It's the first word in the new DC graphic novel Batman: Year One, and it tells readers right up front what the goal is for this book. Released this month by DC Comics, Batman: Year One is meant to tell a new, updated story about the hero that feels very "now."
"We wanted to make Batman relevant," Frank said. "The world's so different to the world in which Batman first sprang to life all of those years ago. We wanted to set him in the modern world."The target audience for Batman: Earth One is the bookstore market and the non-comic-reading audience, which helps to explain why DC held its publication until the theater release of The Dark Knight Rises film.
Batman: Earth One 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.
Batman: Earth One has been successful enough that DC confirmed last week that it will release a second volume, and the creators have hinted there will at least be a third. And Frank said each book will show the evolution of Bruce Wayne over time."Every volume will be a step in the development of Batman, with the character moving forward in some way," Frank said.
Frank said he and Johns are approaching each volume by asking about what Batman's motivations would be in the "real, current" world. For example, why would he wear a costume? Would he have a Batmobile? How would he have gadgets that always work?
"That was our first departure point, to question the very basis of the things that we've always known about Batman," Frank said. "And then the other big difference is that our Batman is not a superhero. As far as I know, in his world, there's no such thing, really, as a superhero. As our story begins, people just think he's a crazy guy. And to some extent, they may be a little bit not too far from the mark with that."What makes this month's first volume of Batman: Earth One unique is that it shows an easily shaken, amateur Batman. And visually, Frank said he emphasized that by portraying Batman's eyes as real eyes, instead of the traditional "white slits" that were used in former Batman stories.
"Drawing the 'real' eyes behind the cowl was mainly done because our Batman is not really Batman," Frank said. "He's a man in a costume. It's the man who becomes Batman. From that point of view, you need to have some kind of connection with the character visually. You need to see him and relate in terms of a human being, and not as an iconic image, as a larger-than-life character. He is exactly life size."He also wears boots with laces in the beginning," Frank pointed out. "He doesn't really have an idea of what a superhero costume should look like. The costumes in the comics have evolved quite a bit, partly in response to the films. I'm sure there's some influence there. It's almost a suit of armor.
"But in this story, his costume is made of fabric. It wrinkles and bunches around the joints," he said. "If he gets shot, he's going to get killed. All of these things helped to make him feel human. It's very satisfying to feel the humanity of the character when he's in these situations."
While the first volume of Batman: Earth One told the early years of Batman, the future installments will show how he becomes the hero with which fans are familiar."As the character becomes refined, as Bruce and Alfred build the character of Batman, the persona of Batman, and we'll end up with a far more formidable person," he said. "Bruce will begin to realize what's wrong with this costume and this approach. It will occur to him and to Alfred that the approach they've been taking is not going to be good enough. And they're going to move to make some changes."
Frank said that in Volume 2 of Batman: Earth One, Bruce Wayne will continue to hone his skills by working in conjunction with Jim Gordon and his "butler," Alfred Pennyworth. While Frank said readers won't necessarily see any help from a Robin in the next book, he said the book will expand the cast of characters."The main influence, obviously, in the early stages is going to be Alfred," Frank said. "But eventually, the relationship with Jim Gordon is going to also change him. And there are other characters as well that are going to be brought in who will also influence Bruce and help to create Batman.
"You'll see progress within each subsequent book. You already can kind of see it happening in the first book," he said. "The Batman who tries to jump across a ledge that he can't make, that doesn't know his limitations, that doesn't have his equipment well tested — these are things that are going to need to go. You'll see the Batman in Volume 2 who we saw toward the end of the book, who went through the hired goons to get to Penguin. In that part of the book, we finally saw somebody who's starting to understand what he can do better, and what he needs to do a little bit better."And beware: There are some spoilers in this revelation about the ending of the first volume, because Frank said readers should notice the death at the end of Volume 1. He said Penguin's demise will play a role within Volume 2 because it influences how the criminals of Gotham City fear Batman.
"In this world, people aren't going to think, 'this guy isn't going to kill me,'" he said. "As far as the world's concerned, he killed Penguin at the end of the story. Penguin's dead. Nobody knows anything about Alfred. As far as the world knows, Batman killed him. So there's your basis of fear for the criminal class. There's now the idea that this guy will get you no matter who you are, no matter how strong and how powerful you are, no matter how protected you are. He will get you, the moment you cross his radar, you're finished. It's quite a scary thing."As this week sees the release of The Dark Knight Rises in theaters, Frank said he wasn't influenced by Christian Bale's portrayal for his depiction of Bruce Wayne — despite the fact that Frank has admitted using Christopher Reeve as a model for the way he draws Superman.
"There's never been an actor or even a film version who's felt like our Batman," Frank said. "Christopher Reeve so completely inhabited the character Superman when he was in that costume, and that had such a huge effect on me as a child, watching those films back in the '70s. There was so much of that character that was, for me, Superman. I don't think I've felt quite the same way about an actor portraying Batman, especially not in terms of our Batman."I don't think we've really seen our [Batman: Earth One version of] Batman anywhere else anyway," Frank said. "It really is a new version. Well, not so much a new version, but an old version that we never saw."
The artist said that the size of the Batman: Earth One project offers new challenges. "Obviously, this is a kind of new thing for both of us," Frank said. "I think, probably, for Geoff, it's more of a departure, because he doesn't have the pattern in which he needs to fit everything into 22 pages.
"Or, knowing Geoff, sometimes a few more pages," he added with a laugh.The artist said the biggest challenge has been having to wait so long for the book to come out, instead of producing something on a monthly schedule like regular comic books.
"It didn't feel like there was something continuously being produced and printed," he said. "The project felt so big, and I found myself, about halfway through the book, looking back through the pages and thinking, 'my God, that just seemed like a lifetime ago that I drew this."
In fact, Frank told Newsarama back in December 2011 that he only had nine pages left to draw in Batman: Earth One. But DC held the release until July, presumably because of this week's release of The Dark Knight Rises."It's very, very frustrating because you want people to see it," Frank said of the lengthy lead-time. "You want something there to show for all the toil. But we got there in the end, and obviously I can't complain about the reception and the success it's had. It's been very gratifying."
Frank was able to fill in that waiting time with another project with Johns, The Curse of Shazam. That story, which has revamped the former Captain Marvel for modern audiences, is being released as part of Johns' Justice League title. And Frank will do interiors for the entire issue of Justice League #0, which comes out in September.
But once he finishes that up, he's getting right back to work on the second installment of Batman: Earth One. "We always knew that, if everything went well with the first volume, this was going to be only the first chapter of a larger arc," Frank said.
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