Best Shots Advance Reviews: BATMAN: EARTH ONE, BANDETTE


Batman: Earth One

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Gary Frank, Jonathan Sibal and Brad Anderson

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Gotham City is a big place. Maybe too big. At the very least, too big for one graphic novel.

That's the lesson I picked up from the long-awaited Batman: Earth One, a gorgeous book that nevertheless bites off more than it can chew. The thing is, Geoff Johns throws together enough decent ideas to fill six graphic novels, but having them all together leads to a scattered, unfocused read.

For my money, the most interesting addition Johns has brought to the mythos is the idea of legacy — that Bruce isn't just the scion of the Wayne dynasty, but a second, more sinister family that you'll recognize instantly. That said, Johns only hints at that greater insight to Batman, either for fear of retreading themes from his old Teen Titans days or just to build up the world around Bruce.

That's where things get out of control.

Establishing Alfred Pennyworth as a badass or Oswald Cobblepot as a true power player would have been plenty. Heck, Johns's twist on Jim Gordon — and his daughter Barbara, who is far and away the most endearing character in the entire book — is different enough to justify your attention. But because Johns has to flit from plot point to plot point, you never really stick around with anyone long enough to get to know them.

There are two major victims of this treatment, as well: the villain of the piece, and Batman himself. The villain is about as bland as they go, with little motivation to define the "true evil" that may possess Gotham. (That would have been an interesting theme in general — is Gotham just insane, or is there something truly deliberate and evil at work?) Batman, meanwhile, starts out green and... kind of stays that way, to be honest. If you're actually satisfied with the way one villain gets defeated, well, you're easier on this Dark Knight than I'd ever be.

But the thing that gives this book its greatest edge? Artist Gary Frank. Reading this book made me realize just how much I missed Frank in DC's New 52, where he probably could have given the relaunched Superman a real shot in the arm. Frank is just a gorgeous storyteller — the page where Bruce sits in the street after his parents die, for example, has a haunting distance to it, cutting in and out with black panels as if we too were in shock.

Frank also gives Jim Gordon's subplot a needed jolt, particularly with a gleefully wicked splash page where he bites back against the scum of Gotham. And it goes without saying that Frank makes Barbara so cute and endearing that you're practically begging him to draw Batgirl: Earth One next.

Ambition is never a crime in the comics industry, and to be honest, I wish more books failed because they were too ambitious rather than the other way around. Batman: Earth One is one of those books. There's plenty of material to work with, and there's a ton of setup for future storylines. But what this book doesn't do is ultimately too damaging to ignore: for all its enthusiastic world-building, it fails to set up an exciting alternative in characterization to either the current Batman books or the epic Batman movies.


Bandette #1

Written by Paul Tobin

Art by Colleen Coover

Published by Monkeybrain Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Monkeybrain Comics may be newest name on the digital comics front, but that doesn’t mean they are inexperienced. Founded by veteran creator Chris Roberson, Monkeybrain gets by with a little help from his friends, including Dennis Culver, Eddie Campbell, Grace Allison, Matthew Dow Smith and more. Writer Paul Tobin and artist Colleen Coover team up for Bandette #1 (available now), a playful, costumed caper that’s part “Madeline” and part Saturday morning cartoon.

The art is the real star in this one. Colleen Coover’s painted backgrounds and loose character designs immediately conjure up comparisons to the work of Ludwig Bemelmans. She creates atmosphere and depth with simple brush strokes and exquisite shading. Her characters are rendered with a simplicity that makes them instantly familiar. Coover’s work is whimsical but still focused.

Too often, comics are criticized for being “too cartoony” when they are in essence cartoons. Bandette thrives on that descriptor. It exists in the ever-cocked eyebrow of the villainous Monsieur, the frustrated scowl of Inspector Belgique and the cheeky grin of Bandette herself.

This is an introduction issue. It’s an introduction to the world and characters of Bandette and it succeeds in getting us up to speed. In thirteen pages, Paul Tobin fleshes out Bandette as a mixture of Nancy Drew and Pippi Longstockings with a dash of Robin Hood. She’s a refreshing sort of heroine, one that isn’t bogged down by the male gaze or being used to play up to some fanboy’s fantasy. She’s Amelie where too many lady heroes are put on display like half-naked go-go dancers gyrating in cages that hang from the ceiling.

The book reads almost like a Hanna-Barbera short or a Tintin adventure. There are clearly defined sides of good and evil. Hijinks lurk around every corner. There’s a feeling that just about anything can happen and it would fit right in, casually brushed off as just another day for Bandette with only a quip and a smile. This book is a lot of fun.

Monkeybrain Comics has a lot going for it right from the outset. We expect quality work from quality creators. Tobin and Coover absolutely deliver here. Bandette is a reminder that all kinds of comics have the potential to be good even if they are far from what’s generally out there. It’s just a matter of strength of execution.

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