Everyone knows Batman, even if they've never so much as dipped a toe into the comic book world. His story is as iconic as that of Superman, so what happens when DC Comics Chief Creative Officer decides Bruce Wayne needs a shake up?
Enter Batman: Earth One. Set in an alternate universe, so as not to upset the status quo too much, it sees Bruce Wayne not as the world's greatest detective but as a fallible, flawed young man working his way through feelings of isolation and survivor's guilt by projecting them into a quest for vengeance. This version of Batman is not out to protect the innocent; he's an angry vigilante hell bent on his quest with little interest in heroics and a lot to learn about the mean streets of Gotham.
Buzzfeed got a chance to sit down with Geoff Johns and talk about his first foray into original graphic novel storytelling. After years of writing for Justice League and the Green Lantern, Johns and artist Gary Frank wanted to retell the story you think you know.
BuzzFeed: I was so excited after I read Batman: Earth One and was like “I can’t wait to tell...no one. Anything.”
Geoff Johns: Yea it’s been hard. Gary and I have been working on it for so long, like two years, so we’re so excited for it to come out because we haven’t been able to talk about it with anybody.
BF: Wow, two years? That’s amazing that you guys have been able to keep all this a secret for so long.
GJ: Yeah, it’s been tough.
BF: Well, let’s just to dive into these questions then now that you can! To start, for people who aren’t sure what the premise of Batman: Earth One is, what’s a quick summary?
GJ: Sure, the first Earth One book was a modern retelling of Superman’s origin and Batman: Earth One is a modern retelling of the beginning of Bruce Wayne and Batman and it’s a look at the man more than it is the mask.
For Gary and I we wanted to take a very human approach to these characters, Bruce Wayne and Alfred, and you’ll see a very different Gotham and a very, very different Alfred and a Bruce Wayne who is not quite the Batman that everyone knows. He’s not very good yet, he’s not a fighting machine. He’s just a guy who is seeking vengeance.
BF: Yeah, he’s also kind of a dick, which surprised me. You actually made the fact he had money make him a bit of an entitled brat as a child. And how it partially led to his parents shooting.
GJ: It’s hard, I think. It’s gotta be the single greatest regret in his life, is that moment. And I don’t think there’s one second it doesn’t haunt him and he hasn’t told anybody about it and that’s eaten him up inside since he was 10 years old.
BF: It was interesting how you showed the death’s of Bruce’s parents. The moment is so iconic, but as far as I know, no one has gone into the immediate aftermath of what happens when a 10 year old watches his parents get shot in the street. Did that grow organically while you were storytelling or did someone on the team have a moment where they said, “We should probably go into how that would be psychologically traumatizing to a child and warp their world view.”?
GJ: When Gary and I talked about the characters, when we first had the opportunity to do this story, the greatest thing about it was the format. We didn’t have a monthly deadline to worry about, we didn’t have any other Batman comics to worry about, this was really a stand alone story, a universe that we could create all our own. We could take characters and push them in directions they haven’t been pushed before because we thought it could make the story better. And in the end there were some things that were very true to the Batman stories and there are some things that are very different but the DNA of it is there. It looks familiar but emotionally I hope it resonates in a different way. And so when we talked about Bruce and what he would go through and what he would be like and what would happen, it really took the story in a different direction.
BF: It was much more realistic or darker than previous Batman arcs.
GJ: And I think more nuanced. It’s not so cut and dry. It’s not black and white. The space and the time allows us to delve deeper into these characters and the choices they make and motivations change and everyone changes as they experience and confront things and we wanted to show that.
BF: You guys introduced a new villain in this graphic novel, and I’m obviously not going to say who, but it’s a fairly awful serial killer. Do you plan to expand their story or origin in the future of Batman: Earth One and their role in Arkham’s mythos since it remained an opaque character throughout?
GJ: Yeah, in subsequent stories you will learn more about everybody. That’s all I can really say.
BF: Oh obviously. I mean, no spoilers.
GJ: We hinted at a couple of different things and the ending to the first book really just sets the stage for what’s next for this universe.
BF: Speaking of, some brutal and seemingly permanent events occur throughout the story but everyone knows in comic books everything can be undone. Do you feel that’s the case here?
GJ: Our book is very grounded. Characters don’t come back to life. Batman: Earth One is its own universe and the rules of reality apply to it.
BF: So you’re like the George R.R. Martin of Batman now?
GJ: Yes, exactly.
BF: You were talking earlier how all the characters are fundamentally who they are in Earth Zero but you’ve kind of shifted the dynamic. Alfred in particular seems to have undergone a sort of drastic re-imagining, which to me as I read just translated as, “OMG Alfred is a badass now!” For you, which character revamp is your favorite? Were there any you felt you should just leave alone?
GJ: Um, God they were all great. There was nobody in it that we felt we couldn’t change. Everyone has changed. My favorite? I really love Bruce and Alfred together. And the cops. The cops became much bigger than Gary and I ever thought. They just took on a life of their own.
BF: Gordon's struggle with his place in Gotham’s bureaucracy was just such a great subplot. It was so nuanced and well-written. (Editor’s Note: My fangirl is showing, how embarrassing.)
BF: Just to end on a light note, there’s a kind of a running joke about Batman’s cape, was that a nod to Pixar's The Incredibles and their whole “capes get superheroes killed” bit?
GJ: No no, not at all actually.
BF: Before we go, do you have anything you’d like to add?
GJ: Just that Gary Frank, my artist and partner in crime on this thing, is great. He allows me to slow it down and let the emotional reactions of the characters tell the story. I don’t need to do narration when I work with somebody as talented as Gary. I think he’s just a master storyteller and I really can’t wait for people to see this body of work he’s done with our inker Jon Sibal and our colorist Brad Anderson.
BF: Awesome. When can people find Batman: Earth One on shelves or in digital form?
GJ: It’s in comic shops July 4th and book stores July 10th.