Review: Batman – Earth One, Volume 2 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank

Batman Earth One Volume 2As readers grow increasingly accustomed to vacillating continuities, DC’s Earth One universe offers some consistency. Launched in 2010 with Superman: Earth One attempted to contemporize and streamline the Man of Steel’s origin; to parallel the original mandate of Marvel’s Ultimate universe in a graphic novel format. Two successive Superman volumes followed; the Teen Titans, too. By far the most successful, in terms of both revolutionizing its central character and pure entertainment value, was Batman: Earth One. And its second volume maintains that momentum.

Bruce Wayne is less than a year into his vigilante career. After the events of Volume 1, Batman has becoming a menacing presence to those who stalk Gotham’s streets; but his reputation is still solidifying, just as his skill set is still in desperate need of refinement. He’s not the capable costumed crusader we are familiar with; he’s lacking much of the equipment (including the car) and he lacks the forensic expertise we take for granted. He faces a steep learning curve in Volume 2, as the Riddler makes his presence known – in this universe, a sadistic killer with deathly punchlines – and faces up against Killer Croc.

Gotham is as corrupt as ever. If it’s to earn salvation, it needs its citizens to make a stand; to become tangible beacons of light. Jim Gordon, still a lowly officer in the PD, is struggling to claw his way through the bile of his department; his alcoholic and increasingly-inept partner isn’t much of an ally. Only the mayor, Jessica Dent, and her brother, D.A. Harvey, are willing to face up against the city’s oppressive forces. But when you stand up for what’s right, you inevitably paint a target on your back.

It’s not exactly rocket science: when you partner two superstar creators, with a proven track record of producing fantastic work together, something special will develop. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank produced a seminal run on Superman in the mid-2000’s, and have quickly hit their stride with this graphic novel format. When blessed with more pages, some writers will pack more plot into their story; more twists, more turns, thus diluting its core. But Johns is a pro. He leaves Frank plenty of breathing room to choreograph a variety of action scenes, as well as the quieter moments. Batman: Earth One, Volume 2 is jam-packed with characters, but it never feels overstuffed. It weaves multiple storylines, but never tangles.

We are not short of great Batman stories; Frank Miller’s Year One and The Dark Knight Returns; Loeb and Sale’s The Long Halloween; more recently, Snyder and Capullo’s Court of Owls. Johns and Frank’s Batman: Earth One graphic novels are among that echelon. It’ll be a long wait for the third volume.

4 Stars Excellent

ISBN: 9781401241858
Format: Hardback (266mm x 174mm x 14mm)
Pages: 160
Imprint: DC Comics
Publisher: DC Comics
Publish Date: 19-May-2015
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Teen Titans – Earth One, Vol 1 by Jeff Lemire and Terry Dodson

Teen TitansThere’s a lot to like about TEEN TITANS: EARTH ONE, Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire and Terry Dodson. This re-invention of the classic teenage super-team balances the requisite super-heroics with a good dose of teenage angst and soap opera. But it’s hindered by the need to rehash the origins of these characters – variations of their previous incarnations, but still tinged with an overwhelming resemblance to them – and a derivative plot, that bears an uncanny similarity to the core narrative of Marvel Comics’ THE RUNAWAYS.

The strength of the EARTH ONE line of graphic novels, at least in theory, is their continuity-free approach to DC Comics’ characters. There has clearly been a line drawn in the sand, however, in terms of how far creators can push these characters beyond their established origins. These ‘reinventions’ and ‘fresh takes’ aren’t overhauls; they’re merely contemporized reintroductions with slight twists; the equivalent of a fresh paint job. Which is disappointing, because given the esteemed talent on TEEN TITANS: EARTH ONE, had they been allowed total freedom, Lemire and Dodson might’ve produced something seminal rather than a fun, but ultimately unmemorable romp.

The strength of TEEN TITANS: EARTH ONE is the characters, and Lemire’s pitch-perfect depiction of the teenage cast. Victor, Gar and Tara aren’t typecast in the standard teenage roles: they’re genuine, obnoxious youngsters, who are undergoing a life-changing experience as their powers begin to surface. Their attitudes are infuriating at times, and their initial inability to work together encapsulates the adolescent mentality. But the great character work is undercut by the underwhelming plot; turns out, the people who claimed to love them – their parents – aren’t the protectors the teens assumed they were; they’re bad guys, liars, with nefarious agendas.

THE RUNAWAYS, the hit Marvel Comics series from almost a decade ago, presented a similar set-up, and while TEEN TITANS: EARTH ONE isn’t an exact replication, its resemblance is striking. The parents-are-secretly-scrum-bags card has been played umpteen times before, and it’s a unfortunately this story heads down that well-worn and trodden path. Separating the Teen Titans from their parents is fundamental to their character journeys, of course; but surely another route could’ve been taken.

Dodson’s illustrations are as slick as ever; the perfect super-hero artist. Lemire’s script allows room for various splash pages, and even a two-page spread, which are all dynamically rendered. Some of the new designs are questionable, but that’s potentially veteran-reader bias, and takes nothing away from the overall package.

TEEN TITANS: EARTH ONE is a fine addition to DC Comics’ line of graphic novels, and with a few alternate storytelling choices, it might’ve been something truly special. While it’s not quite A-Grade, there’s plenty to like: great characters, pitch-perfect dialog, and stunning visuals. Readers should look forward to the second volume.

(Thanks to DC Entertainment and NetGalley for providing a digital review copy)