Ninety percent of the time, I prefer to review material that can be said to fall into the categories of science fiction, fantasy, and anime. For the ten percent that’s different, it usually has to do with crime drama because of its intelligence and characters, whether it’s Numb3rs, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, or anything to do with Batman.
So if you want a good crime drama and a good story that fits the modern day, I have to recommend Batman: Earth One.
This story is a retelling of the origins of the Dark Knight, casting it through a more modern and grittier lens. After Thomas and Martha Wayne are gunned down, Bruce and his new butler Alfred suspect that Oswald Cobblepot, Mayor of Gotham City and Thomas Wayne’s election rival, may have been behind it. In order to take on Cobblepot’s criminal empire, Bruce adopts a new persona as Batman, trains himself to fight hard under Alfred (now an ex-Royal Marine), and investigates the truth about Cobblepot and the corruption festering in the city. This story is about Batman’s first adventures, marking his rise from costumed vigilante to living legend.
Besides the lack of high-tech gadgets and iconic villains, the most noticeable change to the Batman saga in the post-Infinite Crisis Earth-One universe is the new perspective on classic characters. Bruce Wayne is younger and more prone to mistakes his first time out, more desperate to avenge his family than to just put down crime and corruption like his other incarnations. Alfred is a British war veteran with no polish and an old friend of Thomas Wayne (it being implied that they served in the same war in the Middle East). As for other characters, Oswald Cobblepot is the slimy and vicious master of Gotham, Jim Gordon is a world-weary and not-so-above-it-all cop, and Harvey Bullock is a former Hollywood actor trying his hand at being a police officer (with tragic consequences).
With each character revision, what we get from Batman: Earth One is a more nuanced view of Gotham City and what it does to people. For Gordon, it crushes any spirit and makes him surrender to the prevailing corruption. For Bruce and Alfred, it’s a stark injustice that has to be resisted and opposed, even at the cost of one’s life and sanity. And for villains like Cobblepot and the Birthday Boy, it’s a dark paradise where any and all sick pleasures can be fulfilled. It only changes when people begin to say no to crime and corruption, even if they have to take extreme measures like thrashing thugs and the occasional vigilante murder.
As dark as this story is, it’s also brilliant. Gary Frank superbly illustrates every page, and Geoff Johns gives a distinct and memorable voice to each character and scene. You feel like you’re watching a mini-film based on Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or even a slightly darker episode of Batman: The Animated Series. It’s a fantastic exploration of the Batman legend and should be on every fan’s bookshelf.
Batman: Earth One is available for reading through DC Comics.
Bibliography: Batman: Earth One. Written by Geoff Johns. Illustrated by Gary Frank. New York: DC Comics. July 10, 2012.