Ricky Church reviews Batman: Earth One Volume 3…
After years of delays and anticipation, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank return to their world of Batman: Earth One with the third that sees a young Bruce Wayne grow into a more fully primed and realized Batman, all as Harvey Dent apparently comes back from the dead to wreak havoc on Gotham City. Johns and Frank deliver a compelling story full of Frank’s usual great visuals with interesting takes on several classic Batman characters that continue to give the Earth One brand a fresh appeal. If this will indeed be their final Earth One story, the pair delivered a finale worthy of the Dark Knight.
The story picks up fairly shortly after the events of the second volume which saw Batman defeat The Riddler, but at the cost of Harvey Dent’s life with his sister Jessica getting disfigured. Now, as Batman continues searching for a proper base of operations with the help of Alfred and Waylon ‘Killer Croc’ Jones, he has to deal with a city at war as the various gangs are becoming increasingly well armed with deadly weapons like rocket launchers, flame throwers and other assault weapons, all at the behest of an apparently alive Harvey Dent who is out for revenge against Gotham and Batman. Meanwhile, a figure from Bruce’s family history returns, throwing Bruce for a loop as he uncovers some of the secrets between the Wayne and Arkham lineage.
Johns writes a pretty compelling story and take on Batman. Batman himself is a little more familiar to what longtime fans are used to as he is a more confident and capable crime fighter. However, Johns also swerves on some of Bruce’s characteristics during Batman’s earlier years in that he is much more open to looking for help, not just from his usual allies like Alfred and Gordon, but other surprising sources like Killer Croc and Catwoman. The friendship between Bruce and Waylon continues from Vol. 2 and is an interesting aspect for Vol. 3, especially since Alfred is extremely hesitant of Waylon given his previous fight with Bruce. It’s actually a fun subversion as it is Alfred in Earth One who is reluctant to rely on outside help while Bruce is more open to it. Johns’ work in giving their characterizations a fresh sense while still making them familiar strikes a nice balance, though in Alfred’s case he still comes off very much as a brusque Sean Connery-like mentor than the more wise and well-mannered confidant he usually is.
The supporting characters are pretty interesting and aren’t just thrown in there for fan service, but have specific roles to fill both in the story and among Bruce’s team. Waylon is an intriguing member of the team through his knowledge of Gotham City’s underworld (both figurative and literal) and how one scene presents him as the bad cop to Batman’s good cop – a fun reversal given Batman’s usual methods of interrogation. Catwoman makes her formal introduction as an ally of and work-for-hire for Batman. Catwoman’s got a spunky attitude as usual and the chemistry Johns creates between her and Batman is true to most of their appearances in other media, especially with how Catwoman has much more flexible morals depending on any given situation. Jessica Dent also makes a good foil for Bruce as she tries bringing Gotham back from the brink while dealing with her brother’s supposed death and vengeance against the city. While Gordon isn’t commissioner yet, he’s written well as the precinct’s captain. The only character who doesn’t get a whole lot to do is Bullock is he’s relegated to the sidelines mostly with his character arc and trauma going largely unresolved.
When it comes to the art, the whole team knocks it out of the park with Frank’s illustrations, Brad Anderson’s colours and Jon Sibal’s inks. Frank does great work throughout the book with his character’s facial expressions and movements, providing plenty of detail into the emotional state . The action is well choreographed and energetic with the character’s movements quickly taking you from panel to panel. Frank’s redesigns on the new versions of Two-Face, Catwoman and Killer Croc also fit within this world, though in Catwoman’s case its something of a drastic departure from her traditional looks. Her colour scheme is reminiscent of the 80s and 90s while her look is much more modern and youthful for Gotham’s most notorious cat burglar. It’s an interesting take and one which Frank uses to showcase her athleticism more than her curvy figure. Anderson’s colours are rich, highlighting the darkness of Gotham City and the vibrancy of the characters costumes and appearances while Sibal’s inks give detailed definition to the shadows, the city and the characters faces. One particular splash page early on just screams of Batman’s ferocity and is a showcase for the combined talent of Frank, Anderson and Sibal.
The only piece of bonus material is a breakdown of two splash pages, showing each step taken as with Frank’s sketch, Sibal’s inks and the completed image of Anderson’s colours. Given the six-year wait for this volume, plus the possibility it marks the finale to Batman: Earth One, it would have been cool to see Johns’ or the art team reflect on the trilogy and how, if or when they could move forward. All in all, though, Batman: Earth One Vol. 3 is a great story with strong and interesting characterizations for Batman and his fellow cast alongside gorgeous artwork. Anyone who has been a fan of the Batman: Earth One series should be very pleased with this third and potentially final volume.
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