It was in the waning days of 2009 that we got our first look at what was to come. Alex Segura from DC Editorial gave us a little insight into what was to come. They would be called Earth One and whether they wanted to admit it or not it was clear that they were going to be largely inspired by the success of the Marvel Ultimate line. But when they launched the Ultimate line they did so on the back of a creator that most of the comics industry was completely unaware of. Brian Michael Bendis may have become one of the most recognizeable names in the world of comics these days but it is largely because he was able to take yet another attempt at relaunching the Spider-Man franchise and telling an alternate version of his origin story in the guise of modernity and make it work. It had only been a year since Spider-Man: Chapter One had failed, and that had been written and drawn by John Byrne, who hadn't yet really detonated his career. And this was going to be a guy who was known basically for crime stories under different guises and an artist who was known basically for being incredibly fast. These were creators that few were really excited about seeing a new take on Spider-Man from. And yet they succeed in ways no one would have expected.
Earth One was going to be a different beast all together. Big name creators taking a crack at the biggest name characters DC had to offer. The All-Star line had been a previous attempt at a similar idea but didn't see the kinds of success that most expected, largely because it was hindered by delays. This was going to be a series of annual graphic novels. First we would see J. Michael Straczynski, who had written an incredible run on Amazing Spider-Man (as long as you ignore where editorial inserted their will and changed his story) and Shane Davis, who had just built a name for himself with the success of his take on the Green Lantern Mythos with Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns, take on a reinvisioning of the beginning of Superman's story. And it was met with nearly universal praise (though some people seemed to think that Clark wore too many hoodies and was somehow depicted as "emo"). But no matter how successful that first book was it really didn't matter. It wasn't the one that everyone was going to be swooning over.
Batman Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. It was going to define the success of failure of the line. It wouldn't come out for 2 and a half years after the announcement. But it would be the book the initiative would be judged by. At a slim 144 pages it would take a lot to shake the foundation of the Batman franchise. It would take a lot to be seen as a definitive work of either of these incredibly talented creators careers. It would take a lot to be enough to measure up to the success of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's current run on Batman which has been largely seen as one of the best Batman runs of the last several decades. It would take a lot to even be the most important Batman release of the month of July, what with Christopher Nolan's Batman The Dark Knight Rises releasing less than 2 weeks afterward. To be any of those things it would have to be more than what we were expecting.
You are not prepared. You will not expect the contents of these pages. They will blow your mind.
Geoff Johns has recrafted the Batman origin story in the kind of way that no one would expect. Gary Frank has brought Gotham to life with such explosive vigor that you almost expect it to be real. It is at once an amazingly familiar story, yet still somehow foreign. This is a whole new spin on what we all know an love, without taking away all of the touchstones. There are so many things about the telling of the tale that leave you salivating for more.
People often think of Batman Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli as not only Batman Year One but as Jim Gordon Year One. The tale being as important to the title character as it is to the only man willing to work with the vigilante no one wants to acknowledge in the shadows. Geoff Johns makes Batman Earth One not just Batman Earth One, not just James Gordon Earth One ... but also Alfred Pennyworth Earth One.
Alfred is as much a part of Batman's story as his parents. As much as the murder in the alleyway. As much as the rigorous desire to train all over the world at the feet of the masters. Without Alfred, I believe that it could be argued that there would be no Batman. Never before has this been so perfectly portrayed in the pages of a comic. Alfred is altered so deftly, so incredibly, so perfectly by both the work of Johns as by the work of Frank. simply looking at the initial character sketches provided all the way back in 2009 indicate how different the character would be. And while this Alfred Pennyworth serves as Guardian of the young Bruce Wayne much the same as any other telling of the story and serves as equal parts conscience and confidant to the adult Bruce Wayne as any other telling ... but as similar to any other Alfred as he is in these two important ways he is as different as could be in oh so many other ways.
Johns also tweaks the rest of Gotham in ways that no reader will possibly expect. To go any further into the meat of the story or the changes that he has made would, I feel, spoil much of what is magic about this story. Allow me to instead say that if you are looking for a great read this summer that will get you excited about what comics are capable of these days, if you are looking for something to read this summer that will surprise even the most knowledeable and seasoned of comic fans, if you are looking for something to read this summer that will change the way you look at Batman in a way that you haven't changed how you look at Batman since you went to the movie theaters the weekend of June 10th, 2005 to see Batman Begins ... look no further.
This book is the book to read.
This book is the superhero book of the summer.