At 64 pages, this isn’t a comic book, it’s a novella. And while the $6.99 price might sound high at first, I assure you it’s well worth every penny. Issue #24 is an important milestone for the New 52 because it showcases not only the birth of the Batman, but his arch enemy as well and it does this by paying homage to Frank Miller…

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Loeb Zero Year

Alan Moore…

Killing Joker Multiple Choice

Zero Killing Joke

Bruce Timm & Paul Dini…

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BTASZeroYear

Bob Kane & Bill Finger…

27 original

27 throwback

All while creating something new, exciting, and totally belonging to Snyder, Capullo, Miki, and FCO…

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Zero Year: Dark City: Part One is a hell of a comic and if the above images don’t sell you on it then I doubt anything I could say would change your mind. However, since I can’t just stop the review right there I’ll go ahead and start picking this thing apart:

Although it’s titled Part One of Dark City, it could be considered the 4th and final part of the previous arc, Secret City. After all, it ties up so many of the loose threads from the previous issue and only touches upon the Dark City material in the final pages of the backup that it seems odd to call it a Part One.

From the opening pages of Dark City we are actually blinded by light and it’s a vibrancy that never lets up throughout the entire issue. While Greg Capullo is sure to get much-deserved praise for his work on this issue, it’s colorist FCO that gives each page a bright, eye-popping look that we usually don’t see in Batman stories outside of say The Killing Joke (the original printing, not the dull, updated one). And while FCO is bringing the kaleidoscopic qualities to the book, inker Dani Miki provides the deep blacks necessary for the usual, shadowy iconography most associated with Batman and these artists together with Greg Capullo created a book that anyone would be proud to own for the artwork alone. There are so many inventive page layouts, creatively designed angles, designs that make use of reflections or silhouettes, kinetic action sequences, expressive faces, gorgeous splash pages, and jaw-dropping moments both original and recreations of classic scenes from the Golden Age through today that it’s almost too impressive for words. Capullo’s visuals are at their very best in this issue.

But before there can be visuals there must be a script and writer Scott Snyder did a remarkable job blending the different takes on Batman and Joker’s origin tale from a variety of eras into something completely his own. Whereas the Bat-through-the-window scene from issue #23 didn’t work for me, every other tweak made to an iconic Bat-moment that was made in this issue was quite spectacular. One area of surprisingly fertile ground that Snyder was able to play with was the assault on A.C.E. Chemical, which is often approached through flashbacks but has never been ellaborated on to the degree it is here. Seeing such a key moment get fleshed out in such a supurb way for the first time was a very thrilling ride. In fact, anytime Batman is on the page, the book is impossible to put down. It’s the Bruce Wayne moments in which the book actually began to falter a bit.

There are two scene in particular that come to mind. One where Bruce and his uncle are discussing the bedrock of Gotham and another in which Bruce is holding a press conference. The dialogue in these scenes is all too heavy-handed. These over-long speech bubbles lacked any subtelty in their symbolism behind Gotham and they could’ve been much shorter and more natural. I appreciate the sentiment behind these lines and the profound observations about the city that are being made but it needs to be reined in. Also, the speech about the state of Gotham described it as an awful place to live but the previous chapters have made it look pretty nice and clean– there’s only been crime from 1 gang. But what caught me the most off-guard about the press conference, however, was that it shows us a Bruce who is intelligent and deeply cares about his city. “Well, that’s not weird!” You might say, but it is for the public persona of Bruce. By having Bruce confront the TV cameras and give such a rousing speech about Gotham it potentially does away with the concept of playboy, phony Bruce… and I like that Bruce. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of Bruce Wayne having this arc of playing the dummy in public so that no one would suspect he’s Batman and then as he matures he realizes the importance of his heritage and how he can do as much good as a Wayne as he can as a vigilante. By having Bruce apparently skip the charade phase I feel like a really great part of the Batman mythology has been lost.

Other notes will be shown in spoiler tags:

Spoiler

  • Are the similarities between Batman’s henchmen bat-signal and Joker’s victim tapestry intentional?
  • I am surprised that Mayor Hady has been the mayor of Gotham for this long (assuming he won the election on the billboard). I would’ve thought that Gotham mayors died pretty frequently.
  • The scar on Bruce’s mouth annoyed me because it would be a dead-giveaway that he’s Batman. Bruce vanishes and then the Batman shows up and he has the exact same scar across hi left lip?
  • I loved that Batman radioed to Alfred and referred to him as “Base.” How hard was that? Why is it we’re having to suffer through Detective Comics and Batman: The Dark Knight calling Alfred “Penny-One” when we can just call him “Base”? It’s so obvious that this is the right way to go
  • The shot of Batman blacking out a section of the city to make the bat-symbol is awesome, BUT it’s also reckless. Imagine how many people got hurt because of that stunt. It’s a huge section of the city. How many riots were caused in businesses? What about the mass panic at hospitals? How many folks died in traffic accidents? Sure, it looked cool, but it’s probably wasn’t the most selfless act Batman’s ever performed. That being said, damn, that picture is amazing. Go get a magnifying glass and check out all the detail that Capullo put into those buildings. There are even cars on the roads!
  • If the chemicals that Red Hood One fell into were a mixture of a variety of different compounds to create a special kind of bomb then… what did Harleen Quinzel fall into during her New 52 origin story? I can’t imagine that same chemical would still be on tap, especially when it looked like A.C.E. went out of business immediately after this disaster.
  • Those final, silent images of Red Hood falling into the vat of acid and sizzling away make me hate myself for not giving this book a 10/10.
  • I could’ve done without the cliche line “It’s only just beginning.” I hate it anytime I hear any variation on that line, “Kill them, kill them all” or “There’s a storm coming.” in any movie.
  • I never thought I’d say this, but Rafael Albuquerque’s art looked a bit off. His Bruce Wayne’s body language looked awkward to me in the first few pages of the backup
  • While I disliked the two earlier speeches in the book, Alfred’s delivered. His monologue about acting was terrific.
  • The massive attack from The Riddler that closed out the issue was spectacular and I liked how saturated in green every page was. However, it did feel very abrupt after all we had been through with The Red Hood gang throughout the rest of the comic. They’re good pages but they seemed out of place here like they were shoehorned in at the last minute so that we could do the Zero Month event in a dozen books in November.

But truly, other than those two, heavy-handed scenes, I can only find minor nitpicks here and there. It was a highly entertaining read from cover-to-cover (and boy, both Capullo’s cover and Guillem March’s variant cover are awesome).

Recommended If…

  • You want to see Batman’s first great adventure
  • You love nods to classic Batman stories
  • Greg Capullo’s artwork makes your pants tight
  • You’re as mesmerized by FCO’s colors as I am
  • You want to see a thorough depiction of the fight at A.C.E. Chemical

Overall

While this marks the conclusion of the first Zero Year story, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to any Batman fan. It’s a great finale but oddly enough a great stand-alone issue as well that I think many fans will read over and over again. It’s incredibly exciting and the artwork is some of the best you’ll see this year.

SCORE: 9.5/10