For artist Gary Frank, the transition from his monthly work on Superman to a graphic novel about Batman has been quite a readjustment.
"The feel of the book is obviously very different to the Superman stuff," Frank told Newsarama about the highly anticipated Batman: Earth One graphic novel, expected in summer 2012. "Mainly, though, we are dealing with a set of new characters. By the end of the Superman run, I felt very comfortable handling the cast, but these characters are new."
"New" sounds like a strange description for the characters who will populate Batman: Earth One, a graphic novel by Geoff Johns that tells the early origin of Batman. But Frank said the book will revamp the Batman legend for a contemporary setting, giving even familiar characters a "new" take.
"Sure, they are Bruce Wayne, Alfred, Gordon, etcetera," he said, "but they are new, nevertheless. Fortunately, we had a lot of prep' time so the characterization wasn't done entirely on the hoof. The exception was probably Bruce. He evolves so much from the beginning to the end of the story that it was hard to know how he would feel by the final page."According to Johns, Batman: Earth One starts at the very beginning of Bruce's story, "before he knows what he's doing and with a very different ultimate goal in mind."
"He's never left Gotham," Johns said in a post on DC's website today. "And our Gotham and the people in it are very gray. Our heroes unlikely. Our villains hidden. Our story is only beginning with volume one.
"It's essentially the first piece of the jigsaw," Frank said. "He's not the Batman people know, but he might be one day. He's certainly not yet a superhero. The fun is to watch him piece the persona together drawing on his experiences and the influences of those around him and, at this stage, the idea of becoming a 'superhero' hasn't even entered his head."
Thursday, DC released the first peek at Frank's artwork, but the images have been a long time coming since the project was announced in 2009. Almost two years later, Newsarama found out that Frank was working hard on Batman: Earth One in summer 2011, when we checked with him and others about why they weren't part of the "New 52" launch. When we talked to him again in October 2011, he said he had nine pages of script left to draw before he could complete the project.
"Even after I've finished my part, there's still a lot of work to be done before it is in the can," he said of the long graphic novel process. "It has certainly felt like a marathon and the early pages now feel like they were done a long time ago. In fact, they were."Now that Frank has completed his work on Batman: Earth One, he'll be working with Johns again on another revamp: "The Curse of Shazam," a story that will appear in the back of DC's Justice League comic. The monthly story will reboot the Shazam/Captain Marvel property for the DC relaunch, with a new take on the character and a new costume.
"Ours is a very modern Shazam," Frank told Newsarama of the story, which begins in March's Justice League #7. "As with the other characters [in DC's relaunch], there is a slight shift in emphasis here."
Frank admitted he's been doing a lot of "revamps" for DC characters lately, and he anticipates some backlash from die-hard Batman and Shazam fans when they see the way he and Johns are revamping their origins. But he hopes they'll approach the work with an open mind."I just hope they'll give both stories a fair go," Frank told Newsarama. "I realize that there are a lot of very conservative readers out there who are skeptical about radically new approaches, but I hope that at least some of them will judge what we do on it's own merits rather than just cataloguing the differences between the new and the old. We're honestly not trying to destroy the characters people love. We're trying to make sure that those characters will be there for future generations and, in order to do that, we are, producing the best work we can by necessity.
"We have, in Geoff, one of the greatest custodians of these characters that the industry has ever seen," Frank added. " So if the readers give us a little trust, we'll give them back a great story that will feel fresh, interesting and familiar at the same time."The target audience for Batman: Earth One is the bookstore market. Its release is following in the footsteps of 2010's top-selling graphic novel Superman: Earth One, the J. Michael Straczynski-penned project that's heading toward a second volume later this year.
But Frank said the work by artist Shane Davis on Superman: Earth One didn't directly influence his work on Batman: Earth One .
"I knew that Superman: Earth One was coming, but our book was never supposed to be tied in to it," Frank said. "We spoke about keeping a uniform appearance in terms of the colors etc but we quickly decided that it was more important to tailor everything we did to our own ends. The priority had to be to do the best book we could rather than a part of a larger project."With the release Batman: Earth One and Superman: Earth One, Volume 2, DC will be courting the all-important bookstore market, and many fans anticipate the publisher will announce more bookstore-targeted publications, particularly if the Johns-Frank version is a success. DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio has even indicated to Newsarama that more projects like the Earth One books are being considered.
"When you see something original like this break as big as it did, it encourages you to do more original projects in this fashion," DiDio said.
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