Batman: Earth One
Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger
Batman: Earth One is yet another retelling of Batman's origin story. Aren't we tired of hearing of it by now? It feels incredibly redundant. In fact, it feels like the comic book version for another Batman film adaptation. Like so many of those films, the plot strains to achieve some semblance of originality by tweaking the source material. Most of these changes are fairly distracting and seem to have been made just for the sake of contradicting earlier versions of the Batman mythos. But when the comic pokes and prods at every little thing about Batman's motivations, methods, and basic competence, he ends up looking less like a heroic figure and more like a delusional tool.
But this isn't an attempt at parody. It's a straightforward superhero adventure. In a scene reminiscent of Batman: Year One, Batman is shown chasing a suspect across Gotham's rooftops. His cable-gun tangles and he falls into the alley below. This Batman isn't just a rookie crime fighter. He seems to be in over his head. He pretty much blunders his way through the book. Bruce Wayne hasn't travelled the world mastering various disciplines. He stayed in Gotham learning from Alfred Pennyworth, now recast as a former Royal Marine. And throughout the book he disapproves of everything Bruce does: From the effectiveness of dressing like a bat to scare criminals as childish, to eschewing guns and extreme force as completely naive, to his belief that his parents murder was ordered by the mayor of Gotham as a lunatic conspiracy theory. All his criticisms are borne out. And it all adds up to a fairly realistic assessment of what would happen if someone actually did try to fight crime like Batman in the real world. The only problem is that this isn't the real world, it's Gotham City. Its aforementioned mayor is Oswald Cobblepot, never referred to as the Penguin. But portrayed as a bloodthirsty despot who keeps everyone in line with the services of a hulking serial killer who he pays off with young girls. It's a grim situation badly in need of a savior. So it's rather demoralizing when the one person who's actively opposing evil is proven to be basically wrong about everything.
Then there are the changes to the supporting cast seemingly carried out for the sake of being different. Lucius Fox is a young, nerdy inventor instead of an older father-figure. Alfred is a security consultant who fails to protect the Waynes instead of a loyal butler. Harvey Bullock is an attention-seeking Hollywood transplant instead of a slovenly, cynical Gothamite. And James Gordon is a corrupt cop instead of the only honest police officer in the GCPD. The last two have character arcs which imply that they will eventually develop into their more standard incarnations. But they begin their respective transformations by torturing a suspect for information.
I'm not usually a fan of artist Gary Frank, but his style worked pretty well for the book. His love for drawing creepy fake smiles on people's faces served to capture the decadence and horror of a Gotham under Cobblepot's control. And I kind of dig the home-made look of Batman's costume. It's somewhere between the traditional spandex look and the more elaborate body armor the film versions of the character prefer to wear.
The end of the book suggests that this Bruce is evolving towards a more competent crime fighter. Ultimately though, Batman: Earth One still feels completely pointless. As an alternate take on a well-known character, it doesn't posses a unique enough voice to make me want to read further installments of the series.