(a) Greg Capullo
“Zero Year” is something special.
Many, many writers have penned stories pertaining to Batman’s origins. Whether it’s taking a look at previously unseen corners of Bruce Wayne’s life, or introducing new elements that are retconned into existence, these writers wanted to add something new to the Batman mythos that would last. The ‘New 52’ offered a brand new challenge for writers in that all of DC’s books were getting rebooted. The Batman and Green Lantern lines retained much of their pre-reboot history due to heavy investments in both franchises in the years leading up the the launch of the ‘New 52’. Characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman were granted major reinterpretations because they were in dire need of narrative makeovers because their sales were dropping more and more over time. Batman and Green Lantern, on the other hand, were only growing in popularity.
“Zero Year” is interesting for two reasons.
The first is that, as a Batman writer, Scott Snyder is tasked to bring exciting stories about the Dark Knight to the table without sullying the general interpretation of the character’s past. He can’t get rid of one of the Robins or change the events that lead Bruce to become a vigilante hero. Instead, Snyder can create new reasons and meaning behind the events of Bruce Wayne’s hero career to develop a bold, rich new origin story for the Batman. And that’s exactly what he’s done. The Red Hood Gang is probably the most poignant example of Snyder’s story. As of now, we know that the Joker started off as the leader of the Red Hood Gang. In Batman #23, we get one of the most insightful looks at Red Hood One and his modus operandi. “…You’re parents’ deaths. Changed my life forever,” he laments as Bruce’s apartment burns down around them. “…Because at the end of the day, what people are afraid of is the nothing of it, Bruce. The randomness. The empty center. Stare into it and try to find meaning.” This whole scene sparked memories of The Dark Knight when Alfred explains to Bruce, “Some men just want to see the world burn.” While the literal metaphor of the burning apartment is appropriate, Snyder has also made it clear that the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne sent Red Hood One/Joker on his path to crime and chaos. The narrative cunning of his revelations is that earlier in the ‘New 52’, the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne were a major focus for a young Bruce who had to accept that their murders were not some clandestine conspiracy by the Court of Owls and that, in fact, it was a random mugger on a random night in a random location. Snyder has effectively mirrored the original meaning of the death of Batman’s parents. Prior to the ‘New 52’, all the meaning in their deaths came from who killed them and why it happened. Now that we know their deaths were technically a product of meaningless crime, Snyder makes their death’s more symbolic for the evil they’ve influenced. Bruce may or may not have become Batman had Red Hood One not revealed his spiritual connection to the death of Bruce’s parents, but it certainly helped.
The second reason “Zero Year” is interesting is because it’s not just about Bruce Wayne becoming Batman — it’s is a story about how Bruce Wayne becoming Batman affects the entire ‘New 52’ universe. It’s easy to forget that in the early days, everyone trips and falls and gets back up again. Snyder is providing a tale that touches other parts of the DCnU because Batman is a big franchise, narratively and in a publishing sense. On the business side of things, it benefits DC to offer tie-in issues to a story that’s as broad as “Zero Year”, but it’s interesting just how far their going with it. A more cynical reader would assume it’s to make even more money, though I don’t think is the case. Narratively speaking, Snyder dropped a proverbial bomb on readers when he and Greg Capullo presented us with a Gotham City that looked more like a ghost town than the grizzled urban jungle we’ve known it to be all these years. That can’t have gone unnoticed, and it but it feels more like DC is getting a second chance to go back in time and provide some much desired history for many of the books crossing over into “Zero Year” in November. The tie-ins range from almost all of the Bat books (excluding Batwoman) as well as Green Lantern Corps, Green Arrow, Action Comics, and The Flash giving readers an expansive idea of what happened to all of these characters during Gotham’s darkest days.
Batman #23 starts to focus more on supporting characters. We get to see Alfred Pennyworth before he became used to seeing his employer beaten inches from death on a fairly regular basis. Edward Nigma makes another move in his grand scheme to command the highest powers of Gotham City, the Red Hood Gang continues to be the wrench in the gears, and we discover just how much Thomas and Martha Wayne’s memory stayed alive long after their deaths.