Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.
I was away from Wednesday to yesterday this week, hence the delay in picking up comics and putting out a review. Anyway, I knew I would be reading Batman #33 first and that regardless of how good it was I would be reviewing it as it is the finale of the ‘Zero Year’ storyline that has been running in the main Batman title since June 2013. Batman is written by Scott Snyder, with pencils by Greg Capullo, inks from Danny Miki, colours by FCO Plascencia and letters by Dezi Sienty. It is published by DC comics, but if you’re reading a comic book review (or in fact, a living human being) you probably knew that already.
Zero Year is set six years prior to the current DC universe (post 2011 reboot. I’m going to stop calling it ‘The New 52’ as it is nearly three years old now. I don’t call my three year old underwear ‘new’), and split into three sections. ‘Secret City’ dealt with Bruce Wayne’s initial return to Gotham city after missing for years and assumed dead. This is a young and petulant Bruce, butting heads with Alfred who disapproves of his decision to start fighting crime as a vigilante, and with Jim Gordon whom Bruce doesn’t trust at all. Bruce also clashes with his uncle, and Edward Nygma (pre-Riddler) who have their own machinations. Through this section Bruce battles the ‘Red Hood Gang’ led by ‘Red Hood One’, a group terrorising the city. After nearly being killed, he finds the resolve to become the costumed hero we all know and love. But he still has a ways to go. Nevertheless, at the start of the second section ‘Dark City’ he successfully stops the gang, despite the police trying to arrest him. The reprieve is short however, as the Riddler then emerges and plunges the city into darkness, challenging Batman to find a way to turn it back on. While trying to stop Nygma, all while confronted with Dr. Death and his attacks on various scientists with his bone toxin, Batman and Jim Gordon (now with an uneasy alliance) realise that the Riddler has been laying a trap the whole time, and when the GCPD finally get the power back to the city it is all under the control of the Riddler. He detonates the walls of the city during a flood, engulfing the city as he does so.
This leads to the final section of Zero Year, ‘Savage City’, finding Bruce waking up to a Gotham quite different than what he is used to. The city is cut off from the outside world, dilapidated, overgrown and the populace is under complete control by the Riddler. He uses security bots and drones to police the city, appearing via video screens from an unknown location to challenge the people to outwit him and save their city. Batman, presumed dead, teams up with a bearded Jim Gordon, Lucius Fox and a black ops team sent in to take down the Riddler, to find Nygma and end his stranglehold over Gotham. All while some jets are on their way to drop missiles on the city to stop the Riddler extending his influence beyond Gotham. Issue #33 was the finale to Savage City and to the whole Zero Year arc, so it typically ends with the Riddler being thwarted and everything returning to (relative) normalcy and the rebuilding of Gotham. The journey there is always the best part though, and we start the issue with Batman having found the Riddler’s secret hideout but faced with answering riddles before being allowed to move and stop the jets from blowing up the city. I always find these fun as I rack my brain trying to figure them out before reading on. Then trying to figure out how you get it if I don’t manage to. Meanwhile Gordon and Fox race against time to try to drop the communications net Nygma has put over Gotham, to contact the outside world and stop the jets. When they succeed we move one month later to the rebuilding process to wrap up the arc, with Bruce throwing a party for everyone. There is also a nice moment with the now Commissioner Gordon, and it is clear than Bruce has moved on and now trusts the man he worked together with to save the city.
Finally, we have a scene with Alfred, who clearly hoped with all his heart that Bruce would now move on, try and have a normal life, stopping Alfred from worrying about him risking his life. Throughout the arc, flashbacks of Bruce growing up have been woven in between the main story, some to do with his parents’ death and some seemingly unconnected entirely. Everything here is brought back together in an immensely satisfying way, detailing Bruce’s motivation for being Batman, and Alfred’s desire to see a happy and fulfilling life for someone who is basically his adopted son. I don’t really want to spoil this part, but it nearly ruined me and it managed to further elevate an issue I already really enjoyed. If I was capable of displaying human emotion, this would have been a real gut punch. Unfortunately I lack the subroutines.
I’ve never really made much of a secret about it, but Scott Snyder is my favourite comic book writer and one of my favourite writers full stop. This is more of what I have loved for the previous 32 issues. The story is fantastic, and the dialogue so spot on. I read a comment online once that ‘Scott Snyder doesn’t know how to end things’. I’ve never understood this at all, everything I have read from him has been strong. Just talking about this run on Batman, the Court of Owls ended brilliantly, Death of the Family was excellent and this was too. I like that they often aren’t the huge brawls and explosive endings you would often expect from a superhero comic, they are more introspective and character driven. Greg Capullo nails this just like he has done since these two started as the Batman creative team back at the beginning of the relaunch. His art is gorgeous and expressive, but while the action looks as impressive as always my stand up panel in the issue is Bruce holding Alfred by the shoulders and trying to explain his reasoning to him in the closing pages. The rest of the art team complement Capullo’s work perfectly, with Danny Miki’s inks strengthening everything and FCO Plascencia’s colours bringing the art to life. Plascencia’s colours have really stood out in Savage City, making both the overgrown Gotham and the colourful Riddler schemes look stunning.
The easiest way to sum up Zero Year is in the ‘One Month Later’ section of the book, words from Bruce himself as “Nothingness. A void. No meaning or value. Just an end. A death. That’s zero, isn’t it?”. It was a terrible year in Gotham that all involved would like to forget, yet it is a year that defines Batman, his place in his city and his determination for the future. I have really enjoyed this latest arc of Batman and can’t wait for the next one. If I had one complaint about Zero Year, it is that the story has been going on for so long. And by that, I don’t mean the story is too long, it is more that it has taken I think 14 months for the whole thing to come out (due to ‘Villains month’ last September and the flash forward Batman Eternal spoiler issue in February). Over that amount of time, it is difficult to remember everything that has happened as it all pertains to the story. I’m going to give the entire arc a re-read over the next couple of weeks, as I’m pretty sure it will benefit from being read as a whole story. However, by devoting 12 whole issues (a couple, including this one, were oversized) to an arc exploring and fleshing out Batman’s origins while still continuing a compelling arc has worked very well.
I loved this finale to Zero Year, and if you like Batman you will too. Pick it up from your local comic book shop, and the back issues shouldn’t be too difficult to track down. Alternatively, it will all be available digitally or you can buy the collections as and when they come out, starting with Secret City out in hardcover now, and Dark City out in October.
Score: 9.5 Riddles out of 10