Comics: 'Batman: Earth One' and other quality Bat-books
Scripps Howard News Service
With photo/graphic: SH12G225COMICS, SH12G226COMICS, SH12G227COMICS, SH12G228COMICS
By ANDREW A. SMITH
Scripps Howard News Service
The tragedy in Colorado doesn't seem to have deterred enthusiasm for "The Dark Knight Rises," which posted the third-highest opening-weekend box office in history. If all those Bat-fans are still in the mood for some cape-and-cowl stories, here are four more quality Bat-books from DC Entertainment:
-- The much-anticipated "Batman: Earth One" is out ($25.99), and it lives up to the hype. Written by DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, it re-imagines the Dark Knight's origin in the modern day, just as "Superman: Earth One" did for the Man of Steel last year. And it's a corker.
Yes, we all know the outlines of the story: Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered in an alley before his eyes, and he vowed to protect others from the same fate by becoming a masked vigilante. But this updating makes a few changes that not only make the story more plausible, but rams home the emotional punch of the story.
One thing artist Gary Frank does is eliminate the whited-out-eyes look on Batman's cowl and allow Wayne's blue peepers to show through. As any actor will tell you, allowing the audience to see your eyes heightens the emotional connection. The whited-out eyes -- which has been with Batman since the beginning -- is cool-looking, but this book is going for emotional impact, not a coolness factor.
Another change, obvious in retrospect, is to imbed a great many Bat-elements that accrued over the decades right at the beginning. Wayne and Commissioner Gordon were there from the first story in 1939, but Alfred Pennyworth, Detective Harvey Bullock, Oswald "Penguin" Cobblepot, Lucius Fox and Arkham Asylum were added piecemeal over the decades. They're integrated here into the origin story, fleshing out Batman's world immediately in an organic and convincing tapestry. Also, it all rings true, in that Alfred is a former Royal Marine, "Arkham" is Martha Wayne's maiden name and Bullock's fall into nihilistic cynicism is horrifically foreshadowed.
Further, this Batman is a genuine amateur -- and out for revenge. For Batman to be heroic, and to believably survive, he must become the consummate professional and protector of the innocent we know him to be today. That is, in fact, his story arc -- and it is played for maximum drama, rather than anti-heroism or pratfalls.
I make no secret that I was greatly disappointed by "Superman: Earth One." But this take on Batman is so powerful I sure wouldn't mind reading more.
-- "Batman and Robin Volume 1: Born to Kill" ($24.99) does something I never expected: It allows Batman to grow. The premise of the series is that Batman's 10-year-old biological son, via Ra's al Ghul's daughter and raised by the League of Assassins, is the new Robin. The friction between the Bat and Bird is palpable, as Batman struggles to rein in Robin's homicidal training and recklessness without alienating him completely.
That's pretty interesting, but what I found amazing is that writer Peter Tomasi shows Bruce Wayne becoming something he never was with the other Robins: a father. His new perspective allows him to bury some old ghosts and reconnect with his softer instincts, making for a kinder, gentler Dark Knight. I don't know how often that particular card can be played, but it sure made "Born to Kill" an eye-opener for me.
-- The controversy over the first lesbian character to headline a comic book sometimes overshadows just how good that book is. I heartily recommend "Batwoman Volume 1: Hydrology" for the sheer skill of writer/artist J.H. Williams III. Not only is he an excellent craftsman and storyteller, but his ingenious use of panel shape and structure, which can be irritating in the wrong hands, adds another layer to his story.
Which itself is pretty cool. Batwoman is a unique Bat-character, and not just for her sexual orientation. Her hypercharged relationships -- from her estranged father to a wannabe sidekick to an aloof Batman who is reserving judgment -- keep the book tense even when there's no fighting going on. But don't worry; there's plenty of that, too.
-- I absolutely love everything writer Gail Simone has ever done, so maybe I set the bar too high anticipating "Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection" ($22.99). Don't get me wrong: It's a good book, with a likable lead character who seems very close to Simone's heart. But it doesn't include the delightful, sometimes shocking, weirdness of Simone efforts like "Birds of Prey" and "Secret Six."
It's no secret that "Batgirl" returns Commissioner Gordon's daughter Barbara to the role, after 24 real-life years (but three in the comic book) of being confined to a wheelchair, after being shot in the spine by the Joker. How and why she's on her feet again is only hinted at, but the net effect is that this collection works more or less as an origin story, as the lead character re-establishes her life in both identities.
It's not as Simone-y as I would like, but it's still a decent, mid-level Bat-book.
(Contact Andrew A. Smith of The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal at capncomics(at)aol.com or on his Web site, http://captaincomics.ning.com.)