Thursday, May 11, 2017
Batman: Earth One vol. 2 (comics)
Artist: Gary Frank
Original Graphic Novel
Volume One was a pretty decent start, but suffered from a weak antagonist that detracted from an otherwise compelling portrayal of Bruce Waynes extremely rocky road to basic competency as a vigilante. Volume Two builds off what the first started, but it's an upgrade in a lot of ways without sacrificing what worked the first time around.
Much like Supermans second Earth One outing, we're veering into this continuities version of classic rogues. This time, it's the Riddler taking center stage, with a subplot involving Killer Croc. Riddler basically starts giving riddles to groups of Gotham citizens. If they answer it correctly, they live. If they fail, they're dead.
On its surface, the idea of murderin' Riddler is a bit off-putting, as it seems pretty grim-dark at first glance. I've always felt his stint as a private detective, competing against Batman for fame and glory, was as good as the character has ever been. But in the context of a new continuity divorced from the main line, it works. He's tied to events in the first volume and ends up with a fairly clear motive that works for the world that has been set up so far.
Of the two, I like what they've done with Croc more. Croc is a character that, if you think about it, is easy to give a sympathetic angle given some of his varying origins, but I can't think of too many times they've gone with something other than a thug or monster. Here, Johns and Frank decide to buck trend a bit, giving us a Croc who's just the victim of a skin condition and, frankly, might not even be all that bad a guy. His role in the story is brief, but by the end he seems set to become a recurring character, which I'm actually all for.
If there's a reinvention of a rogue that poses a problem, it's the one for Two-Face. Without giving too much away, it seems JMS and Geoff Johns both had the same idea. The situation in this volume echoes what was done with a classic Superman rogue in volume three of that Earth One series pretty heavily. The two were even released but a scant three months apart. It's not a huge deal, but if you've read both series you're going to notice it.
Before moving on, I should say that I appreciate that Earth One has completely eschewed use of the Joker thus far. He is a classic villain by all counts, but it's nice to have a build-up for once and use different people. Joker's going to show up at some point, let's not even kid ourselves, but I'm hoping we make it through another volume or two before we get there. Superman only made it to the third volume before it went to the Luthor well.
A lot of the aspects I enjoyed from the first volume are back, including the new version of Alfred. As I suspected, he hasn't given up on his mindset, though we've yet to see any major fight over it quite yet. It seems inevitable, though. I enjoy the differences from classic Alfred, especially the fact that Bruce Wayne now has a test of his resolve not to use guns and not to kill coming from within his inner circle. Our Earth One version of Harvey Bullock takes a back seat this volume - a shame, as I do enjoy this iteration - but he has enough page time to advance his character arc from where we left him at the end of volume one, despite so much else going on in this volume.
As for the Geoff Johns version of Batman, I like how this version of the character seems like he has to build himself from the ground up through literal on-the-job training. It's different from the norm, where Bruce Wayne takes, like, a ten year sabbatical to ready himself for his mission. In the first volume, he barely had a single clue what he was doing. Now, he's getting the hang of the fighting, but other aspects elude him. He doesn't know the first thing about being a detective, which becomes an issue in the midst of the story, and ends up having to ask Jim Gordon to teach him.
That's an interesting take. It suggests maybe this version of Bruce Wayne should have thought about what he was getting himself into and trained beforehand, like every other version, but as a reader it's something different and a worthwhile angle to explore with the character. Even in Year One, where things get off to a rocky start, the guy at least had a general idea what he was doing in most areas.
Gary Frank does as well as ever as the artist. He understands storytelling and action well. Two volumes in, I'm still a bit unsure about leaving Batmans eyes open like that, though. It might just be that I'm so used to the white eye lenses. In fairness, it does lend itself to a bit more details in expressions on the characters end. Anyway, there is what seems to be an art hiccup early in the book - Gordon is trying to get Bullock away from booze, Bullock says no, then the next panel has Gordon pour Bullock a drink - but that may be down to a coloring mistake on the coat, since we only see the torso and the drink pouring. So it's probably not on Frank anyway.
As a whole, the second volume is an improvement on what was already a decent enough start with the first volume. Everything is pulling together a bit better and this volume doesn't have the issue of a weak antagonist like the first. If this continues, this version of the character and his world might end up a genuinely worthwhile entry in the expansive, varied Batman franchise.
My Opinion: Read It