It’s true that Frank Miller wrote the definitive origin story of Batman in his “Year One” story. The question to ask is, then, why “Zero Year”? Didn’t Miller say all that needed to be said? Scott Snyder’s most appealing contributions to the world of the Caped Crusader have been in revisiting the past and adding layers of back story to the pre-existing mythos. And just like Miller did, he has done this in the regular run of the series. If “Year One” is the Batman Bible, “Zero Year” are the untold gospels. It’s difficult to fathom that after 75 years, there’s still something to learn about Batman but Snyder keeps it fresh and vital.
Just as “The Court of Owls” filled in gaps in Gotham City’s history, introducing an ages old enemy that pre-dated Batman, so does this transformation from angry young man to Dark Knight. While not as viscerally impactful as Miller’s master class in Vigilantism 101, “Zero Year” does have its moments. For all of the celebrated stories of the Joker (who is almost pretty definitely Red Hood #1 in the first act of the event) among others, the Riddler has always been the real butt of the joke. Go ahead and name a great long form Riddler story or any instance where he is a lone gripping villain. It can’t be done. He’s been, at best, a clever diversion.
Despite his superior intelligence, Edward Nygma has been an easily disposed of adversary. Snyder has given him a fitting platform, where he arrogantly holds the entire metropolis under demented martial law. In the end, Batman faces his first true test and comes to the realization that he may not always win. It’s an important lesson that Miller’s more macho Dark Knight never considers. He just shows up, punches face, and all is well. The common belief is still that the Batman himself is a symbol for courage and hope (not an “S”, though). As long as the Bat flies, Gothamites don’t have to be afraid.
Snyder and Greg Capullo are using Gotham as their playground, using the known as an opportunity to surprise and astonish. Capullo’s art is still fantastic but the story doesn’t lend itself to his beautiful, twisted gothic tableau. The look of Gotham mirrors the attitude of Bruce Wayne. When we meet him, he is singularly purposed but becomes hopeful. He talks of shaping the city into something new. The color scheme by FCO Plascencia is full of pinks and purples. These are obviously indicative of the fact that Gotham, and its inhabitants, are embarking on a new dawn. Though the blackout is over, the plunge into true darkness is still to come.
The entire run of “Zero Year” is available in individual issues now as well as the first trade edition, “Batman Vol. 4: Secret City”. The conclusion hardcover of “Zero Year” arrives in stores on Oct 21 with “Vol. 5: Dark City”.