Chris Clow is a recent Western Washington University graduate, and a comic book expert, retailer and contributor to Batman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. You can find his comic book reviews for various monthly titles and his participated podcasts at BOF and MMM. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.
This weekend, Christopher Nolan’s story for Batman was brought to an end, and with this information come a few pills we have to swallow. Nolan won’t be directing the next Batman film, Christian Bale will not be playing Bruce Wayne again, and the world created for these three films will not be seen after the release of The Dark Knight Rises. However, just because Nolan’s story with Batman is finished, does not mean that Batman will never return to the silver screen. He’ll be given a clean slate. A fresh start. Like Batman Begins, Casino Royale and The Amazing Spider-Man, the canvas will be clean for a new creative team to try and put their stamp on the Dark Knight.
Would it surprise you to learn that DC Comics basically did the exact same thing this month with a new graphic novel?
It seems logical for me to think that the newly-released Batman: Earth One by the team of Geoff Johns (Justice League, Green Lantern) and artist Gary Frank (Action Comics, The Incredible Hulk) may be an option on the path to DC’s reboot of the Batman franchise in the face of Nolan’s exit. When the Earth One line of original graphic novels began back in October 2010 with Superman, the stated intent for stories under the Earth One label was to tell stories free from the constraints of continuity, giving a new, but established creative team the freedom to take familiar characters into newer, more modern introductions and directions going forward. Now to me, that seems exactly like what the general intent of a cinematic reboot is, almost to the letter. Out with the old, and in with the new.
The interesting thing about Batman: Earth One is that in addition to taking a more modern route with Batman’s origins, it also completely changes a few things about his world in ways that keep even established comics fans guessing. This methodology isn’t very different from some of the tactics Christopher Nolan himself used in his Dark Knight Trilogy, by dangling something familiar in front of us comic book geeks and then changing course in a way that was surprising and engaging for everyone.
Batman: Earth One begins on a rooftop, in a situation that most Batman fans have seen a thousand times before. A perpetrator is running with the Dark Knight close behind, barely able to stay ahead. Batman goes for a gadget on his belt, and tries to shoot a grappling hook in order to catch his suspect. Except this time, the grappler craps out on him. The perp manages to hop to another building. Batman positions himself to dive to the other side, and when we completely expect him to get to the other side and overtake his man, he instead falls short and tumbles embarrassingly into the alley below. You immediately get the sense that this Batman is an amateur, with a steep learning curve.
We then learn about the differences in the origin story. There are a few details that are unfamiliar to us in regards to the position of the Wayne family in the society of Gotham, the families that make up the city, and the types of key players that exist at the hierarchy of both the government and organized crime. While the differences in some cases may seem arbitrary at first glance, later in the story we see that they have been altered due to specific creative choices made by Johns in order to both separate from our expectations of what a typical Batman story is, but also because he built in a few payoffs that really do make sense in the scheme of the overall story by the time you arrive at the last page.
The real place that Earth One shines is in the character differences for some key players in Batman’s world, most notably the trusted butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Gone is the familiar “gentleman’s gentleman” of the DC Universe and every other Batman adaptation. In his place is a gruff, weathered, ex-military man who finds the responsibility of Bruce’s well-being thrust upon him unwillingly in the face of the boy’s tragedy. For lack of more eloquent terms, Alfred in this story is a badass, and probably the single, most responsible shaper of Bruce Wayne into Batman on Earth One.
Other interesting differences lie in supporting roles, such as Gotham City Police detectives James Gordon and Harvey Bullock. While the Gordon we meet in the comics in a story like Batman: Year One is an always-principled hardliner willing to stand up to the corruption in his department, the Gordon in Earth One sees more subtle beginnings that have, what he would probably call, a “respectful fear” of the corruptive influence at play in Gotham City. Bullock is a complete surprise for anyone previously familiar with the cigar-chomping, portly and gruff detective we know from the comics. Here, he comes from a different world and, as you’ll see if you read the story, is entirely unprepared for the paralyzing horror lurking just below the surface of Gotham by story’s end.
The only real component working against a book like Earth One as a blueprint for a cinematic reboot of Batman is that it is, for all intents and purposes, an origin story. While an argument can be made for needing to rehash the ol’ yarn to a certain extent in order to familiarize audiences with a world and a character from the ground up, one of the few complaints many seem to have with a film like The Amazing Spider-Man is that it rehashes specific plot elements from a previous film that came out barely a decade ago. The structure of Earth One as far as detailing the events of Bruce Wayne’s early life does feel pretty similar to how Christopher Nolan explored the past in Batman Begins: not right away, but it eventually filled in the details of the past piecemeal through most of the first act.
However, even keeping that fact in mind, Earth One is a neatly packaged conception of what a Batman reboot can look like. It’s Batman from the beginning, but not quite the Batman that we know. His background is different, his training (or lack thereof) is different, his city is different, and his supporting cast is modified. A step into the direction of a story like Earth One may be a prime example of how Warner Bros. could see the repackaging of the Batman franchise, by giving us a story that doesn’t necessarily play by the long-established rules of Batman’s genesis.
The same way that a show like Smallville gave us a new take on Superman, or that Sherlock is giving us a new look at the legendary detective of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Earth One has the potential to be that kind of spin on the traditional Batman mythos. It’ll probably be awhile before we see what Warner Bros. has up its sleeve, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this brand new book by DC Entertainment’s Chief Creative Officer was on the desk of at least one film executive under a label that reads “options.”
More: Why Frank Miller's 'The Dark Knight Returns' Should Be the Next Live-Action Batman Movie
More: The Comics That Inspired 'The Dark Knight Rises'
You can check out my review for Batman: Earth One at Batman-On-Film.com by clicking here.