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Comics: Batman Year Zero!

By (November 16, 2013) No Comment

batman year zero 25DC Comics’ “New 52” company-wide reboot hit some of their flagship characters harder than others. The venerable WWII-era Justice Society was retconned right out of existence; warm-hearted primary-color Superman became a brooding, disaffected Dr. Manhattan-in-a-cape; Captain Marvel lost his mind – when teenager Billy Batson says his magic word nowadays, all he gets is a bigger, superpowered body (since he very conspicuously doesn’t get the wisdom of Solomon, I keep thinking he should now be called Hazam); poor Wonder Woman – always the loser in any continuity-tinkering – became a mindless sword-wielding warrior-drone (basically Conan, only female and able to life 50 tons over her head). Aquaman, Green Lantern, and the Flash escaped relatively unscathed, thanks to their basically one-note premises (water, ring, speed), but the Legion was first split up then cancelled, Catwoman was a foul-mouthed nymphomaniac, and Superboy was a clone so easily manipulated he might as well have come with a big plastic handle sticking out of his back.

 

In its long history of continuity revamps, however, DC has usually had the good sense to leave Batman more or less alone. Part of this is crassly commercial – the character has been the focus of several successful Hollywood movies that have made a great deal of money, and lucrative movies drive comic book content to an absolutely shameful degree (in Marvel comics, Nick Fury is now black, and if any of the characters who’ve known him for fifty years were to take him aside and ask about that little fact, I suppose he’d have to say, “Dude, didn’t you see the movie?”). But part of it is also aesthetic – much as I hate to admit it (my sympathies, as should be well known to any long-time Stevereads reader, lie elsewhere), Batman is and always has been the coolest of all comic book superheroes, and it’s coolness on such an elemental level that even movie executives understand it, where they understand literally nothing else.

 

So the “New 52” Batman is still very much recognizably the dark and gritty take on the character that Denny O’Neill brought back from disuse and Frank Miller immortalized in Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. There’s Alfred; there’s the cave; there’s the rogue’s gallery; there’s the sidekicks; there’s the drill-bit focus; there’s the cape; there’s Gotham City. And on the Batman comic title itself, there’s the utterly glorious artwork of Greg Capullo (inked by Danny Miki with some very well-done nods to Klaus Janson’s style). Capullo is doing the best work of his entire career on this title – it’s a tremendous thrill to watch it unfold every month.

 

Scott Snyder, the writer of this series, pleases me much much less, mainly because although he’s fine with setup and exposition, he wouldn’t recognize a dramatic payoff if it dated him for a solid year. His “Court of Owls” story arc ended in a veritable avalanche of tedious dialogue, and his “Death of the Family” arc ended with a rampaging Joker doing … absolutely no damage either to Batman or to any of his half-dozen former sidekicks, despite having all of them helplessly bound and gagged about six times during the series.

 

So when it was announced that Snyder was going to do a multi-issue arc called Batman: Zero Year, I braced myself for mixed blessings. Yes, it would be hugely entertaining to see Capullo’s visual take on Batman’s origin (although the title sets the almost impossible standard of comparing this with Batman: Year One), but there’d also be Snyder, lousing up the story itself.

 

And sure enough, that’s just what happened. Capullo’s artwork was utterly gorgeous throughout, and Snyder’s plot felt improvised almost to the point of incomprehensibility. Then that first arc ended, and I thought Batman would go back to normal – but no: with issue #25, Snyder has started up another story taking place in Bruce Wayne’s very first days as Batman. It’s a very interesting decision on DC’s part, and it makes me wonder two things, one sordid – is this approach corporately dictated to presage some new Batman movie-reboot (as I’m convinced the “New 52” Superman was designed with the later movie in mind – and one speculative – are we going to see “Zero Year” arcs for other “New 52” characters.

 

I’ll eagerly read this new story mainly for Greg Capullo’s artwork, although it’s always possible that Snyder will write himself into feeling comfortable jim gordonenough to tell an actual story. Certainly there are promising signs in this latest issue, including a crackling good scene in which young Bruce Wayne is talking to Alfred over his shoulder as they both climb out of the Batcave up onto the lawn of Wayne Manor. Bruce Wayne has nothing but contempt for the Gotham P.D., and he doesn’t mind sharing it with trusty Alfred:

 

“It seems you have everything covered, sir. Perhaps you should consider informing the police department.”

 

“No.”

 

“You seem determined to make them your enemy, Master Bruce.”

 

“I gave them a fleet of dirigibles.”

 

“To spy on them.”

 

“I don’t trust them, Alfred. The force was full of corruption before the red hood gang infiltrated it. Even with the Red Hood gone now, who knows. To my mind, there isn’t anyone on the force worth a damn.”

 

That last line is said just as Bruce is reaching the surface – where Jim Gordon, the lieutenant who’ll one day be Batman’s ally Commissioner Gordon, is crouching and smiling: “You were saying, Mr. Wayne?”

 

It’s a neat moment, and although there aren’t enough like it in this issue (the main action sequence involves a car chase that couldn’t be less exciting if it were done with real cars), there’s a feeling of extra control here that hasn’t been so noticeable in earlier outings. Or maybe I’m mentally supplying that so as not to obsess on all the dramatic opportunities Snyder lets sail right past him.

 

Either way, I’ll be looking forward to these issues more than I will any other DC comic, now that they’ve done the unthinkable and cancelled the Legion …