DC’s New 52 initiative was a quasi-reboot of the publisher’s fictional universe. Certain events and character histories were preserved, but other elements were changed as editorial and creators saw fit. After two smashingly successful arcs on Batman, the team of writer Scott Snyder, artist Greg Capullo, and colorist FCO Plascencia turned its gaze backward. Zero Year was to be an ambitious reimagining of the Dark Knight’s origin and greatest early tests, and beginning in June of 2013, they began telling their tale with the first act: Secret City.
This edition collects Batman #21-24, written by Scott Snyder, with pencils by Greg Capullo, inks by Danny Miki, colors by FCO Plascencia, letters by Nick Napolitano, and covers by Capullo and Plascencia. It also includes the backups from each issue, which featured scripting by James Tynion IV, artwork by Rafael Albuquerque, colors by Dave McCaig and letters by Taylor Esposito. With the exception of #24, the backups are not grouped with their main story counterparts in the trade, but rather come at the end after the main story is completed.
We reviewed the single issues of “Secret City” on Batman News as they were released, so if you’d like more detailed analysis of individual installments, check out those original write-ups at the links below:
A fresh perspective
Home at last from traveling the world, Bruce Wayne has returned with a mission: to prevent others from facing the pain he did in losing his parents to the madness of Gotham City. Presumed dead, Bruce works in secret to take down the brutal Red Hood gang, but can one of the city’s most well-known sons stay hidden for long? As an intricate, sinister plot unfolds, Bruce is drawn out of hiding, and a legend is born.
If you’re reading Snyder and Capullo’s Batman in order, you’ll likely be struck by how different this book looks at the start. Instead of dark, drab tones inhabiting a dirty, broken city, we are greeted with bright colors, sunshine, and streets that we might actually walk down without fear. Snyder intended this from the start, having a strong desire to set Zero Year apart from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s widely-revered Year One.
Perhaps more striking than the visual distinction, however, is the feel of Snyder’s characters. Bruce isn’t dropping quips or doing the Batusi, but there’s an irreverant sass to him that you won’t find in the rest of the Snyder/Capullo run. The Red Hood is similarly a much more balanced Joker than the one we encountered in Death of the Family. You can forget how dangerous he is for a moment, because he’s just so entertaining—because he actually seems to be enjoying his mission of mayhem in a way that the fully realized Joker in the previous arc did not.
The Riddler is an excellent addition, as well. He’s certainly no Frank Gorshin, but his arrogant condescension—and his delight in his own arrogance—makes for a very pleasurable read. This particular act of Zero Year is not his main event, but he is nevertheless established as a formidable adversary, giving his power play at the story’s end the weight that it needs.
Not everything works, though. After criticizing Bruce’s secret crusade, Alfred changes his mind following an incident that should have made him double down on his position. And while some of the visual and textual homage to Year One is interesting to encounter, an extended scene of a broken Bruce asking his dead father for purpose sticks out from the rest of the story, not least because “I shall become a bat” doesn’t seem to fit the patterns of speech that Snyder has previously established for his Batman. While I appreciate the desire to pay proper respect to Miller’s work, the implementation doesn’t work as well as it could.
A sight to behold
Capullo is one of the best in the business, with excellent detail and fidelity whether a scene is close up or at a distance. The bold color palette in Zero Year feels like his work has finally come home. Capullo is certainly capable of drawing horror, as Death of the Family demonstrated all too well, but his character aesthetics tend to have a bit of whimsy, and the script and colors allow those aesthetics to convey something that they haven’t previously in this run: fun. There are still plenty of awesome action sequences, and a few moments that might make you wince, but there are just as many instances of panels that will make you bridge your ears with a grin.
After working with Jonathon Glapion for the previous three volumes, Capullo is here paired with inker Danny Miki, and the difference is quite noticeable. Glapion’s inks tended to look more rough, with enough instances of broken lines for me to have a distinct memory of them. Miki’s work, on the other hand, is smooth as silk, and between he and FCO, this book has a polish that no prior collection of New 52 Batman can claim.
Letterer Nick Napolitano stands out, as well. His credits pages are gorgeous and clean, and when Snyder gives him a few other opportunities to flex his design skills, he delivers. This run on Batman more often than not feels like a movie on the page, and Napolitano’s designs are an integral part of the fit and finish of this summer blockbuster.
A word on those backups
While I’m not privy to editorial’s reasons for doing so, I greatly appreciate the decision to put the backups from Batman #21-23 at the end of this collection, rather than inline as they originally appeared. These flashbacks to Bruce’s time abroad are fun, and definitely interesting enough to include, but they are also not necessary to the larger narrative, and would disrupt the flow of the main story.
Variant covers for each of the four collected issues are interspersed with the backups after the main story ends. In addition, the script pages from Batman #21 Director’s Cut close the volume out (though, sadly, Capullo’s pencil pages are nowhere to be found).
Value: Full Price
You can grab this for about twelve bucks new on Amazon, and that’s well worth it. Even at DC’s current rates for single issues, it’s a fair price, and the extra-sized #24 actually makes what Amazon’s asking a bargain.
Zero Year – Secret City is a boldly-conceived, bombastically-realized conception of Batman’s origin. Freed from the darkness that dominates the rest of the New 52 run on the book, this story nurtures optimism and hopefulness with bright colors and boisterous characterizations, long before DC’s highly-successful Rebirth initiative arrived to pursue similar goals. A striking study in both the weight and thrill of being the Batman, this collection may be the strongest segment of work produced by this revered team of creators, and it’s one heck of a good time, to boot.