All images are from the graphic novel. Click on any of them to see them larger.
Some superheroes just don’t need an new origins story. Everyone knows Superman crashed a Kryptonian rocket in a Kansas cornfield. Everyone knows Peter Parker got bitten by a radioactive spider. Everyone knows that seeing his parents murdered in Crime Alley caused Bruce Wayne to become the Batman.
The best superheroes are timeless myths. They tell stories about us. So might it be possible to tell a fresh version old, old story for a new generation?
If you’re asking about Batman, and your name is Geoff Johns, then the answer is a resounding Yes, and your story is called Batman: Earth One.
Earth One (re)introduces a world we thought we knew. We meet a young, inexperienced Bruce Wayne donning the cowl for the first time to avenge his parents’ assassination. Lieutenant Jim Gordon is Gotham’s lone good cop who’s given up on Gotham after the accidental (?) death of his wife. Gordon just goes along, wanting more than anything to protect his daughter. And we meet Gordon’s new partner: ratings-chasing reality-TV superstar Harvey Bullock.
The plot of Batman: Earth Oneis stellar. Johns crams plenty of surprises into the story we thought we knew. In addition to the familiar cast, he introduces us to a truly terrifying new psychopath called the Birthday Boy. Gotham itself is as dark as ever, which only helps the few bright lights shine brighter.
Building on decades of Bat-tradition, Johns litters the book with winks to Bat-fans. But they’re not simply Easter Eggs.
Johns (re)builds Batman’s foundations deep. Bruce’s relationship to Harvey Dent. Gordon’s weary resolve. Barbara’s youth, vitality and optimism. Alfred’s surrogate-paternalism.
Minor spoiler: The single most excellent moment in the book for me was learning that Martha Wayne’s maiden name was Arkham. The Arkhams have long been one of the other ‘great’ Gotham families, and asylum is a key piece of Gotham geography, possibly more essential to Batman than the Batcave.
Grant Morrison’s landmark Arkham Asylum reimagined the Asylum as a mirror of Batman’s own broken psyche. Johns echoes by making Bruce not only a Wayne, but an Arkham. He’s heir to both families.
Standing outside the abandoned Arkham mansion (and not-yet Arkham Asylum), Jessica Dent* remarks,
They say it’s like a maze! Just like Gotham!
Batman: Earth One admits that its hero isn’t perfect. That the battle he wages against Gotham’s evil is one he wages within himself, too.
That’s what makes Batman: Earth One truly great. The book reintroduces us to the Batman. Especially with The Dark Knight Rises coming out on Friday, everyone knows Batman. Everyone knows his story. But just as Nolan did with his trilogy, Johns wants to tell a new story with our beloved Bat.
Johns uses the Batman to tell us that none of us is alone in our fight against the darkness. Even when we feel like the lone crusader in a world beyond salvation. Grant Morrison told us the first truth of Batman in The Return of Bruce Wayne.
The first truth of Batman is this: He was never alone.
Again building on Morrison’s work, Johns weaves this into the fabric of Batman’s origin. Gordon saves his daughter, and in the process, probably his soul. The true evil of Gotham breaks Bullock’s rose-and-reality-TV-colored glasses. Barbara gets an idea for a new outfit. All these new allies are inspired by Bruce’s determination. In the Batman, they see a reminder that they’re not in this fight alone.
And Bruce? Bruce learns he, too. He learns that his mission can be much larger than vengeance. He can bring hope and change.
But that mission is too big for Bruce. He can’t do it by himself. Fortunately, as Alfred reminds him,
You’ve never been alone.
Batman: Earth One reminds us that community is always our source of hope. We find in other people the antidote to despair.
I have no idea if anyone is planning to follow in Johns’ footsteps in this new Bat-verse. I hope they do. Practically every page of Earth One begs for more exploration.
*Jessica Dent is the newly-introduced and loaded with story potential twin sister of DA Harvey Dent.