Zero Year begins and I’m happy to say that all the talk about it being something we’ve never seen before isn’t marketing hype BS.
I read issue #21 early this morning a little wary about every page-turn, afraid that some major change to the mythology might ruin it for me forever. But when it was all said and done I was immensely satisfied and I had a lot to think about. So much so that I went for a drive to let all those thoughts settle. The first song I heard on the radio was David Bowie’s “Changes.” It felt appropriate.
Comparison to Frank Miller’s Year One
It’s totally different. Totally. The look and feel of Frank Miller’s work is nowhere present in this. Nor does it retread the things we saw in Nolan’s Batman Begins. In fact, we don’t even see Jim Gordon in this issue at all. It’s very, very focused on Bruce and Bruce alone. Gotham also appears to be a much cleaner, nicer place, and the narrative is non-linear to an even greater extreme than Nolan’s work the origin story. And when it comes to the crime that Batman is fighting? There’s no hint of corruption in the police or of there being a powerful mob presence. The emphasis is instead placed on there being a new class of criminal in Gotham in the form of the Red Hood Gang and this is easily the #1 thing that has me the most nervous about Zero Year.
A New Class of Criminal
In trying to fit the complex Batman mythology into the 6-year time frame of the New 52 universe, Snyder might have had to abandon the traditional idea of escalation. It’s still too soon to say after just one issue but that’s the sense that I’m getting right now. Instead of corruption and organized crime being the source of Gotham’s woes and the emergence of Batman leading to the rise of freaks, Zero Year shows us a Gotham that’s already besieged by costumed villains (just look at the Court of Owls, who have been causing trouble in colorful outfits for centuries) and it’s this new kind of crime that necessitates the introduction of Batman. If this is indeed the angle Snyder is driving toward then it’s something that’s going to be very hard for me to get used to because the concept of escalation was one of the major things that made the Batman mythology so interesting to me in the first place and it’s led to some very interesting arguments about whether or not the presence of Batman made Gotham a worse place! Flipping the idea of Batman changing things forever and attributing it instead to The Red Hood (who is highly, highly likely to end up becoming The Joker in this story) would be a really major alteration of the Batman mythos that I don’t think would be for the better. It also takes away from the deeper psychosis of Batman. Dressing up as a monster to frighten bad guys was an angry child’s idea of vengeance and now putting on the costume might just be a necessary part of keeping up with the problems Gotham was facing. Again, this is all speculation on my part. We’re only one issue in.
The opening pages of Zero Year have been floating around the net before they were ever even colored. First we saw an upside down Bruce conversing with Alfred and then came some very “I Am Legend” looking images of an overgrown Gotham and a kid being chased by men in white masks that kind of reminded me of a more frightening version of Boos from Super Mario Bros. But how exactly did all this fit together ?
Well, the story actually begins 6 years ago in a post-apocalyptic looking Gotham and from there we flash back an additional 5 months where we are left with the question of how the hell Gotham became that hellscape we just saw in only 5 months. How did Gotham die? Is this what Zero Year is? A year in which Gotham had been destroyed? This was all very surprising and it’s something we won’t get answers to just yet. All we know now is that something is going to happen to cause Gotham to fall into a dystopic state and it’ll be up to Batman to bring it back so we can have the Gotham we know of today. Besides this very shocking reveal we also get flashback scenes to Bruce as a child and a back-up story to Bruce when he was 19. Eleven issues sounded like an awful lot at first but if this first issue is any indication, there is plenty of ground to cover over the next 10 chapters if we’re going to be getting more of Bruce’s training, his war on crime, his childhood, and whatever post-apocalyptic Batman is doing.
Easter Eggs Abound
There are a lot of little things in this book that die-hard Batman fans will notice. If words like “big penny” and “purple gloves” make your ears perk up, you know you fall into this category. Getting some background on these items in the New 52 universe is really nice, but in addition to these pieces of Batman lore we also get a few cameos by characters that are sure to make a lot of fans happy.
