Batman: Earth One Vol. 3 – Geoff Johns, Writer; Gary Frank, Penciller; Jon Sibal, Inker; Brad Anderson, Colorist
Ray – 8.5/10
Ray: No series in the Earth One line has gone beyond three volumes, so it’s hard not to view this book as a possible finale – especially since it’s been over five years since we got the previous volume, mostly due to Johns and Frank doing the epic Doomsday Clock in between. But now we’re back in the world of Gotham, with a Batman who’s younger and more vulnerable than the ones we’ve seen before – and one whose tortured family background is coming back to haunt him.
One of the best parts of this series is the unique Bat-family that’s developed. This Alfred isn’t the loyal Wayne family butler, but a hard-nosed special forces agent who served with Thomas Wayne in combat and is now working with Bruce as his trainer and strategist. The first new member of the Bat-family is an unlikely Killer Croc, here a kind mutant who’s just glad to have people not treat him like a monster for the first time – but not afraid to show his fangs when he needs to. The dynamic between these two is probably the funniest part of the book.
But the story of the Waynes here is much more complicated than it used to be. While Thomas Wayne was pretty similar to his original version, Martha now comes from the troubled Arkham line, with a long history of madness and murder. And therein comes the first big twist of this third volume – the reveal of an old man in the shady Arkham hospital, claiming to be Bruce’s long-thought-dead grandfather Adrian Arkham. Elderly, insane, and convinced the Arkham line is cursed, he becomes a major wild card in this volume.
Also deeply disturbed is Bruce’s childhood best friend Jessica Dent, the now-scarred twin sister of the late Harvey Dent. She’s obviously unstable, and while her physical scars are minimal, she might as well have a “something’s not right” sign hanging over her head at all times. We all assumed we knew where this was going to go when she got scarred at the end of last installment – for those who still remember it after all these years – but this volume takes its time revealing what’s actually going on with her.
This book has a strong supporting cast, with its take on Gordon and Bullock being especially entertaining as Jim tries to keep his old friend from spiraling down into alcohol and rage. Many other players, like Barbara Gordon, are barely in this book, but that’s okay – there are a whole host of new characters entering the fray in this book – maybe too many, and that’s where this becomes the weakest of the three installments.
Obviously, the main focus here is on Catwoman – who was teased in the cliffhanger to the last book as a mysterious ally interested in Bruce. This version of Selina is…odd, between her unique vocal mannerisms and her Hello Kitty T-shirt. She’s playful and chaotic, but often feels a lot more like Harley Quinn than any other version of Selina Kyle. This all seems to be a game to her and she doesn’t really have any moral compass for good or for bad. She’s just there to add some levity to this rather grim story.
But then there are the other villains. This chapter is even more full of rogues than last chapter’s Riddler/Croc showdown. You’ve got a mysterious crimelord who seems to be a new manifestation of Two-Face – but the mystery there is unraveled slowly – as the main villain. But we’ve also got cameos by Firefly, Superman villain Toyman, and another long-time bat-rogue whose appearance in the story comes out of nowhere. It comes together as a chaotic final test for this version of Batman, but it often feels like a cliffs-notes version of everything Johns and Frank had planned for this universe.
That feeling gets stronger in the last act, as we get one cameo after another of future allies for Batman, and eventually the one cameo everyone is looking for. The first two issues of this were essentially perfect Batman stories, reinventing the character for the modern day with some clever twists. This one feels more ambitious and less successful at the same time. It’s still a strong read and one of the best Earth-One books, but it can’t help that it’s landing in an absolute golden age for Bat-stories.
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GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.