This is a major week for Scott Snyder, three highly anticipated comic titles are coming out this week with his name on them.
Superman: Unchained, a new superman series with all star artist Jim Lee, is debuting this week.
Also, his creator owned series American Vampire is returning from a long absence, with Snyder writing the newest issue with Rafael Albuquerque, who is also the artist for the series.
While both of these releases are highly anticipated, perhaps the most anticipated is beginning of the Batman story arc entitled “Batman: Zero Year.”
Ever since DC comics rebooted their continuity with “The New 52” initiative, Batman has been in need of a new origin story. The task is harder than it sounds, because the bar has been set so high.
In 1987, comic legends Frank Miller and Dave Mazzuchelli brought the fan base Batman: Year One, which today is still revered, and considered one of the best Batman stories ever told. However, DC Comics is going ahead with a new Batman origin despite the praise for Year One.
The first issue of Zero Year begins with introducing a much rougher Gotham six years prior to the present day city.
Presented as beat up, where parts of the city are abandoned, and in some cases underwater, the city is shown to be going through some tough times. Criminal activity is also shown to be rampant, as thugs roam the streets preying on the week. The beginning scene where Batman comes to the aid of a kid in need is the only time Batman is seen in costume during the entire issue.
The issue then cuts to Bruce Wayne after learning that he has returned to Gotham after many years abroad. He is presumed dead by the public, and he wants it to stay that way, as he has finished his training to become the Dark Knight. Only Alfred, and Bruce’s Uncle of questionable character, Philip, are aware that he is alive.
Criminal activity has been raised to new heights in the city, as a new and dangerous organization calling themselves the Red Hood Gang are using intimidation and force to gain new members, as they spread like a subtle virus through Gotham City. Their leader wears the same costume that the Joker wore before he became the homicidal maniac he is today.
Batman is shown taking on the Red Hood Gang, and they are shown to be a force to be reckoned with from the encounter.
Bruce’s Uncle Philip wants him to come into business for a new and improved Wayne Industries, but the company’s questionable methods, and Bruce’s disinterest in running the business hinders him from accepting Philip’s offer. Bruce’s suspicions are confirmed when Philip is shown to have someone of very questionable character on his payroll.
The issue goes back even further in time to Bruce’s days as a boy when his parents were still alive. Snyder uses this flashback to establish that Bruce had the qualities of Batman even prior to his parents being killed. At the end of the story, a important part of the Batman lore is about to be discovered by a young Bruce Wayne.
The backup story is co-written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, and the art duties are handled by Snyder’s accomplice on American Vampire, Rafael Albuquerque. The story takes the reader back to Bruce’s time training abroad in Brazil, and displays his respect for justice, but also his thrill for adventure as he gets involved with criminals. The backup story is solid and serves the purpose of Bruce learning what is right and wrong.
My reaction to Zero Year was positive overall. While there are parts of the story that tread over all too familiar ground for Batman fans. There is enough new ideas to keep the story from feeling like the same Batman origin story that has been told over and over. The idea of Gotham being in shambles at the time when Batman is first dawning the Cape and Cowl is a good idea. The Red Hood Gang is written as a legitimate threat to the well being of Gotham, and they were the strongest element of the story.
Another element of the story I enjoyed was Uncle Philip and his running of Wayne Industries. Their shady practices, and their hiring of employees with highly questionable character serve as a nice contemporary update that puts Wayne Industries more in line with the big corporations of the twenty first century.
The issue does tread over lots of old territory, with introducing iconic villains before they became villains, and showing the early makings of Batman by showing Bruce as a tough and adventurous kid. However, these elements do not hinder the story, and there is enough original and fresh ideas to keep the story moving in a positive direction.
Credit needs to be given to artists Greg Capullo and Rafael Albuquergue as well. The art was exceptional, the main story and backup story were both fun and easy to look at.
In conclusion, Zero Year is telling a story that has been told many times, but the updates are fresh, and in some cases contemporary, and the quality of the writing and the art makes it worth reading.