Origins stories are a necessary evil. Many feel that the most famous comic book conceptions don’t require retellings, but with DC’s 2011 reboot shifting the universe in a big way, it was time to dust off the Batman alpha and dive into his first adventures. After two stellar storylines, The Court of Owls and Death of the Family, as part of the New 52, writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo were tasked with crafting another origin, but rather than a generic rehash, they offer one of the most complex, personal and engaging Batman tales in years.
As Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One tackled the issues of the time, this twelve-issue event incorporates modern themes and fears — terrorism, climate change, random violence, cataclysmic events, identity crises. Separated into three parts, Zero Year is less about mobsters and corruption and more about exploring the man behind the pointy mask, who channels his harrowing grief into extraordinary dedication. It's richly layered and intricate, and only benefits from multiple readings.
"Each act begins slowly, establishing the characters and current situation with seamless exposition and wonderful artwork."
Part one, Secret City, sees Bruce Wayne acting as a vigilante, a faceless, but not exactly discreet, man on a mission to stop the Red Hood Gang. Each act begins slowly, establishing the characters and current situation with seamless exposition and wonderful artwork. Capullo, teamed with inker Danny Miki and colourist FCO, are consistently remarkable and surprisingly; moving away from traditional murky, washed-out colours and tones to something more vivid and distinct, the interiors harken back to eras of comics past.
The first act is also the best — not to disclaim the brilliance of the other two, but Bruce’s conflict, not only with the Hood, but also his sense of self, is riveting. The villains of Zero Year vary in terms of success, but the Red Hood is a deliciously fascinating foe that paradoxically helps define Batman while being defeated and deformed by him — an enigma, if you will. Two of the most incredible moments of the story occur in chapters three and four, bound to make any fan burst with excitement.
Part two, Dark City, follows Batman as he operates in a Gotham plunged into darkness, developing his relationship with Jim Gordon and facing the gruesome new version of Dr. Death. This is where things get wilder and more over-the-top, and both Snyder and Capullo relish in the operatic nature of the tale, with radiant storms, monstrous rogues and massive zeppelins bursting through the closing of the act. Things ramp up even further in Savage City as Batman races to save his city from a near-unstoppable foe, all leading towards a wonderfully executed finale that concludes the story but keeps the character fresh for years to come.
Here’s the thing, though: they keep him fresh by making lose. Batman here is not the disciplined, tactile detective and dark knight fans are familiar with — he’s rougher, angrier, and, crucially, not always right. But Snyder crafts a fascinating story arc that develops the characters — not just Bruce Wayne, but supporting players such as Alfred and Gordon — in unexpected ways. Frankly, a lot of the story is unexpected. Zero Year takes twists and turns and risks that are surprising and unpredictable, enticing the reader to turn each page with extreme anticipation.
"Snyder and Capullo take some of the more bizarre aspects of the character and make them work, with callbacks to Year One and more peppered throughout."
And even with the changes, the team don’t shy away from celebrating the Dark Knight’s 75-year history. Callbacks to Year One, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight Returns and No Man’s Land — even Batman’s first suit is a joyous blend of eras (Batman: The Animated Series and the original Detective Comics #27, in particular) — are peppered throughout. Snyder and Capullo take some of the more bizarre aspects of the character and make them work, adding a layer of fan excitement rather than detracting from the story.
With this story, Snyder and Capullo confirm that they are one of the most exciting creative teams in the industry. Hints of foreshadowing and suggestions of symbolism continue their keen sense of mystery and excitement, and the seemingly effortless blend of explosive action beats and heartfelt character moments is what elevates Zero Year from being just another origin story. Some may say it drags a bit at times, but this is the best Batman origin since Miller’s, with pulse-pounding action, thrilling story, strong character arcs and easter eggs and references galore.
VERDICT: A wonderful mix of old and new, with art and story working together to create an astoundingly entertaining new origin story. It’s the best Batman story in years. ★★★★★ (Incredible)