It’s odd to see the Gotham blackout and Riddler take such a backseat, but the idea of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo reimagining Batman’s first supervillain, Doctor Death, has managed to be a rather enjoyable (and disturbing) distraction. At the end of last month’s issue, Lucius Fox jabbed a syringe into Bruce’s neck and as the Wayne heir collapsed under the effects of some sort of sedative, a Grim Reaper-esque incarnation of Doctor Death appeared at Fox’s side. Was Fox a bad guy when he and Bruce first met? Was he working with Doctor Death? How would Bruce wake up in time to escape this horrible situation? It was a great cliffhanger but issue #26 is finally here to pull readers back from the edge– at least until it pushes them back with yet another cliffhanger.

However, now that the back-ups are done and we’re not getting a super-sized issue like we did in November, we don’t exactly have the time necessary for Scott Snyder’s heavily decompressed storytelling (seriously, this thing is getting stretched out so much that the finale of Dark City has been delayed and we’re getting another over-sized issue as a result!). Zero Year needs room to breathe and readers need more material to hold them over from month to month. With an opening action sequence, two unrelated flashbacks, Doctor Death’s sinister plan, revelations regarding Jim Gordon’s past, and (it’s important not to forget) Riddler’s blackout there’s really too much going on for a 20 page book to handle. Will it make for some damn good reading in the trade paperback? Hell yes! But as a single monthly episode it’s all over far too quickly.

While all of the drama of issue #26 centers around Bruce Wayne, the characters who actually steal the show are Jim Gordon and Doctor Death so if you’re a fan of either of them then I suggest you pick this one up. While this Doctor Death is basically an entirely new character since we’re deviating so much from his original appearance way back in the 1930’s, issue #26 is a showcase of what exactly this “new” villain has to offer. He’s got a really scary look and an even more horrifying gimmick, but I found his voice to be too similar to the monologuing villains of Black Mirror, Court of Owls, and Death of the family who always seem to work in some sort of fun fact about the horror they represent in their speeches. He has the look and the ability to make him a stand-out foe, but this issue didn’t do much to make his personality distinct or his motivation clear. On the other hand, there’s Gordon, who we all know and love but rather than recreate the character from scratch like with Doctor Death, Snyder is offering flashbacks that bring new mystery to what we already think we know about Jimbo. It’s interesting stuff, that should make for some fun debate and hypothesizing among fans.

As for the artwork, I felt that while there’s still some impressive visuals to be found here and there (I especially dig the cover), issue #26 was one of Capullo’s weakest performances. Sure, his work remains a step above what you’d find in most other comics but there was definitely something lacking about this chapter compared to what I’ve come to expect from this title. For one, this issue easily has the least amount of background detail of any to date. Something I always marvel at is how intricately designed every set piece is, but this time the opening fight scene took place in a very flat, empty space populated only by Doctor Death, Bruce, Lucius, and a giant engine. Most of the time, however, all we see is the blinding fuchsia colorwork by FCO. Then when we go to the hospital there is either a flat color making up the background or we get lucky and there’s a cot or two there to remind us we are indeed in a hospital. It’s actually the brief flashback scenes that have the most life to them. Yes, I liked the film reel layout of the opening page, but it was the emphasis on every bit of minutia in these flashbacks that I really appreciate. The look of the architecture, the wrinkles in the jacket, the steam rising from the streets, etc. Even the enigmatic prison flashback had more depth and character than any of the present timeline’s key moments.

Another element of the visuals that I found to be bothersome was that Gordon never aged. While Zero Year Bruce has a younger face and a brand-new haircut to differentiate himself from the present-day portrayal, Gordon looks exactly the same as he did in Death of the Family. That’s not too big of a problem, it’s only 5-6 years and Gordon’s never been the most fashion-forward guy or anything so it’s a nitpick, really. But in this comic we actually flash back an extra 20 years or so to the night of the Wayne murders and the Jim Gordon of two decades ago is identical to the one we see now. Surely he would’ve looked younger.

Recommended If…

  • Last month’s cliffhanger really did a number on you
  • The new “boneitis” approach to Doctor Death: you like it and you want to see more of it
  • You want to learn more about Bruce’s resentment toward Jim Gordon

Overall

It’s still better than the average bat-comic, but I can’t guarantee it’ll knock  your socks off quite like previous Zero Year chapters. Frankly, it feels like there’s too much story for so few pages– something that’s all the more noticeable now that the back-up short is gone and we’re coming off an over-sized issue. You’ll fly through this comic in no-time.

SCORE: 7.5/10