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Gary Frank’s Dark Knight Rises in “Batman: Earth One”

by  in Comic News Comment
Gary Frank’s Dark Knight Rises in “Batman: Earth One”

With news breaking earlier this week from DC Comics that “Batman: Earth One” is the first of the publisher’s graphic novels to be available from Apple’s iBooks store, CBR News connected with superstar artist Gary Frank, who is charged with bringing DC’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns’ reimagining of the Dark Knight’s origin to life.

The acclaimed British penciller started his career in the 1990s illustrating stories for “Doctor Who Magazine” and “Toxic!” After a brief stint with Marvel UK, Frank was recruited by Marvel Comics to serve as the cover artist for Peter David’s sensational run on “The Incredible Hulk,” beginning with issue #400. Three issues later, he started drawing the title’s interiors as well, and his career skyrocketed. Over the next 15 years, Frank worked on a number of top-selling and critically acclaimed titles for Marvel, Wildstorm and Top Cow including “Gen¹³,” “Midnight Nation” and a two-issue run on “The Avengers,” written by Johns.

Frank joined forces with Johns once again in 2007 when his exclusive contract at Marvel ended, and the dynamic duo haven’t looked back. After signing a new contract with DC Comics, the artist immediately took over art duties on “Action Comics.” His next project with Johns was the six-issue miniseries “Superman: Secret Origin,” the “definitive” retelling of the Man of Steel’s origin, pre-New 52. As he prepares for “Batman: Earth One,” Vol. 2, Frank is illustrating the Johns-written Shazam co-features in “Justice League.”

“Batman: Earth One,” Vol. 1, on sale now, is the second title in DC’s “Earth One” series following “Superman: Earth One” by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis, which was released in 2010. This out-of-continuity reintroduction focuses on Bruce Wayne’s path toward becoming Gotham’s Caped Crusader. Frank told CBR News that in this version, Batman’s secret identity is an amalgam of the people closest to Bruce Wayne, which includes his father’s former bodyguard, ex-Royal Marine Alfred Pennyworth.

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You take Bruce Wayne from his days as a child to adulthood in “Batman: Earth One.” How did you arrive at his ever-evolving look and feel?

It’s funny — I spoke with Geoff after the book was finished, about Bruce, and he’s probably the character that has evolved more — not just in terms of the story but in terms of the look — than any other one in the book. By the end of it, I felt I was really starting to get a handle of how he looked. I like to really know the character a little bit before I try to come up with a way to portray him visually, but with this book, it was hard to really know because throughout the book, Bruce himself is quite confused to who he really is.

It was probably quite appropriate that two things went along in parallel. We start out with quite a young guy, but by the end of the book I think we probably have a face and set of features that mirrors what Bruce actually resolves within his own mind of who he is going to be. And what Batman is going to be.

In terms of features, there were certain things when I was doing Superman that I knew I needed to include, and obviously the one that most people comment on is the Christopher Reeve influence, but there is also a lot of Curt Swan Superman in there, too, which really makes Superman “Superman” to me. I already had quite a clear idea of how I wanted him to be. There was already quite a formed character when we were dealing with him. Our Batman is not really like that. He’s, like you said, kind of evolving.

Another character that has changed greatly in “Batman: Earth One,” at least from past interpretations, is Alfred. Might I say, he is now rather bad ass?

We talked a lot about Alfred, as well. Going into the project, there was a lot of back and forth in terms of building the character. We knew that he was going to be a bodyguard rather than a butler for Thomas Wayne.

From the beginning, Geoff had the idea that Batman would be an amalgam of the people around him. From that point, it was a question of mold and for those people to fit the roles that we needed from them.

We also have [Detective James] Gordon, who not only helps in terms of Batman becoming the detective that he becomes, but there are going to be all sorts of emotional elements too, which Bruce takes from the people all around him.

In the first book, his biggest influence is Alfred. He already knows in his own mind the person he wants to be, but Alfred needs to provide something aside from just being the support figure. What he’s going to be providing Batman is the knowledge that he is going to be needing, in terms of Alfred being an ex-Royal Marine. He’s also had an extensive life in the security industry, so he knows about all the stuff that Batman is going to need to know about — the more military side of his skill set.

You mentioned the “first book.” Have you and Geoff already started work on the next volume?

We have already started talking about it. We’ve not put pen to paper — well, Geoff probably has, but I’m still on “Shazam,” so that is taking up all of my time at the moment. But I am thinking about things and how we’re going to move the character on a little bit visually and, also, some of the things like the Batmobile. Where are we going to get the Batmobile? Do we even need the Batmobile? How can we make the Batmobile?

We don’t want to have the story in which we’re putting things in there because they need to be there just because they are within the Batman universe. Instead of saying, “Batman needs the Batmobile, so what does it look like?” We can ask: “Why would Batman need a Batmobile?” From that point, we can have a clearer idea of what the Batmobile should actually be. Those are the types of things we’re discussing at the moment, as well as the broader strokes of the story arc.

Finally, the fans want to know — have you been practicing drawing Robin?

There will be no Robin in the next book, but I don’t want to say any more than that. I can’t really say any more than that!

“Batman: Earth One,” by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, is on sale now.

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