The "Earth One" brand is a re-imagining of DC's iconic heroes, unrestrained by the past. "Batman: Earth One" matches that mindset and expands the concept, placing Alfred as Thomas Wayne's head of security during the elder Wayne's final days campaigning for Gotham City's Mayoral seat.
Geoff Johns gives Bruce's parents more panel time than I have ever seen in a book that wasn't set in an alternate reality. In doing so, Johns is able to solicit extra sympathy and build up some anxiety for the fateful moment in the alley we all know is coming. That event is one of very few relatively intact from previous reinventions of the Dark Knight's origin. Some of the details -- and perhaps the motivation -- have changed, but the end result remains the same, spurring Bruce into a life of vengeance.
Johns' new take on Bruce Wayne is less iconic. Bruce is not exceptionally skilled at social graces and in this book. Batman is more the mask than Bruce, allowing Johns to put Batman into situations that teach the crimefighter some valuable lessons in fighting and preparation. Some of those scenes are almost comical, but others are incredibly intense -- especially considering no one is guaranteed to survive a story self-contained in an original graphic novel.
Naturally, fueled by the cinema-savvy approach towards reinventing the denizens of Gotham City, "Batman: Earth One" provides some new examinations of characters such as Oswald Cobblepot, James Gordon, Harvey Bullock and Barbara Gordon, among others. This is Gotham City built from the ground up and that includes having to build the legend of Batman.
Gary Frank and Jonathan Sibal's art has never looked so very heavily influenced by Joe Kubert as it does here. As is the expectation with Frank's work, "Batman: Earth One" is filled with detail and greatly expressive characters. Frank, in keeping with the cinematic bent, chooses to frame some panels in a more theatrical presentation, showcasing his storytelling capabilities rather nicely. Brad Anderson's colors are completely on board, drenching Gotham in muted hues that threaten to suck the joy out of life there.
I did notice that Frank dated the image on the cover in 2010. Truly, Frank and Johns have spent a great deal of time working on this book and it certainly shows. That date speaks volumes to the dedication Frank had to this project and he carries that dedication all the way through.
This reboot is inline with what much of the rest of the DCU did last year, reinventing characters and concepts, introducing new characters like Birthday Boy and presenting Gotham through fresh eyes. This also allows for established and known elements of the Batman mythos to be re-combined, forming new alloys and ideas that bear future exploration, such as the relationship between the Wayne and Arkham families. In the end, this story is better served as a standalone, able to be revisited by creators and readers when the time is right.