Geoff Johns' Earth 1 Batman is a graphic novel we could do without
The Batman most fans know is a confident fellow with lots of rad equipment, a sweet Batmobile and insane fighting abilities.Not with a writer as smug and pretentious as Johns writing it, I don't think. It reminds me that almost a decade ago, Marvel tried something similar with some of their heroes like the X-Men, supposedly intended as a gateway for people who'd seen the movies, and the book spotlighting Rogue was so clumsily written it was worthless. Why should we expect any different from this? Especially with Johns as the writer? Why, back in 2004, he implied Batman was a jerk in an issue of the Flash years before this was supposed to have really become a problem.
Geoff Johns' latest Dark Knight? Kind of a fumbling dude.
In his Batman: Earth One graphic novel with artist Gary Frank, the Justice League writer places DC Comics' resident Caped Crusader at the start of his career, where his Bat-grappling hook is glitchy and falling down the side of buildings is not unusual.
"I like starting out this early, where it's just a guy in a suit and a couple of things that don't work," Johns says. "Everyone takes for granted that Batman's just really good at what he does and that he knows what he's doing and it's all about the villains.
"Gary and I took a step back and said, 'This is about this guy, Bruce Wayne. This is about Alfred. This is about Gotham. This is about the other characters around him.' And really make it a story about a person before it's a story about Batman."
Like J. Michael Straczynski's Superman: Earth One graphic novel a couple years ago, Batman: Earth One (in comics shops July 4) is a modern tale reimagining the superhero's origin outside of the regular continuity that's perfect for new readers — and mainstream folks just now getting psyched for next month's The Dark Knight Rises in theaters.
"If you love Batman, you can just read this book and get a whole story and not have to read a thousand other things," Johns says about his first foray into a tale all about Batman's world.And here I thought he wanted people to check out a lot of the other Bat-stories they've published too. And it's hardly his first time: I think in 2002, he co-wrote a followup to the Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive crossover, which was downright one of the most time-wasting of the editorial mandates.
In addition to crafting a different Dark Knight for a different time, the writer explores a Gotham City with tweaked but familiar places and characters and a more human story.Oh, how clever, making the premise of this alternate world story about a couple who are politicians instead of doctors. If there's no Batcave under the mansion, how are we even supposed to assume he'd even discover it so he could at least lay out the groundswork for developing it for future use? And what kind of "ordinary car" does he have? A Smart ForTwo microcar?
There's no giant penny in a Batcave, and actually no Batcave. His "Batmobile" is a ordinary car with tinted windows. There's no Arkham Asylum jam-packed with costumed bad guys — the Penguin is stripped down and makes an appearance in a different way than ever before, and there is a knowing, artistic nod to Two-Face in a single panel.
Instead, Johns and Franks wanted to focus on the man beneath the cowl, who turns toward a life of heroism when his politician father and mother are killed in front of him.
As for nods to any supervillain, I've noticed this in some of Johns' past work already, including a single-panel nod in 2004 to Clive Yorkin, the metahuman madman initially suspected of killing Iris West Allen in the Flash back in 1979. It doesn't take much to figure that any nod made now will be little different from before: a pointless cameo.
Johns, who also is DC's chief creative officer, aimed to start from scratch on most everything. Even in Frank Miller's Batman: Year One story arc in the 1980s, Batman's really good at what he's doing, but Johns felt it'd be better to have a guy who still had no clue.I'm afraid that just makes a mockery of the whole original premise where Bruce Wayne spent much of his early years as an orphan studying all sorts of subjects day and night to prepare himself for the day he could go to town as a vigilante. And in the more than 70 years since his debut, Batman has hardly been portrayed as invincible: he's had broken bones, and he was temporarily incapacitated by Bane's back-breaker in the early 90s.
In recent years, Batman has become more about his villains than Batman himself, but by making a hero more like us, Johns feels he has created a more compelling character.I don't see how writing an alternate world tale changes that. When he was writing the Flash and proving himself one of the most inappropriate writers for that series, quite often, he made it more about the villains there too. All about reinstating the Rogues as the official villains of Keystone/Central City, all for the sake of weak nostalgia. If he wants to make Batman more about Batman, he should take up writing those books regularly instead, or better yet, forget it. He's already proven himself inadequate on the Flash and Green Lantern too, so even if darkness is his obsession, I don't see him doing any better on those except to try and make the villains more badass as he's already been trying to do with a lot of other rogues galleries on several other titles, yet doing almost nothing to try and conceive stories with non-costumed villains as adversaries.
Another reason why Batman may seem less human under today's writing is because they don't try to create a serious relationship with any ladyfriends like Silver St. Cloud, Vicky Vale, and various other women who've passed through his life. If they can't do this, how do they expect to make him really human? And alternate realities don't help.