc himself, Batman finds the Riddler’s hideout, the same one we saw on the last page of the first volume, shortly before it exploded, leading to the Riddler challenging Batman to a battle of wits. A train car full of rich people hangs in the balance as the Riddler asks, “I’m the part of the bat that’s not in the sky. I can swim in the lake in the moonlight and yet remain dry. What am I?” I was pretty proud of myself that I correctly guessed, “A shadow”, same as Batman. This doesn’t stop the Riddler from blowing up the train anyway because he’s kind of a bastard.
It is soon after this, during a conversation with Gordon that Batman figures out that the killings are a cover by one of the five city officials to take out the other four by killing groups of people that they’re in to avoid suspicion. This is soon followed by Batman giving Gordon a cellphone with one button, a button with a bat on it, because he’s Batman and he’s a crazy person.
Soon enough, all the major players are in the GCPD: Bruce, Alfred, Gordon, Bullock, and the Dents just in time for the Riddler to trap them all and ask a final riddle as he lets all the prisoners, including a crazy-haired Sal Maroni, out of their cells to attack our heroes. Bruce, of course, slinks away to don what is apparently a fourth batsuit, but looks basically the same with a more plated armor on the gauntlets and boots.
The Dents try to get away just as Maroni catches them, stabbing Harvey, the man who put him in the cell. He then smashes a Molotov cocktail on one side of his face because this is a Batman comic and he’s Harvey Dent. In kind of a hilarious twist (and possibly a dig at the extensive damage done to Harvey’s face in Nolan’s The Dark Knight that he somehow didn’t die from) Harvey dies because how could he not?
Jessica, distraught over the death of her womb-mate, presses her face to his, eliciting a sizzling sound effect. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see that side of her face for the rest of the comic, but expect her back as a new take on Two-Face in Batman Earth One Volume 3 when that comes out in, like, twelve years.
Batman escapes the station to find a van full of explosives as the Riddler drives past him in another van. Of course, being Batman, he gets into the van filled with what appears to be every bomb in existence, and gives chase. Batman crashes into the Riddler because, again, he’s an absolute lunatic, and chases him into the sewers, ending in a pretty one-sided fight that’s made even more one-sided by the helpful reappearance of Killer Croc who is immediately shot by the Riddler. In the end, the bad guys get put away, Killer Croc is recuperating in Wayne Manor and trading barbs with Alfred, Jessica is apparently a bit possessed by the personality of Harvey, and Gordon is promoted to Captain, leading to a panel of Harvey, at the realization that he’s lost his partner, looking sadder than I have ever seen a human person look. Seriously, it hurts to look at because he’s so depressed. The last two pages are the woman who saved Batman on a bed with a cat and cat objects because she’s definitely Selina Kyle.
Where do I begin? This book was just fantastic. We get a Batman-in-progress who tends to get the crap kicked out of him and even asks Gordon to teach him how to be a detective. The art is superb. Like, I seriously cannot overstate how much I love Gary Frank’s art. Everything he draws is beautiful with the exception of the occasional wonky eye. The man basically draws movies. And that’s not to undercut the excellence that is Geoff Johns’ writing. He just doesn’t know how to write a bad book to the point that it’s almost unfair.
The Riddler was interesting in that this version, he doesn’t care if you get his riddles right or wrong. Killer Croc was sympathetic as a monstrous-looking man that just wanted to be left alone only to show up to help the one person who showed him a little bit of kindness. Gordon is basically the Gordon we all know and love at this point, now a bit more confident than in the last volume. The Dents were almost polar opposites with Jessica being kind and caring, whereas Harvey was kind of a dick. And Bullock… I just want Bullock to be happy.
There really isn’t much to put here. Alfred’s accent was noticeably thicker than in the last volume. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s kind of odd that he doesn’t seem to speak in a consistent way across the two volumes. Also, the Riddler has, like, a question mark tattoo over one of his eyes that just feels like something to make him edgy and doesn’t really fit with him supposedly being a city official (unless he was just hired by the fifth official and I missed something).
This is kind of nitpicking, but I’ve always hated the black on yellow bat symbol, so to see two different versions of it in this wasn’t great, but I powered through because the book is just that good. Also, the whole ‘Jessica Dent is gonna be Two-Face instead of Harvey’ thing was already kind of done in Superman Earth One Volume 3 when the male Lex Luthor died and the female Lex Luthor becomes Superman’s enemy. Of course, this book took a while to come out, so that could have already been decided before Superman did it. It’s also possible that Earth One is a place where there are both male and female versions of some villains, but there can be only one.
Batman Earth One is an excellent read. Earth One overall is a new spin on old stories, which makes for compelling tales. In this volume, like others, the characters are great, the art is beautiful, and the writing is top notch. The good outweighs the bad so hard that the bad might as well not exist. I completely recommend that anybody buy this book. It’s important to read the first prior to this though, so go buy that too. Read them together. These two books and the rest of the Earth One universe are all phenomenal reads.