Johns & Frank Aim for 'Surprising and New' in Latest "Batman: Earth One" Volume
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Gotham Knights #5, which was published by DC and is cover dated July 2000. Enjoy!
If you’re a new reader trying this book out, this page might confuse you. You may not know who all those characters are and why they’re acting so strangely. Of course, if you’ve ever read a Batman comic, you can figure out who some of them are, but we don’t get much context from this page itself. Devin Grayson, who wrote this book, chucks us right in. In the first panel, Two-Face is whining about not having eaten. If we don’t know where this takes place, we can figure out from the context that all of these people are in some kind of secure facility, probably a hospital and not a prison (the regular folk are dressed like doctors and orderlies, not like guards). Two-Face’s cell is fronted with glass, which seems odd for a prison. Grayson throws in the inevitable “two” reference, but at least it’s subtle and part of the complaint. In the second panel, Hannah is slowly cracking up, which is a comment on the way Arkham Asylum (for that is where we are) affects not only the patients, but the staff. The other woman gives us a clue about what’s happening when she says that the doors can’t open. In the third panel, Croc and the Ventriloquist (I assume it’s the Ventriloquist, but of course a casual reader probably wouldn’t know and/or wouldn’t care) have killed the cook and are eating well. Finally, in the fourth panel, we once again see that a staff member is having problems getting a door open. Whether he’s trying to get the drugs for himself or for the patients (the “need their medication” conveniently lacks a pronoun) is, perhaps, irrelevant. He’s desperate because the door won’t open. That’s all we need to know.
If this first page is intriguing, we turn the page to discover that the villain known as The Key has locked all the doors in Arkham Asylum just to fuck with Batman (well, there’s more to it, but isn’t that why villains in Gotham do anything?). None of these characters are ever seen again in this comic, so this is very much just a scene-setter. Grayson does a nice job laying the groundwork for the rest of the issue, though.
The artist on this book is Dale Eaglesham, and he does a decent job without being too spectacular (John Floyd inks it, Pamela “They drew first blood” Rambo colors it, Wildstorm FX separates it, and Bill Oakley letters it, just for completeness’ sake). As these are four discrete panels stacked on top of each other, there’s not much need to move our eyes from panel to panel – it’s not like the panels are connected in any way. Two-Face, you’ll notice, is looking directly at Hannah’s word balloon, and the Ventriloquist’s word balloon is right on top of the man’s in panel 4, but I’m not really sure how deliberate that is. I’d like to say it is, but who knows. Eaglesham’s work now is often colored directly from pencils, but here he’s still getting inked, and Floyd makes Arkham, at least in panels 2 and 4, a shadowy place (if we credit the inker with doing that). This is in the days before the scruffy look was trendy, so the fact that Two-Face and the man in panel 4 aren’t clean-shaven is a nice touch to indicate that things aren’t running smoothly at everyone’s favorite asylum for the criminally insane. Eaglesham’s Croc isn’t great because he doesn’t look misshapen enough, but that’s a minor complaint.
This is a pretty good page to draw in readers. It’s mysterious and doesn’t tax you too much in terms of “reading” the artwork, so if you’re a new reader, you can easily figure out what to do (I should think; I’m always amazed that many people really don’t know how to read comics). You might not like the story, but that’s not the first page’s fault!
I’m still accepting votes for the next theme month (April), which will highlight writers. Give me your top three writers and I’ll see what I can do (always keeping in mind that I might not own enough by that particular writer). It’s fun with participatory democracy!
Next: Okay, more Batman. Sorry, I just own a lot of comics with the Bat-dude! Who wants archives? Good, patriotic Americans, that’s who!
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