Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s retelling of Batman’s origin, Zero Year continues this week after leaving us off with a fiery cliffhanger as the Red Hood gang (led by the man who we can see will become Joker) confronts Bruce in his brownstone and proceeds to set fire to it. Now, there have been people in the various social media who have decried and snickered at the idea of Snyder and Capullo revisting what could be considered sacred ground as they write the New 52 origin to replace Frank Miller’s classic Batman: Year One (Full disclosure: I cannot STAND Frank Miller as a person or most of his writings; but I LOVE Year One). Batman #23, the third chapter of eleven, is to be the moment where Batman is born. Does it make it’s own mark as a version of Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s (the latter really should get a lot of the credit) classic origin; or is it just a copy bat?
As mentioned at the beginning, this starts in media res as the leader of the Red Hood Gang burns down Bruce’s brownstone as well as attacking Bruce while saying “You never should have come back, Brucie.” Red Hood (for lack of a better name for this Proto-Joker) points out the deaths of the Waynes helped start sending the city into chaos and despair; making people more and more afraid of the randomness in their lives. In fact, the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne planted the seed of the then young Red Hood to create his Red Hood gang, to mock the chaos and to spread more of it. He then chillingly says “Thank you for leaving the theater that night with your parents that night. You inspired me”; and then shoots Bruce through the painting. Bruce barely manages to crawl to his now burning secret base and escapes to Wayne Manor while hallucinating/remembering the day he fell into what will be the Batcave when he chased after that strange new kind of camera. While Bruce collapses in the grand foyer of Wayne Manor, his Uncle Phil confronts Edward Nygma over Nygma’s sending Red Hood and his gang to kill Bruce. Nygma points out that Bruce, should he find out that Phil was supplying Wayne Enterprises guns to the street gangs and his hatred for the weapon that killed his parents, would take back the company. Phil threatens Nygma with death and erasing evidence; but the crafty future Riddler says the passcode to activate the magnets under the floor first. Not only does it erase his computer presence at Wayne Enterprises, it pins Phil to the floor due to the metal plate in his head. Nygma then resigns, saying that together he and Phil could have brought great success to Wayne Enterprises; but now he is going to work for the Powers family (referencing one of the major villains from Batman Beyond). Phil still gets a barb in; noting that for all Nygma’s bluster, he still has to hide behind the scenes because of his (implied) criminal past. Phil continues by saying “So what good is all that intelligence and maneuvering if no one knows it’s you? Edward Nygma will always be an empty question mark!” Nygma then leaves with a curt goodbye. At Wayne Manor, Bruce awakes to Alfred tending to his wounds. After the two men make up for their argument in the previous issue (and Bruce starts the tradition of NEVER listening to Alfred’s medical advice), Bruce starts wandering around Wayne Manor and finds the ball-like holo-cam he chased into a hole all these years ago. He then talks to his father’s bust, saying he is failing in his promise and asks to be shown the way back, to become the warrior for justice he wants to be. The holo-cam then activates, revealing the images of the cave that will become his base…and the creatures that will inspire him. He opens a window as a real bat flies in and lands on the bust of Thomas Wayne. Bruce sits, smiles, and says those immortal words:
As some reviewers have pointed out; Zero Year is a slow burn story. However, this is a highly enjoyable one; and this issue is especially well done. Snyder and Capullo pays homage to several classic moments in Batman’s history in various media; from Miller’s Year One inspiring the end, to a twist on “You Made Me” from Burton’s Batman, to the burning of Wayne Manor in Batman Begins. While nodding to the past, Snyder also makes twists on the various ideas we had about Batman. Some of the villains we know and love seem to have the seeds of their personas of crime already planted in them instead of, like some stories have it, being the costumed criminal reaction to the presence of a costumed crimefighter. He also shows that Gotham City is rotten in different ways; where the man leading its most famous company is supplying weapons to those who would tear it apart utterly and without mercy. He also, more than any origin version other than Batman Begins, points out that the death of the Waynes was a catalyst for making things worse; and it’s more chilling when he has the man who will become the Joker say it. His Riddler is much more menacing than any version before; a cold, calculating fiend who wouldn’t be above gimmicks but would pass at giggling like a maniac. He is whimsical in his statements, yet cruel in his actions. And with Snyder writing the Villain’s Month issue looking into Riddler’s psyche; I think we have only scratched the surface of this very improved Riddler. As for Red Hood, we can see the seeds of Joker already in him through his speech and actions; and makes you wonder what other chaos he has in store. As for touching moments, Bruce and Alfred’s reunion and apology and Bruce asking his father for inspiration make up two emotionally stirring moments.
Greg Capullo’s art, as usual, is astounding. One interesting panel is from Red Hood’s point of view in his mask; the distortion showing that this is a man whose world view is distorted both literally and metaphorically. And like Chris Burnham did in Batman Incorporated 13, Capullo draws a very roughed up Bruce Wayne whose face looks like it’s been on the losing end of a fight with a brick wall. His Edward Nygma has the right amount of arrogance, contempt, and cunning in his face to make you actually be somewhat afraid of this soon to be costumed crook. Capullo’s “set pieces”, in this case the fire at Bruce’s brownstone and the hologram, are especially well done. The fire has an actual sense of urgency and danger; and you can picture it like a movie in your head. The hologram is a nice twist on both the birth of Batman and the moment Bruce was in the cave as a child; combing two important moments in the creation of Batman into one glorious two page spread. The final shots, though nods to David Mazzucchelli’s panels in Year One, are filled with hope and inspiration; showing that this new tale of Batman’s origin will set itself apart from it’s older brother.
While Snyder and Capullo reference many versions of Batman’s past in this latest chapter of the New 52 origin of the Dark Knight; they have truly made it their own creation. While some may say it’s slow to start; I say we’re starting to cook. And with two villains (and a cameo from another) already starting to make their first chronological appearances, and the city in enough chaos already, I think it’s the perfect moment for the birth of Gotham’s Caped Crusader. If Batman origin stories are judged by the moment Bruce Wayne decides to become a Bat; Zero Year will have no trouble standing alongside its legendary predecessors.
10 out of 10