'Batman: Earth One': DC's Geoff Johns and Gary Frank Talk New Mythology, More Human Bruce Wayne

The second volume of the alternate world graphic novel series is released Wednesday.
Gary Frank/DC Entertainment

Bruce Wayne's career as the Dark Knight might be over in the monthly comics, but it's just starting out in the Batman: Earth One graphic novel series. With the second volume in the alternate universe series released Wednesday, creators Geoff Johns and Gary Frank talked to THR about building a better Batman.

"Having the latitude to do what we want, there are certain things that we want to keep consistent and stay true to," Johns admitted. "I heard a really great quote from the Russo brothers, who directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier, about this: they said it's like a piano, and when you hear a note out of tune, you just know." Nonetheless, many things are different in the Batman: Earth One universe — not least of all, Batman himself.

"I don't think our Batman really says those one-liners, or come across as an ultra-crazy, tough guy. He's just a guy. He's vulnerable," Johns said. "He's also very emotional. I love how angry he gets, and his reason for not killing in the beginning of the book — it's not about a higher morality, but about the fact that he doesn't want anyone to grow up thinking Batman's a killer." (Frank, who's previously worked with Johns on Action Comics, Superman: Secret Origin and Shazam, called that moment "the best Batman scene in years.")

Bruce Wayne's family history is different in this world, as well; his mother, Martha, is part of the Arkham family responsible for the infamous Arkham Asylum — and, in Earth One mythology, much of the construction of Gotham City as a whole, as well.

"Are you familiar with the Winchester House? It's a fascinating story, with staircases that lead to nowhere and doors that open onto walls," Johns explained. "We wanted to infuse that feeling into Gotham, to make it as if the entire city was built like that. Ultimately it's the key to the madness of the whole city and maybe even into Bruce Wayne. That's something that we wanted to explore."

Other changes in the book include a new role for longtime villain Killer Croc, a new take on the Riddler and a brand new character, Jessica Dent — the twin of Harvey Dent, whom fans will know for his unfortunate fate — who has a profound influence on Bruce Wayne's life. For Frank, the draw of doing a graphic novel like Batman: Earth One is the ability it offers to better explore character's relationships with each other.

"It's a lot of fun to have that freedom, and it's a format that plays into what I like doing," he said. "It isn't always easy, if you're doing [20 pages a month] and the reader picks up an issue where it's just two guys talking in a bar, they might not be so receptive to the book in general. I feel like we're almost tricking readers into giving them something they might not have chosen themselves. We have the opportunity to tell stories we might not otherwise have been able to tell."

He went on, "There's an element of mystery — you finish the book and you need to go back and re-read the book to see [what's been seeded]. A lot of stuff may seem odd at the time, and then you realize that it pays off."

Johns agrees. "This is really a different form of storytelling than monthly books," he said. (He currently writes the monthly Justice League series, in addition to his duties as Chief Creative Officer at DC Entertainment.) "You have the luxury of making the book exactly what you want to make it. I couldn't be prouder of the book, because I think it's the standard of the stories we want to be able to tell: surprising, complex and character-driven."

Batman: Earth One, Volume 2 is available in comic book stores and digitally now. Read the preview below.

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