When word of the initial creative lineups arrived, the Geoff Johns announcement as writing Batman seemed misplaced. At the time, the idea of JMS on Superman made sense, because of his work on Supreme Power and his love of the character. Granted, this was before that train wreck of a story in Superman Grounded appeared, but he seemed like the right fit for a modern retelling. Johns on Batman seemed a little out of place. For as long as Johns has written DC characters, it always felt like his Batman was nothing more than a caricature taken to the next level, and simply used him to be the angry hero who was angry to other heroes and spat out angry little quips as though he was the mean girl in high school. And in the DCnU, his Batman is a guy who foolishly takes off his mask and reveals his identity in the middle of an invasion as a way to win an argument. In comparison to how Johns had up to that point written Superman, Green Lantern and Flash, it seemed like an odd choice to put him on this book. In this volume, the character doesn't seem as angry, but there is still a feeling of uncertainty about what Johns is ultimately trying to do given a completely clean slate.
The book starts with Batman chasing a man across rooftops, trying to use his grappling gun to catch up, but it backfires and becomes a bunch of wires, resulting in Bruce having to make the olympic leap across buildings. Bruce falls into the alley and on the way down gets battered both physically and mentally, and is so despondent with his crash he doesn't even try to help a man whose convenience store has just been robbed across the street. He just sees what happens and looks the other way, feeling that he's not able to be the force for good that he thought, and heads back to his Jaguar sedan, the first Batmobile in this world. So right away Johns is trying to show the man who has bordered on super detective ninja god isn't going to be that way from the beginning. Compared to Frank Miller's Year One, there is no pre-Batman vigilante showing up to stake out the world or globetrotting for enlightenment, it's an athletic man putting on a suit of body armor and a cape and running on pure revenge.
We then flashback to Bruce's past, where we find Alfred Pennyworth, now a retired former British Marine working in private security, arriving in Gotham to become mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne's head of security. Thomas' opponent is Oswald Cobbepot, the corrupt mayor who doesn't abstain from using the mob's help. Thomas and Alfred both served together in what is inferred to be Iraq, Another change that is noticeable is that Martha Wayne's maiden name is Arkham, not Kane. This becomes important in the story and tries to establish Arkham not as an asylum off the edge of Gotham but as Martha's family house in the middle of the city where bad things happened that were just shy of what occurred in The Shining, and also to establish that Bruce is the offspring of both the good and bad the city offers. After ignoring Alfred's warning of not heading out on the weekly family time, the Waynes head to the movies to see the latest blockbuster (no mention of Zorro), and from there a more modern retelling of how the Waynes are murdered arrives. More notably than anything with this scene is how Bruce is not written as being the good obedient son, but rather a spoiled brat who can get away with anything because of his rich parents. It's a bit heavy handed, and if you've read how Johns writes the new Billy Batson in his Justice League backups, the same thing applies here. From there we moving into the obligatory struggle struggle, bang bang, parents dead, and an orphan who wants revenge and takes up the mantle of the bat to scare criminals.
|Gotham's always been going down the drain|
I know I've written some critical things, but the book has some nice changes from the regular universe. The brightest part is the most original piece of the story, as the Earth One version of Harvey Bullock steals every page he's on, to the point where he is nearly worth the price of admission alone. We know him as the cigar chomping husky fellow who always wears a hat and was formerly a corrupt cop. In this universe, he's a former Hollywood detective turned reality TV star, who joins the GCPD to solve the Wayne's cold case file. He's a pretty boy and a womanizer, but is a genuinely good cop who in many ways seems to be what Clark Kent or Barry Allen would be if he tried to operate in Gotham, and having to adjust to how the city operates. He gets partnered up with Jim Gordon, who isn't the cleanest guy but has legitimate reasons for falling into the big grey moral area. These two characters really have the most complete arcs in the book, and because they don't really follow the same old formula the outcomes they reach are that much greater in emotional impact. Alfred's modernized counterpart fits in being Bruce's confidant while at the same time not being so overpowering that he can constantly be on the front lines of cleaning up Gotham and shield Bruce as he learns his paces. We even get nods to potential future characters should the Earth One line continue indefinitely, and while she is never shown I have a strong suspicion who the new Cassandra Cain would be in this universe, which would be a nice way to blend the Bat-family together. That is, if DC didn't have Cassandra Cain on some kind of creative lockdown.
|Batman and Jim Gordon's first meeting goes very bad|
Verdict - Check It. The book falls somewhere between a Byrne It and Check It, but despite my criticisms of how the story reads like a movie and lacks originality in places, it does deliver a full story arc about how Bruce becomes Batman. After thinking about it for a day or two, it really reminded me of the first arc of Mark Millar's Ultimates run. It's a book that will feel dated a few months after release, and seems intent on trying to convey big moments that aren't really there, but at the same time the strong art and novel changes to characters gives it a certain charm that might not be something you want to read every month, for instance, but at the very least keeps your eyes open for the second volume (hopefully it doesn't take another four years). Compared to Superman Earth One, it is a much more complete story that might not flesh out Batman completely, but it doesn't just completely miss the mark on characterization like Superman did. I can't recommend this book at the suggested retail price, but if you can find it for under fifteen dollars or it shows up on a digital sale for less at some point, give it a shot. Batman Year One is not dethroned as the definitive origin story, and Batman Begins would be the second origin to choose, but this is an acceptable third place showing when it comes to Batman origins.