Batman: Zero Year is a long time coming for me. I never really understood the seeming disconnect between the New 52 launch and the Batman Family. I do understand the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it mentality”, but if you are trying to reboot an entire universe, how do you leave out the most popular and possibly important character in that universe. That being said, the stories that we have given since the New 52 launch have been inspired! So, there I am late last night preparing to read this eagerly anticipated story, in Batman #21, like a pro athlete prepares for the big game. Everyone in the house is asleep. I turn off anything that could possibly be a distraction, and I gather my thoughts for a moment. I consider some of the hype. I reflect on some of the past stories from this tantalizing duo of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. I then, mentally set my expectations of this first issue of the New 52 Batman’s origin.
In my many years as a comic book nerd I have seen the Batman at his best, and worst. I count the recent run, since the New 52 launch, as some of the best. The Court of Owls story line created a mythology around Gotham and specifically Dick Grayson that was truly brilliant. I couldn’t wait for the next issue, and that’s saying something for a guy who has been reading comics since the 1970s. I am most often impressed by comic book writing that takes an established point in time, explores it, and adds something to it that fits right in and becomes immediately part of the lore. The Court of Owls story took the well documented and accepted story of Dick Grayson, and added to it without trampling all over the original material. All the while, Greg Capullo’s art brought a depth and brilliance to the characters that had me hoping he never leaves the book. Following Capullo on Batman, might be like following Michael Jordan on the Bulls. There’s just no way you can win.
The next major arc was Death of the Family. Batman is the ultimate patriarch of the DC Universe. I sometimes wonder how Bruce Wayne, a man so driven, so singularly focused, ends up surrounded by people who would die or even kill (some of them) for him. The Joker has spent as much time living in Batman’s head as Bruce Wayne has, so this contradiction of personality has never been lost on him, just ask Jason Todd and Barbara Gordon. This story line puts the family through the wringer of course. It tantalized me through the issues again prodding me to want more. Capullo’s art in this arc was creepy and wild. Joker’s face alone made me miss a few meals, brilliant! My only criticism of both stories is the payoff. In my other line of work we call it the “completion gene”. A person who works hard, does otherwise great work, but never seems to finish anything suffers from a lack of what we call the “completion gene”. This is the best way I can explain my feelings at the end of these quite excellent story arcs. The three act structure for writing is commonly known. You have the “exposition”, the “rising action”, and the “climax”. Snyder is a master of the first act, exposition, he has a genuine skill for creating a dramatic situation that is compelling, as he did with The Court of Owls and Dick Grayson’s real destiny. As good as he is with Act I, Snyder is an absolute genius at Act II, the rising action. He builds the story and the drama to a point where the reader feels ready to burst with anticipation. For me, Snyder’s Act III climaxes leave me a bit flat. For example, in Batman #17, the final chapter of Death of the Family, the Joker has the family at his mercy, faces removed, tied down at a table listening to his rantings. The Joker completes his soliloquy and starts the room on fire. Suddenly, Batman is free, the fire is out, and the family all still have their faces. Robin himself, said it best, “So it was all a twisted joke?”. I found myself thinking the same thing. I did, however feel some redemption with the resolution of the last couple of pages, as the family went about their lives leaving their mentor, their patriarch, forever alone. The Joker gets the last laugh…Ha.
Now that I have considered the hype, reflected on the past stories, and set my expectations for Batman: Zero Year, I am ready to read. Six years ago, a fish died, and so begins the story of Batman. Of course, this is not the case, it’s Act I, he’s setting me up again, like always. In the “six years ago” time frame we see quick glimpses at a devastated Gotham, courtesy of Greg Capullo. This guy never fails to create emotion with his art. I’m already captivated by these images and hooked into finding out what happened. We time jump back five months, which seems will be one of two main time periods that the parallel origin story will focus on, the other being Bruce’s childhood. The world thinks Bruce Wayne is dead, a poorly kept secret, considering his Uncle, Philip Kane, had no problem finding him. I guess detective skills are in the blood. Everyone involved wants Bruce to reveal that he’s alive, at least Alfred and Uncle Philip do, but for very different reasons. Alfred, always the cheerleader for the family, believes that Gotham needs Bruce Wayne back. Philip Kane agrees, at least outwardly. He is not what he seems, as shown by the revelation at the end that he is working with, or for Edward Nygma. Does anyone else find it strange that the Wayne Enterprises building looks like a bat? The young Bruce time frame is sprinkled through the story to tease you through the origin. Oh, Scott, you crafty bastard, you have my attention. Bruce spends time with his dad talking cars, and gadgets created by Lucius Fox. You get a feel for the close relationship that father and son have. You also get the inquisitive nature of the young Bruce, that leads him to the edge of the rabbit hole, that will change the way he sees the world, forever. Zero Year has begun.
If you thought Batman: Zero Year was going to be some strange rehash of Batman: Year One, written in 1987 by Frank Miller, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, then you don’t know Scott Snyder. Act I is underway, and I’m holding on to the protective bar. I am expecting a ride akin to the great roller coasters of Cedar Point, and I am not likely to be disappointed with this creative team and subject matter. We’re only at the point where the steep climb slowly builds our anticipation for the thrilling ride to come. I have no doubt that the first two acts will drive me bat sh….errr….man crazy, with an obsessive need for more. My personal obsession can only be sated by an Act III that will change bat-history forever. A climax that will quiet the New 52 “haters”, just for a little while. Snyder and Capullo have the skills, the tools, and the drive to make this happen. I am along for the ride, and I will keep my hands and feet inside the car at all times!