Scott Snyder has been guiding Batman since the New 52 launched. After a few amazing opening arcs like Court of Owls and Death of the Family, Snyder looked to the past, retelling Batman’s origin with Zero Year. While Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One is considered the definitive origin, this offered a different take for a different Batman that retained many of the same elements while adding new ones. Zero Year is anything but a retelling of Year One.
Zero Year took place in the mainline Batman book, issues 21-27, 29 – 33, told by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo and backups by Rafael Albuquerque, the main creative team since the relaunch. The 13 issue tale was broken into three acts, Secret City (#21-23), Dark City (#24-29), and Savage City (#30-33). Each arc showed a different stage of Batman’s career evolving, featuring not only villains but his entire supporting cast in fundamentally different ways that added, rather than subtracted. The story took place 6 years ago, 1 year before the supposed 5 years the heroes in the New 52 have been active.
Secret City, previewed in Batman #0 (Sept 2012), showed Bruce returning from his years abroad, infiltrating the Red Hood Gang. This arc focuses on his journey into his transformation to Batman. Several Batman mainstays are introduced in these early issues, including Alfred, Gordon, Edward Nygma, and even Oswald Cobblepot. While the latter is more of brief note, the rest build in unique ways. Alfred violently disagrees with Bruce’s methods, slapping him at one point. Gordon however, has a far more interesting introduction. Bruce doesn’t trust Gordon, having a few violent altercations with him. His reasoning for the distrust goes back to his parent’s murder, something interwoven throughout the opening. The arc concludes with the Red Hood Gang, hired to assassinate Bruce, nearly succeeding, leaving him for dead as he stumbles back to the manor, ending on the pivotal moment when he discovers the cave.
The opening arc is the only one to include backup stories of Bruce’s training abroad. All three are drawn by Albuquerque, supplementing their accompanying issue wonderfully. Sadly, the backups didn’t continue throughout the series.
In Dark City, Bruce has become Batman, even sporting the same purple gloves he originally did in Detective Comics #27 (1939). Dark City is easily the densest arc of Zero Year, moving the story forward in a variety of ways while juggling several threads and introducing more characters. Paying homage to Batman’s roots, Dr. Death was the main villain of the arc. Dr. Death, first seen in Detective Comics #29, was completely redesigned. Infected by an experimental serum, he killed by making his victims bones grow and twist, protruding from their bodies. Batman quickly dispatched the Red Hood Gang before Dr. Death became his priority. During his investigation, Nygma, now the Riddler, put Gotham in a blackout, challenging Batman to restore the power. The arc culminated in a battle against Dr. Death atop Batman’s blimp (yep), as a storm struck. Batman realized Riddler’s plan was for the power to be restored, allowing him to take control of the city. Though Dr. Death died from the exploding blimp, Batman failed to stop Riddler. With full control, he destroyed the floodgates, allowing the water to overtake the city while Batman fell into the bay, unconscious.
There is a lot to dissect and highlight in Dark City. The arc is worth of a few hundred words alone. One moment stuck out above the rest, however. Alfred was explaining to Bruce how he understood what he was doing by becoming Batman. It was a long, well written speech, culminating in a chilling ending, particularly for long time fans. Alfred stated that Bruce was making us “bear witness.” The words coupled with the panel was powerful.
The final arc, Savage City, was straight forward compared to the previous ones. The city was destroyed, cutoff from the outside world by Nygma. He claims to have reset the calendar, starting Gotham at zero year. The concept was reminiscent of No Man’s Land. Daily, Riddler would take to a jumbo-tron downtown, offering a challenge. If someone could provide him a riddle he couldn’t solve, he’d free the city. Bruce, managing to remove his costume before passing out, awoke in Duke Thomas’s apartment. Duke is a young, highly intelligent boy, who may one day become Robin, as seen in Batman and Robin: Futures End #1. Batman, along with Gordon and Lucius Fox, work together to defeat Riddler. The story ends, showing Gotham restored and Riddler captured.
Once again, one of the better moments came from Alfred, showing Snyder’s talent for character work. An old flame of Bruce’s returns, Julie Madison (another early Detective Comics creation). Alfred dreams of Bruce’s life if he settled down with her, how happy they’d all become if Bruce could let go. Instead, he informs her that Bruce is spoken for, as Bruce takes off into the city as Batman.
Zero Year was good story that went a long way towards repairing the character in the New 52. Regardless of how the story’s consumed, it’s certainly dense, and could have used a bit of trimming. Reading in issues was painful, as it took 14 months to complete. While this is certainly not the highlight of Snyder and Capullo’s run (that honor goes to Death of the Family), it’s a far sight from bad, or even mediocre. Make sure to carve out a bit of time if you plan on reading, there’s a lot. Oh, and none of the tie-ins matter in the slightest.
What was your favorite moment of Zero Year? Stretch on a bit too long for you? Comment below!
So many words.