Batman begins again in this origin story with a twist, creatively reimagined without losing anything that makes the character great.
Without a doubt, Scott Snyder’s Batman has been one of the consistent highlights of the entire New 52. From the “Court of Owls” through to “Death of the Family”, Snyder and writing partner James Tynion IV have found ways to illuminate previously darkened corners of Bruce Wayne’s Gotham City. Taking a break from the present day in their ongoing saga, the writers now turn that flashlight back on Batman himself, exploring how their version of the orphan Bruce Wayne became the protector of a city riddled with crime in this “Batman: Zero Year” arc.
It is difficult to look at any Batman origin story in the wake of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s 1987 masterpiece, Batman: Year One. Indeed, the very title of this arc can’t help but conjure up a comparison. So much of Miller’s tome was filtered through the cinematic version found in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins that it’s almost impossible to separate them within the Batman mythos. Batman #21 doesn’t so much reinvent or retcon that origin as distill, remix and reinterpret it in light of Snyder’s bigger story.
Setting the tale six and half years before the previous issue, Gotham is under the control of gangs, including the Red Hood. Comics history would tell us that this is one of the Joker’s earliest guises, but we suspect that Snyder hasn’t played all of his cards just yet. The recently returned Bruce Wayne, presumed dead or missing by almost everybody, enlists the help of butler Alfred Pennyworth in his “guerrilla warfare” on these controlling gangs. Bruce’s “Uncle Philip” tries to convince Bruce to take control of the newly refurbished Wayne Enterprises, forcing Bruce to think back on his father’s values and his own beliefs.
“Batman: Zero Year” seems almost completely unnecessary, especially in light of the many origins that have come before, but Snyder imbues it with a far more subtle sense of character development than we have seen before. This is not the Batman of “Year One”, this is a man still struggling to find his place years after the death of his parents. The concept of ‘Batman’ hasn’t even occurred to him, save for a single teasing panel at the start of the story, but instead this is about those elements that fed the seeds of vigilantism that were already inside Wayne. Snyder makes the telling of this story not only necessary, but compulsory, with the built-in recognition that Bruce Wayne’s history has never quite been explored from these angles before. The backup story, about one of Bruce’s adventures at age 19, is less essential, but it does get to showcase Rafael Albuquerque’s beautiful art.
Capullo’s pencils are, as always, one of the grounding factors to this book’s continued successes. In Batman #21, he gets to have a bit of fun with the characters. Not only does he depict a much younger Bruce Wayne, one in the early stages of his career, but the childhood version as well. There’s a beautiful montage labelled “What do you love about the city, Bruce?” framing everyday events around the seal of the Gotham City Transit Authority. In many ways, Snyder and Capullo’s Batman has been the story of the unseen Gotham, so it is nice that it is continued in a positive way here. Even peppered with visual cues to established elements of the series, including the winking appearance of a giant penny, it’s fair to say that we’ve never quite seen the city like this before.
As a classic villain is introduced in the final pages of the primary story, we realise that “Year Zero” is not simply the origin of Batman, but of his entire world. Giving greater strength to the argument that present day Gotham is a a result of the escalation that started the moment Bruce Wayne put on the cowl, Snyder fans the flames on a city that is just starting to hot up. We can’t wait to see them ignite and blow the powder keg sky high. This is essential reading for any Batman fan.
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