Review: Batman #21 (Zero Year)

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The Batman story of the year has arrived, ladies and gentlemen. From issue #1, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been unrelenting in their pace and scale. They started big with the fantastic “Court of Owls” plotline, an inventive and chilling new villain for the Bat-verse, and then headed straight into the unparalleled “Death of the Family” event – by my vote the best Joker story told, or at the least tied with Moore’s “The Killing Joke” – and now we’re plunging headlong into yet another major arc.

Perhaps “plunging” is the wrong word. Unlike Snyder’s other stories, “Zero Year” starts rather slowly, with a deliberate pace that is less focused on immediate explosion and far more focused on the characters at play here. There’s no scene like the absolutely haunting assault on Gotham Police Headquarters in Batman #13 – instead, we get glimpses into where Bruce Wayne is at this point in time.

“Zero Year” is decidedly different from Snyder’s previous arcs, but it’s a damn good comic and I am eagerly anticipating the continuation of this arc.

When I think about the best issues of a comic I have ever read, I immediately think about Batman #3, Batman #13, and Batman #17 – the first is the moment that the Court of Owls’ reach comes into full focus, as Batman finds owl nests waiting on the forgotten thirteenth floors of Gotham buildings. It’s an absolutely chilling moment that colors the entire arc going forward, properly establishing Snyder’s new villain organization as one of shadowy control and fear. It was an outstanding moment. The second, Batman #13, is the beginning of the “Death of the Family” event, and features a faceless Joker dispatching an entire garrison of police officers in their own headquarters to reclaim his face. It’s an equally terrifying scene, and immediately sets the tone for the arc. That arc culminates in the third issue – Batman #17 – which is an issue lacking in bombast, but packed with some of the most insightful and clever examinations of Batman, the Joker, and their twisted relationship ever put onto the page.

This, the first issue of Zero Year, is far more like the third of that group than the first two. It’s a smaller piece – not deprived of action, as there is a lovely moment involving a grappling hook and a car full of rescued hostages – concerned with its characters more than some earth-shattering threat. The primary antagonist of Zero Year – or at least, what appears to be the primary antagonist – isn’t even revealed until the last page of the comic, and even then his goal and game is shrouded in a fair bit of mystery. It’s a new approach from Snyder, and I find it intriguing. The focus is no longer on the threat that Batman faces, because Zero Year isn’t about Batman’s identity being challenged by an enemy. The Court of Owls challenged Batman’s knowledge of Gotham. The Joker challenged Batman’s relationship with the Bat family. In Zero Year, however, Batman doesn’t have an identity yet. And that’s exciting, because we’re watching him form that identity.

There are a lot of threads of Year One in the proceedings here – Bruce’s travels, his conviction to fight crime to ensure that his fate does not befall other children – and yet it feels distinct from Miller’s seminal Bat tale. Miller’s Bruce, after the iconic “I shall become a bat” moment, was always more assured and confident – “None of you are safe.” But Snyder is presenting us the view of a Batman very much unsure of what it means to be Batman, of a Bruce who isn’t sure how best to go about what he wants to accomplish. Alfred asks him why he’s doing what he’s doing, and he doesn’t really provide much of an answer. The uncertainty there is telling, and it really makes Zero Year feel different from the Bat origin stories we’ve seen in the past.

I’ve focused this review primarily on Snyder’s writing, because at this point there’s not much to say about Greg Capullo’s art that hasn’t already been said. It’s beautiful, well staged, and excellently laid out. There’s a particularly striking image of the Wayne Enterprises building, which is reminiscent of the Bat cowl, in shadowy silhouette with the rest of the Gotham skyline, bleeding into the shadow of the antagonist on this tale. It’s very grim and gloomy, and it stood out in an issue filled with great art. I’d show it to you here, but you should really just read the issue. It’s filled with beautiful work.

I’m not going to spoil the villain reveal, but it’s probably not one you’re expecting. This villain is one of my favorites, and I am absolutely THRILLED to see Snyder’s take on them. This whole issue, though not the bombastic start that Batman #13 was, has me rooted, waiting in feverish anticipation for the next chapters in this arc.

Verdict: A

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