It is a very talkative issue and that might bore some people, especially since some of the dialogue gets way too exposition heavy. With 11 issues to work with, Snyder could definitely afford to reign it in a bit and go for some more natural sounding speech instead of having so many conversations turn into such large info-dumps. Luckily, the pace of the book is quick enough that it didn’t get too bothersome in this issue and with so many exciting things happening I never grew tired. I was captivated throughout.
The action is all confined to those opening pages where we see the Batman rescue a boy from the Boos (that’s just what I’m calling them right now)
We don’t just see how Bruce and Alfred are getting along or how great of a dad Thomas Wayne was, but we’re also introduced to a character first hinted at in issue #0. The character I speak of is Uncle Phillip Kane and I think he might end up being one of the most interesting characters to spin out of this arc. I find his nosey and paranoid nature to be really intriguing and I think he’s going to make a really good, non-typical foil for Batman. Getting a little more insight into his role in the family, his history with Bruce, and Alfred’s complete distrust of the man is all great stuff.
Another relationship we see for a short time is that of Phillip and one of his employees and that’s the one that’s probably going to have the most people talking.
And then there’s the back-up story that shows us how Bruce uses criminals to teach him the skills he needs to eventually become the Batman and that was a great deal of fun.
Relationships I really want to see explored in the future would have to be Bruce and his mother (highly likely), Batman and Gordon (a certainty), Bruce/Batman and Harvey Dent, and Bruce and Leslie Thompkins (It would make me happy, but I doubt it’ll happen).
The Gadgets of Tomorrow…Yesterday
I felt that some of the gadgetry in this issue went a bit too far, especially since this is supposed to take place 6 years ago and then we go to an even greater extreme by flashing back to Bruce’s childhood where we see Thomas handling some really sophisticated hardware. Batman apparently has some magnet shoes now, which is an interesting idea that could lead to him relying a lot less on his grapple gun or rope. But the 360 degree camera ball we see Thomas playing around with was too much for me. If this was a gadget Batman had his hands on today? Cool. That’s great, but here Thomas talks about this thing like it’s a product Wayne Enterprises is about to put on the market.
Capullo, Miki, and FCO
Can I just post that image and say, ‘Nuff said. Because I feel like that’s enough. I loved every page of this book’s artwork. The lush, autumn colors FCO used for the apocalyptic Gotham were beautiful as were the bright greens of a Wayne Manor meadow, and he really used a lot of different colors in this issue from what we typically see. The rooftop fight in particular had a different look than any other Batman comic so far with so many different shades of blue making up the sky, the water, and the buildings of Gotham’s skyline reflecting it all. And Capullo never ceases to amaze me with the level of detail he brings to every panel. I love looking at every little item he draws inside a cabinet shelf and the posture and movement of all the characters. Everything is so expressive and full of life. But damn, a banged-up Batman wearing all that gear? I love the hell out of that.
Where the Hell Did He Learn to Drive?!
The backup story is about a 19 year old Bruce getting driving lessons from a notorious Brazilian criminal. It’s quite different from any back-up story before it, a great way to add to the Zero Year festivities, and the artwork by Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig is top notch. Especially the colors by McCaig. I really loved how everything was saturated in those rich, orange sunset colors. And Rafael did an excellent job of pacing out the action of a chase scene. Nothing felt static, there was a great blur effect to show the speed at which the cars were moving and it was great seeing the expression on the crook’s face change as Bruce took more and more control over the situation. Since it’s a high-speed chase, you’ll understand that the story moves very quickly. You’ll be done reading it in a minute or two but it’s a terrific. One of the most enjoyable backup stories in some time even if it is…gone in sixty seconds.
There are a few changes that might bother me in the future, but, as it stands, Zero Year is off to an amazing start. Not only does it live up to the hype, but I would go so far as to say it’s one of the best issues of Snyder’s Batman yet. Look out for the embossed cover but the variant by Jock is really awesome too. An absolute must-buy comic.