Okay, so what is the point of this comic? Why does something like this even exist? What purpose does it serve beyond making some money? (I suppose those questions could apply to a lot superhero comics these days, but I'm really just pointing at this one.)
Over a year ago, I reviewed Superman: Earth One and asked myself similar questions. I want to say that the purpose of this line of Earth One graphic novels baffles me, but the truth is I know it's just a cash grab. Batman: Earth One is a little better than Superman: Earth One, but that's mainly because Gary Frank is a much, much better artist than Shane Davis.
Batman: Earth One takes the familiar origin of Batman and tries to... do something... with it. What exactly, I couldn't really tell you. It's got all the basics: We see the story of Bruce Wayne being orphaned and vowing to rid Gotham City of the evil that took his parents' lives; his first outing as the Batman ends up in failure; with renewed resolve, he's finally able to make right on his vow and triumph. Yadda yadda yadda.
I assume Geoff Johns wants to make Batman fresh and modern, so he makes Alfred a former military soldier with a prosthetic leg and a goatee, because, y'know, goatees are badass. It's just details like that which really grated on me as I read the comic. There was just something about it where I felt like Johns is just trying too hard to make us feel like we're seeing something fresh, when it's really all just the same old stuff just dressed up a bit. The violence, the spectacle, the Ultimate-ization of various familiar characters - it all just felt like a cry for attention.
For example, James Gordon has a character arc: He starts off as a morally compromised cop who, after having his daughter's life threatened, eventually turns it around to become the principled hero cop we all know he should be at the end of the story. Harvey Bullock actually plays a big role in Gordon's turnaround, although by the end of the ordeal, it's implied Bullock himself is about to begin a fall from grace, descending from good-looking TV cop show host to alcoholic detective. Oswald Cobblepot (the Penguin) is the corrupt mayor of Gotham City. Nothing about how these characters were handled impressed me, and I just couldn't buy into Bullock as a debonair former TV show host. Johns tries to lay the foundation for future stories by introducing the subplot of Martha Wayne (Bruce's mother) and her family's creepy past. Her maiden name? Arkham. DUN DUN DUN! I don't know, was that supposed to excite me for the next installment when we get to see how the entire Arkham family became insane?
There's a scene in this book that I think is supposed to be the emotional climax of Batman's arc, when Alfred tests Bruce's emotional fortitude by picking a fight with him in Wayne Manor. Bruce gets his butt whooped, but ends up fighting a little dirty by sweeping the leg (displacing Alfred's prosthetic leg in the process). Of course, as Bruce walks away with new resolve in his heart, Alfred brushes away a tear and basically says, "He finally gets it." The whole sequence is painfully trite. Just flat out corny.
Really, if you're going to remix or reimagine a classic, you have to bring something new or clever to it. This comic treads the same hallowed ground as Batman: Year One and doesn't offer anything new in a creative or satisfying way. At this point in history, it's fair to say that Year One is one of the top two best Batman stories ever. Is there any reason for someone, for anyone, for a new reader perhaps, to read Earth One over Year One? No. Absolutely no reason at all.
It just makes me cynical - like DC Entertainment knows that the legions of existing Batman fans who already know the ins and outs of his story will eat this up, regardless of its quality, just because it's Batman. And I do believe fans did eat this up, according to the sales figures. I hate comics fans sometimes - even when they're given crap, they gorge themselves on it. That just makes these corporations feel like they can continue feeding us crap because the people will eat it.
Everything that Earth One aspires to be, Year One already accomplished... in 1987. Gary Frank is a fine artist, but I'm sure even he'd admit he's no David Mazzucchelli. Let's face it: If anyone were really hankering to read a Batman origin story, you'd point them to Year One. It's a timeless comic and one that's so definitive, so perfect, that it utterly negates the entire purpose of Earth One.