Edward Nygma has thrown Gotham into blackness and there are riots in the streets, but still the only thing on the GCPD’s mind is the apprehension of the vigilante known as Batman.

Batman #25 by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, and FCO Plascencia begins the 2nd part of the Zero Year saga, “Dark City.” And like the first chapter of “Secret City” we get yet another minimalist, embossed cover featuring only the Batsymbol. It’s cool, it’s classy, and it’s almost impossible to close again without bagging and boarding it.

Our story begins not in Gotham, but in the deserts of Nigeria where a military convoy happens upon a mysterious hatch in the middle of the wasteland. My hat is off to Scott Snyder for this unpredictable opening! I was not expecting a story called “Dark City” to open in neither darkness nor a city, but blinding desolation! And the mystery forged by whatever it is these soldiers discover will certainly have fans discussing their own fun theories for several months to come. There definitely aren’t many clues at all to how this could relate to Batman because after but a glimpse at what is developing in Africa we shift back to Gotham City where zeppelins are flying over the titular “Dark City.”

Having an explanation for how Gotham got those famous dirigibles is but the first of many terrific throwbacks to classic Batman iconography, but the one that will surely get the most discussion is the appearance of the first Batmobile, which is the very thing the blimps are seeking out. I’ll be sure to put the image of the Batmobile in spoiler tags for those of you who want to see it revealed within the actual comic, but I need to talk about this thing. I didn’t like it.

Spoiler

Zero Year Batmobile

I liked how it was used in the story and I really loved how Bruce is not yet the stoic figure we see today, he really seems to enjoy driving his hot rod in circles around the GCPD, but the look of the Batmobile didn’t sit right with me at all. From what I can tell, it looks like Snyder and Capullo tried to pay homage to the original Batmobile seen here:

First Batmobile

But, other than the 30’s style grill, I think they missed the mark and ended up with something that looks less like a hot rod and more like a Plymouth Prowler:

Plymouth Prowler

Personally, I think an even better way to have paid homage to the golden age AND kept the spirit of Zero Year alive would have been to take this car seen in issue #22:

Thomas Car

And given it a back fin and grill ornament like this:

40s Batmobile
Not only would we have paid tribute to one of the very first automobiles in Batman’s collection in the old continuity, but we would’ve forged a more emotional bond to the car through its connection to Bruce’s father, who was the first to ever work on it. That’s just my opinion, and you may love the look of the Zero Year Batmobile, but I’m not a fan of its design or its color scheme. Some of the tricks Batman does with the car, however, are cool and the spirit of the Batmobile is alive and well, I just don’t think it looks like a Batmobile should. Let’s move on…

The car chase, like the trip to the desert is but a small part of this story which is actually quite the slow burn. Issue #25 arranges all of the pieces on the board but sets none of them into motion until the final page. The phenomenal artwork by Greg Capullo is what makes this all possible. If the book did not look so beautiful I doubt that we could get away with such a decompressed story without boring the reader, but I actually welcome the slower pace when it’s so vibrantly depicted and full of narrative purpose. No page is wasted here as both Bruce and Gordon toil away on their separate investigations. Bruce is hunting for the Riddler (who amazingly doesn’t make an appearance) and sorting through suspects in an incredibly bizarre string of murders while Gordon is looking into the same murder case and, it would appear, his lingering suspicions regarding Bruce Wayne. Gordon does indeed play a much bigger part in our story and it’s long overdue after our favorite mustachioed detective never made an impact on “Secret City” until the finale. And while we’re still waiting on Harvey Dent to arrive on the scene, issue #25 does feature a number of other big cameos that will make readers very happy.

Spoiler
Unfortunately we have one of our first hiccups in continuity caused by the crossover event as well. Harvey Bullock shows up mid-issue and he’s still the loveable slob we all recognize, but in last week’s Detective Comics tie-in we saw a much more handsome Earth One-esque depiction of Bullock. Also, while I have you in spoilers, I sincerely hope that Gordon’s past is brought up in more detail and soon. In Batman Incorporated we saw a Gordon who was warm and caring when Bruce’s parents died (much like in “Batman Begins” but then in Detective Comics #25 is seemed as though Gordon was relatively new to the force. Now with Zero Year it seems that Gordon WAS in Gotham at the time of the murders, was up to something seemingly nefarious, and either left for Chicago and returned OR he was a cop in Chicago for an incredibly brief period of time before the Waynes were murdered. It’s all unclear to me at the moment.

While many will be disappointed by the comic’s lack of Riddler, I think that not only will these various cameos fill the void, but hardcore fans will be intrigued by the revival of one of Batman’s very first super-villains

Spoiler
He’s actually THE first but I don’t want to spoil that for anybody who could quickly put two and two together
who is depicted in a rather unique way. I still have mixed feelings about this new interpretation of the character because I’m always a bit leery about the more sci-fi/fantasy-like villains especially when they go this over the top, but I’m very willing to see where Snyder and Capullo are going with him and think that they’ve already set him up to be incredibly creepy. In fact, this approach plays to both Snyder and Capullo’s strengths because Snyder is a horror writer first and foremost and Capullo has a long history of drawing monsters from his days on Spawn.

Although I said that I didn’t like the look of the Batmobile and I’m hesitant about the look of our main villain, that isn’t to say that either thing is poorly drawn. In fact, I find it almost impossible to find flaws in the appearance of this book. Pencils, inks, and colors blend in perfect harmony in this richly detailed book. Characters are incredibly expressive not only in their faces but in their hand gestures and overall posture. While there is very little action to see in this issue, what’s there is just as thrilling as ever when penciled by Capullo. And, as always, the vibrant colors by FCO make every page pop to give Zero Year its distinct flavor while still allowing for glimpses of the dark and disgusting as the evil rises and the world around Bruce gradually evolves into the classic Gotham atmosphere that makes us shudder.

“Dark City” is off to a very promising start, but the $4.99 price tag on this one could be off-putting to some readers especially when you consider that it’s the same size as a $3.99 comic used to be. While solicitations may have marketed this book as being 40 pages long I only counted 29 pages of story, 5 of which is a backup written by Snyder & James Tynion with art by Andy Clarke. While the back-up about a very young Harper Row is charming, it also adds very little to the Zero Year story and mainly serves the purpose of giving all the other tie-in comics the Batman-blessing by featuring a 2-page collage of what’s going on throughout this month’s crossover event.

Recommended If…

  • You’ve been waiting for a decent jumping-on point to the Zero Year saga
  • You love Capulo’s artwork
  • A Batman story with more of a horror theme is what you’re hankering for
  • You’re ready to be in it for the long haul, this issue raises a lot of questions and builds an interesting mystery
  • You want to check out the first Batmobile of the New 52 universe

Overall

Despite there being surprisingly little Riddler in the first chapter of “Dark City” there are more than enough surprises on hand as well as an intriguing mystery that will get readers very excited about what’s to come. I find some of the horror elements to be a bit over-the-top and i’m not a fan of the design of Batman’s first car, but putting those nitpicks aside this was a very engaging read.

SCORE: 9.5/10