Writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank didn’t heed my advice at all, and so here we are, six years after vol. 2, with the latest volume of their “Batman: Earth One” graphic novel series. To give you an indication of how long it has taken them to get this volume out, Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette released their trilogy of “Wonder Woman: Earth One” graphic novels in the space between those two volumes. While Johns and Frank have some interesting ideas about building their own Bat-mythos, it’s really hard to get involved with them after so much time has passed between volumes. This is even before you start to think about when these creators will get around to following up on them.
Regardless of this, Batman’s war on crime in Gotham continues on as we see him expanding his operations into a cave underneath Arkham Manor. He’s not just doing this with Alfred’s help. Bruce is also working with Killer Croc, who’s also part of his growing network of allies. This network includes Captain Jim Gordon, who is still trying to keep his former partner Bullock on the wagon, and Mayor Jessica Dent. Still traumatized from the death of her brother, she’s continuing to fight back against the corruption that has been a part of Gotham for so long.
The problem is that there are those who wouldn’t rather see Gotham bent to their will. No, they’d rather see the city burnt to the ground. One such unseen operator has been supplying Gotham’s thugs with heavy weaponry in an effort to make that dream a reality. While Bruce has been doing his best as Batman to fight back against these criminals, a surprising development has also occurred regarding his personal life. That would be the recent appearance of his long-thought-dead grandfather, Adrian Arkham, on the grounds of the abandoned Arkham Asylum.
A Bat-family that includes Killer Croc. Mayor Jessica Dent. Bruce’s grandfather, Adrian Arkham. There are a number of new ideas introduced in the “Batman: Earth One” universe that help to differentiate it from the main Bat-continuity. This is a very good thing, even if there’s a fair bit of misdirection going on for some of these elements. Said misdirection isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because even as it loops back around to reveal a familiar bit of continuity, it’s generally done in a way that I wasn’t expecting.
Frank’s art is also as strong here as it was in the previous volumes. His grounded, detailed style is a great fit for a “Batman” story and he makes a lot of the story’s most dynamic elements really stand out on the page. A two-page spread of the Batmobile’s debut. Batman using his cape to emerge from a flamethrower assault. A full-page shot of a certain grimly decomposing corpse. There’s a lot of work here that really catches the eye and will stick in your memory after you’re done with the volume. Enough to forgive the occasional awkward storytelling transition, and the fact that Frank’s Catwoman design looks like it came straight out of a 90’s Bad Girl comic.
Overall, I think the story being told here is interesting and I’d be inclined to say that I’d like to see where Johns and Frank are going to take their version of Batman in future volumes. The thing is that what vol. 3 delivers isn’t nearly good enough to make me forget about the six-year-wait between volumes. It doesn’t matter how good a series is as a lengthy wait between volumes can destroy the momentum and interest generated by any title that I was really passionate about at one point. You’ve got to be delivering greatness with each new installment if you still want me to care about it after such a long time has passed between volumes.
It’s also questionable as to whether or not Johns and Frank will be continuing this series at all. Both creators have moved on to their creator-owned title “Geiger” at Image Comics and are committed to expanding the universe they’ve created by that series with an 80-page one-shot (with other contributing creators) and spinoff series next year. With a hit creator-owned title under their belt, one wonders why they would even feel a need to come back and do another “Batman” graphic novel for DC.
If that’s the case, however, then the ending they’ve delivered for this volume feels more like they’re taunting the reader than promising a significant development. Without giving too much away, vol. 3 ends with an introduction that I’d bet most people reading this series have been expecting to see since vol. 1. Would I be interested in reading the story that results from this? Yes. Can I say that I’m excited about it and would recommend that everyone who hasn’t started reading this series yet should start? Absolutely not. The merits that this series has do not make the thought of waiting until 2027 to read vol. 4 a worthwhile prospect, and I’d be VERY surprised to see that volume arrive before then.