Sunday, July 15, 2012

Paul's Picks - July 11, 2012

Well, it's that time again folks: Wednesday! And you know what Wednesday is?... Well, of course you do, you're reading a blog about comics, so you obviously know it's New Comics Day, a.k.a. Paul's favorite weekly holiday! And now for his much-anticipated pick-of-the-week...

Wow. I have to start off by saying, I'm sorry. That is, I'm sorry to all of you faithful readers who have come back to my column on multiple occasions to read my weekly pick, only to find that there has been complete silence on my end over the last month or so. And while Seth and I owe much thanks to Mr. Allen Boone for keeping the blog going with his always-entertaining "Weekly Roundup," there is a Pick-shaped hole in the content we've been providing you on the blog. I'm in the craziest part of summer, and responsibilities from the real world have kept me tied up to the extent that I haven't been able to make time for Paul's Picks...

But never fear, the drought has ended! While we Ancillary Characters have certainly been keeping everyone up to date with our weekly podcast, – which KILLED IT in downloads last month! Thanks everyone – we will hopefully be bringing you a consistent, quality output of comic-related goodies going forward. I'm back with a vengeance, and I'm here to deliver a pick alongside a review for the one book that has made the biggest impression on me so far this summer, if not since the beginning of the year. And that title is...

Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank

Around two years ago, DC came forward in announcing their new Earth One lineup. These titles would be written and released as graphic novels, rather than the usual monthly issue format. The point of these books was to give top creators from DC the opportunity to reintroduce their key characters to a new generation of readers that only access comics through trades and hardbacks at bookstores and other markets, rather than the LCS. We had our first venture into this initiative over a year ago with JMS' Superman: Earth One, which was decent, but hardly the refreshing take on Superman that DC had boasted. As a reader, I found myself concerned for the books to follow. Would DC come through on their promise, or would these books be lost in mediocrity?

Put your worries to rest. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank have come together to create a take on the world of Batman that I have never seen before. I've certainly made it clear in this column and on the podcast that I am an avid fan of Johns' work at DC. In fact, I would accredit his work on Green Lantern as my first gateway into monthly comics. And although I've had some mixed feelings about his first arc of Justice League, to say that I was excited to read his take on Batman's origin would be a tremendous understatement. If there is anyone from DC that I would trust with the relaunching of one of my most beloved characters, it would be Mr. Geoff Johns. His ability to present legacy heroes in a way that is both reverent but fresh is astounding, and his reverence for the characters is always present. As a matter of fact, I would say that this book may just be his most character-driven piece to date, and it's all the better for it.

With Johns at the helm, there is no one that I would rather have helping create his world than Gary Frank. If you've been reading Justice League, then you must certainly be falling in love with their collaboration on Shazam for the New 52. As I've been saying since the backup started, I hope it evolves into an ongoing from these guys, and their take on Bruce is just as good if not better. As a matter of fact, while I have always felt Gary Frank's version is the quintessential look of the Superman, his work on Gotham and the Bat leave absolutely nothing lacking. Every aspect of this art is somehow both vibrant and gloomy at the same time, which makes my head heart (in an awesome way). As a matter of fact, even after finishing the book, I have gone back and gotten it off the shelf more than 3 times just to sit and flip through, ogling at these beautiful pages. Few times in the past has the art in a comic had such an emotional effect on me, and it makes all the difference.

Alright, so enough gushing about these guys: let's get down to the story. As I said before, this book boasts itself as a fresh take on Batman set in the present day for a new age of readers. This is supposed to be the kind of book that Average Joe could go and get off the shelf and enjoy without needing a course in DC continuity. That is certainly doable, but the real challenge is for it to create a hunger for these new readers to go out and buy more Bat books. Does it pull it off?... Absolutely! Since I come from the other side of the coin as a true fan and reader of monthly comics, there was the risk that anything too ambitious would alienate me while trying to appeal to the newbie, but that did not happen. Instead, I found this to be a refreshing and unforgettable take on the character for not only a new generation, but those like myself who have been faithful followers of these stories for years.

The book takes off with Batman running across the dark rooftops of Gotham in a chase scene. While this may sound pretty standard for a comic, the reader soon discovers that this not the Batman that they were expecting. Setbacks fall one after another, and soon we see the Caped Crusader falling multiple stories onto a pile of garbage bags, with a single speech bubble reading: "ow." This is not the ninja-trained, suave, unstoppable Bruce Wayne that we all know and love; this is a man still caught up in his search for vengeance. He's still very green, and even his gadgets are sub-par. On the other hand, where Bruce has lost a degree of his skill, Alfred is a wizened war-veteran with more than a few military tours under his belt. As the book progresses, not only do we see the expected, fateful events that lead to Batman's origin, but we also see the cast of Gotham that we've always known in roles that they've never filled. James Gordon is a cop who's been damaged and beat-down by the darkness of Gotham, while his new rookie partner Harvey Bullock is a young buck with something to prove. While I've read these guys interact in many different situations, this time they are working together to create a song of a different tune, and it is just plain beautiful.

My colleague Seth said it perfectly when he said this book almost feels like a film (which can be heard in our review from the AC Podcast HERE!). As a matter of fact, I felt a similar sensation from that last page that I did at the ending scene on the rooftop in Batman Begins. Warner Bros. could take this book and develop each page and line into a new Batman film, and I would camp out days in advance for tickets. The journey begins with a rookie Batman with the wrong motivation (who can't even land a rooftop jump), but we end with a man who has found his place in this city as a force for good, rather than simply personal vengeance. Sure, at face value that sounds like just about any superhero origin. The difference in Batman: Earth One? It's done almost perfectly. Yeah yeah, I know those are dangerous words, but you read it right. I said it: almost perfectly.

For those of you who may have doubts about Johns' ability to write the Bat, lay them to rest with Batman: Earth One. Geoff and Gary have crafted a beautiful tale here, one for the ages, even. From now on, if I want to hand off a comic book to a friend or family member who may not have any prior experience in this world, this is now my go-to Batman story. On my shelf, which is tediously organized, this book is sitting high and happy in the "Special Batman Books" section, alongside classics like The Long Halloween and The Dark Knight Returns. Well played, fellas. Well played indeed.

If you want to hear more about the book from Seth and I, be sure check out Episode 23 of the Ancillary Characters podcast, available on iTunes here. Also, feel free to Tweet at us or comment below with your response to the article! Until next week.

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