The Zero Year is the New 52 story of Batman’s early days. Written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Greg Capullo, this is the 3rd arc in their storyline, and takes place 6 years ahead of modern continuity. It retells the first encounter that Batman has with the Red Hood, Riddler, Lucius Fox, Gordon, and shows us how he fails, learns, and struggles to get back up in his first attempt to bring justice to Gotham.
I have left this to a post of its own and not because there are so many changes in it.
Our first glimpse of Zero Year comes in Batman Issue 0. Part of a cross line set of specials, issue 0 introduces us to not 1, but a gang of Red Hoods. Only one has the glass helmet, the rest have cloth masks, but the one in the helmet is definitely the leader, no lackey as portrayed in the killing joke. Bruce is not yet Batman, but has come home to Gotham, set up shop, and infiltrated the gang. Upon discovery after not killing a hostage in a bank robbery, Bruce kicks a few heads in and hits the road, retreating to his new base of operations.
Not long afterward a young Jim Gordon comes by to introduce himself to the newly returned rich Gothamite welcoming him home, but also giving a warning, if anyone knows anything about this new vigilante in town and doesn’t come forward, they’re will be trouble.
Secret City – Batman #21-24
The first story arc of the 13 issue tale fits a lot of punch into just four issues. The driving force is Bruce’s battle with the red hood gang. A gang which seems to be growing by the second and is near invincible. Not for skills, with the exception of Red Hood One (the go by numbers) they all seem pretty week. But their numbers are teaming. More and more come up against Batman, and more and more knock him down.
At one point the beat the Bruce to a bloody pulp. This is when Bruce has his epiphany with the bat flying by the window, and he decides to become Batman. He had tried an array of disguises before, my favourite being a stout Oswald Cobblepot disguise to confront them on a blimp!
Behind the Red Hood battles and identity crisis lies the fate of Gotham Enterprises.
When we meet him here, and also in Detective 0, Uncle Phillip, who raised him in pre-Crisis continuity, seems like a corrupt, selfish man. Hiding behind his claim to have run this company in honour of Thomas and Martha. He has is even in bed with Edward Nygma, who tried to get him to kill Bruce.
As it turns out, Uncle Phillip, was a misguided, but inherently good man. He was one of Red Hoods blackmailed lackeys, but when it came down to the wire, he helped save Bruce from Red Hood One, at the cost of his own life. Everything he had been trying to push Bruce to do for the company had not been for selfish means, but truly for the good of Gotham.
In the final moments of the arc Nygma plunges the city into darkness by revealing himself as the Riddler and cutting power.
Big changes in these issues:
- The Red Hood leader had been murdered and replaced at some point in time, we don’t know if the man who fell into the bay at ACE Chemical (who will become the Joker) had been a lackey replacing the leader at the last minute, had been masterminding everything all along, or somewhere in between. I personally choose to believe he had been in charge all along, he had a comedic charm that I enjoyed and can see contributing to the Joker’s attitude later. There is also a bit of foreshadowing when they refer to Red Hood One’s “Endgame”
- Riddler working for Wayne enterprises as an advisor rather than a scientist.
- Alfred encouraging and inspiring Bruce not only in the field, but to take up the mantle of the Wayne legacy again.
- Bruce’s haircut.
Dark City – Batman #25-27, 29
With a storm quickly approaching and the threat of the Riddler looming, Gotham races to restore power to the darkened city. Unfortunately, while this is all going on Batman and Gordon are also chasing after a scientist going by the name of Doctor Death. Doctor Death is a former Wayne employee with a grudge and a serum to cause insane bone growth killing his victims.
Doctor death is a lame villain in my opinion, but this gave us a chance to delve into Gordon and Bruce’s past. We learn in this arc that Bruce doesn’t trust Gordon because he views him as a crooked cop. Turns out, it’s just a misunderstanding. The reason he thinks this is because Gordon wears a trench coat that was given to him as a bribe in his early days. Gordon explains to Batman that he wears the trench coat as a reminder to other cops that he won’t give in to corruption, he once used the jacket to fend off a pack of fighter dogs after discovering a police run animal fighting ring.
Not as cool as when he handed Flass’ ass to him in Year One, but I see where they were going with it.
