With the launch of the New 52 last year, a lot of things changed for the Dark Knight (does anyone say Caped Crusader anymore?). With this story, expertly told in words by Geoff Johns (Superman: Secret Origin, Green Lantern) and in pictures by Gary Frank (Supreme Power, Incredible Hulk) it puts a new dynamic to Batman… but also confusion.
With the New 52, DC relaunched its multiverse as a fact instead of a story component as we saw in the years leading up to Flashpoint. This universe had a Batman, and as we say recently with James Robinson’s Earth 2 so did that universe. The concern now is where this story falls into place. But I am getting ahead of myself…
This book is the origin of Batman merged with a touch of Year One. At least, that’s the feeling it portrays. Like many a successful TV show, we start in the present where something is going on and then we jump back in time to where it all started. (You’d think Johns had written some TV shows before, no?) We see a Batman just starting out – a slightly different but familiar costume, but a not-so-experienced man in the costume as we see him leap from one building to another… and miss. Upon his suddenly abrupt landing on the ground below, we see the first vestiges of fear in someone over the Batman: a homeless person who suddenly had a man fall out of the sky in front of her in costume, face hidden. This sets the tone for where Batman will ultimately go.
Jump to the past. Thomas Wayne, a businessman focusing on medical technology, is running for mayor with his wife, Martha Arkham-Wayne (yes, Arkham), acting as his campaign manager. There were some concerns over his safety so they call in Alfred Pennyworth – a man who saved Thomas’s life during his time in the Royal Marines and who had his legs saved by Wayne – to lead up the security team who will keep Wayne safe. Ignoring his new security man, the Wayne’s still decide to go out that evening to the movies as the young son, Bruce, desperately wants to go (and for those eagle eyes, we see a Zorro poster linking back to the original origin). We all know what happens now… The Wayne’s get killed and Bruce is left as an orphan with Alfred as his guardian. Where this differs from other stories is that Alfred sets himself up to be the boy’s butler, as opposed to the Pennyworth family serving we have become accustomed to.
Flash forward to “today”. A serial child killer is loose in Gotham and James Gordon, along with his new partner TV celebrity Harvey Bullock (definitely not the Bullock we know) are placed onto the case. Bullock has an ulterior motive for coming to Gotham, though – to solve the mystery of the Wayne’s murder. This investigation is used as a major plot point which causes event after event to unfold, ultimately leading to the confrontation between Batman and the serial killer. (I think we all know how that’s going to end…)
Throughout the story we see many others who are part of the mythos we do know. Harvey Dent, who appears as an older teen to a younger Bruce. Lucius Fox, who makes those “wonderful toys” that Bruce uses when in costume. Barbara Gordon, the daughter of James Gordon and has had a few alter egos herself. The mention of Helena who works at the library that Barbara visits (which sounds an awful lot like Huntress, the daughter of Batman). Oswald Cobblepot, the mayor of Gotham who has a somewhat questionable past and some shade business dealings.
Throughout the book we see a lot of character growth, which is something that only someone like Johns who has a strong familiarity and understanding with the characters could do within a single book. Bruce grows from immaturity and feeling powerful to coming to terms that he needs to focus his anger (after a fight with Alfred) to being the hero he is destined to be. Gordon grows from a cop who looks like he’s on the take to an understanding that what he does is to protect his family, or whatever is left of it. Alfred grows from surly ex-Marine to a father figure who will do anything to protect his young charge as we see. And Barbara grows from being the bookish young lady looking out for her father to being inspired by a man in costume.
There’s a lot of development, and without Frank’s and the whole team’s amazing artwork the story would be good but not as good. This is an encapsulated story from beginning to end, but it does leave a DC fan wondering where this falls into place in continuity. Is this a standalone story? I hope so. Does this fit into the New 52 somehow? If so, this is not the mainstream Batman we see in Justice League or many of his own titles – the characters are just different enough. But if that’s the case, is this Earth One as the title implies? Then the Justice Society to be is on Earth 2… so where does the Justice League and the others fit in? Maybe this really is setting the stage for a new multiverse in DC, or maybe I’m reading too much into it. Either way, this book is a great read from beginning to end, the artwork supports it immensely and enhances such a strong story, and whether in continuity or not is one of the best Batman stories I’ve read in a long time (alongside Mr. Snyder’s current run…)