Although DC Comics’ Earth One imprint has compiled a number of graphic novels that have presented interesting interpretations of the publisher’s iconic superheroes, to varying degrees of quality, the standout out of the bunch has to be Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Batman: Earth One. Considering that Johns has always been interested in exploring the flawed human angle on the Bat-themed vigilante from the longest time he’s been at DC, Earth One is all about that approach, as well as a different take on the crime-ridden streets of Gotham City, which has been successful for the most part.
The second volume was published in 2015, but due to Johns’ other commitments, whether it’s writing other comic books or writing and producing other media based on DC’s properties, we are just getting Vol. 3 now. Is it worth the long wait?
One month after the events of the last volume, which concluded with the death of Harvey Dent, a gang of thieves thrusts the city into a state of fear when they are mysteriously armed with military-grade weapons, funded by none other than former district attorney Harvey Dent. As Bruce Wayne investigates whether or not Dent has risen from the grave, he comforts Harvey’s twin sister, Mayor Jessica Dent — who is going through both physical and mental scars — and continues to expand his network of “outsiders”, realizing that the Batman can’t save Gotham on his own.
In recent media, we have seen multiple versions of the origins of Batman and his rogues gallery, from Batman: The Telltale Series to Matt Reeves’s upcoming The Batman, and the Earth One title continues the beginnings of these characters, albeit with a new twist. Volume 3 builds on the ideas of its predecessors, such as Batman growing his alliances that began with Captain James Gordon and Killer Croc, and Bruce Wayne confronts his family’s past with the surprising return of his grandfather, Adrian Arkham.
Sadly, what starts out as a compelling mixture of old and new towards the Batman mythos, this volume resolves a lot of the ideas from before into a disappointing conclusion. For starters, there isn’t much of an emotional angle to cling on, because the story veers off into different directions, whether it is Bruce trying to reconnect with the troubled mayor or trying to regain a sense of family with his mentally unstable grandfather, even if it negates Alfred, who is no longer the emotional crux to ground the hero. As for the central mystery regarding Harvey Dent, which certainly puts a new spin on the Two-Face origin, the final reveal is predictable, especially if you remember how the second volume teased it at the end.
With a more grounded approach to the mythos, artist Gary Frank embraces the gritty nature of Gotham where Batman is not drawn as an outlandish figure, despite his costume with a cowl that lacks the traditional white slits. There isn’t a great deal of action in this graphic novel, but Frank makes up for it with his realistically-drawn characters. Some of the redesigns really fall flat, however most notably Catwoman — her new skimpy costume is the worst visualization I’ve ever seen of the Cat.
Concluding with a rushed ending that does a lot while setting up a potential fourth volume, the long-awaited return of Batman: Earth One is ultimately not worth the wait as it juggles too much and achieves so little.
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