We learned in the last arc that Bruce had been sneaking away from home and going into Gotham to escape his life. In flashbacks here we learn that it was one of these episodes that brought then Wayne’s into the city the night of their death. They go to Zorro again because Thomas is trying to show Bruce what a hero is like (even though they had already seen the movie).
Turns out that Dr. Death is just an underling of the Riddler’s. When Batman finally defeats Dr. Death the Riddler destroys the borders of the city and destroys Batman’s blimp.
- When Batman shows up with a Bat Blimp
Big changes in this arc:
- Gordon has been a cop since just before the death of the Waynes. He was close enough to hear the shots fired.
- We meet a younger, slightly slimmer Bullock.
- Gordon was still working under Comissioner Loeb who was corrupt, but he was partnered with Dan Corrigan instead of Flass.
Savage City – Batman #30-33
Bruce awakes to find he has been out for some time and in that time the Riddler has reconnected power to Gotham, but severed all incoming and outgoing traffic of any kind. No connection to the outside world. Similar to The Dark Knight Rises, but a little less desolate, since Nygma has also released some of Pamela Isley’s chemical compound all over the city, filling it with plant life.
This doesn’t seem like a realistic play for comics these days, but I wouldn’t blink twice reading this Ina comic from the 40’s. In fact, if you recall from here, his billboard challenges to the city harken right back to his first issue.
In an attempt to stall Riddler and get a track on his location, Batman challenges him. They get the lead, but Batman fails and drops into pit of, not jackals, but lions. His lion fight is pretty bad ass!
One thing leads to another and when Riddler and Batman finally come head to head it is in a challenge of riddles and a trap which seems like it would come right out of the 60’s TV show.
Obviously, Nygma has tricks up his sleeve, but in the end Batman comes up on top, saves the city and restores power to Gotham.
At the end Bruce comes out on top leading Wayne Enterprises in becoming a force of philanthropy in Gotham and handing main power of it to Lucius Fox.
Lucius and Gordon’s teaming with Batman during this strengthened their working relationships and shows the importance of their presence as members of Batman’s team.
- The reintroduction of Julie Madison into Bruce’s past. She appears in flashbacks as a woman Bruce dated for a while. She reappears in Gotham after the events of this series. Bruce imagines a life of family, happiness and tranquility with her. As a result he chooses not to meet with her.
- Bruce’s wild days trying to figure out his emotions. Before he left for 4 years, Bruce had a bit of a wild side, setting his teachers lawn on fire and being an all around rebel. We learn of this through flashbacks. At one point, he hires a person to impersonate Alfred to arrange electric shock therapy to deal with his memories. He is on the cusp of the procedure before he backs out.
It is nice to see a book with Riddler as the main player. He usually has a bit part, or plays second fiddle. Even in Hush, he is the mastermind, but doesn’t play a huge role in the book.
My big question is this. Where is the Court of Owls during all this. If Gotham’s elite are being pulled into the Red Hood gang, or being put at risk by the Riddler, why don’t the Owls step in. I would have loved to see an Owls/Ref Hood War.
This book serves as an epilogue of sorts. It is years later and Riddler still isn’t over what happened. He escapes Arkham and the first thing he does is get revenge by infiltrating Wayne Tower and maiming the head of security, his initial jailer. He uses some clever riddles and shows off how many steps ahead he is. Another example showing us that he is a force to be reckoned with.
Throughout the book we see Capullo’s growing mastery of his craft. The best scenes are his big splash pages that reflect other famous images, such as him swing on his role with a member of the Red Hood gang on in his grips that brings back memories of Detective 27. Another pictures him jumping through the air in a homage to The Dark Knight Returns. Beautiful images.
Honestly, I’ve read Secret City a couple of times and always liked it, but never dug the other 2 arcs. This time, reading them with a little bit of a magnifying glass, and comparing to past stories of its kind, I really dug them. I have more of a grasp on what Snyder was going for and I appreciate it a lot more for it.
Some disagree with many of these changes simply because they are a parting of ways with what was established in Year One. But that was almost 30 years ago. We don’t expect comics of the 50’s to influence the 80’s. We shouldn’t here either. I should have realized that. Others should too.
Snyder, Tynion and Capullo, thanks for a good read. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.
It should be noted that I only read the main storyline and not the tie-ins because they are not integral to batman’s origin.
Thanks for reading.
Images from the issues listed above.