Greetings fellow residents of Gotham, so happy you could join us for this week’s edition of The Weekly Bat-Signal where we, the faithful gather every seven days or so to discuss The Dark Knight Detective in detail and discourse on all Bat- related minutiae, basically we catch up on the Caped Crusader in comics, film, games and various other entertainment featuring Batman and/or related characters. This week I am dedicating the entire feature to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s engrossing, engaging and extremely entertaining “Zero Year” arc. In case you are one of the three people who are not reading Snyder and Capullo’s Batman let me just say that these two guys from New York are creating history in the Batman mythos. Week after week they deliver gut-wrenching, emotionally charged stories with some of the most stunning, dynamic artwork on the racks today. Greg Capullo has surpassed the work he did on Spawn by leaps and bounds in both elements of composition and design. His page layouts and panel progressions lead you through Snyder’s scripts like a tour guide through the battlefield of Bruce Wayne’s scarred psyche, these guys work perfectly together. Their run on Batman is destined to be mentioned in the company of such illustrious peers as; Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, Chuck Dixon, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale and Dennis O’Neil. They have indelibly put their mark on Batman for future generations to appreciate and cherish.
So here we are twenty-five issues into their history defining run and four issues into the current “Zero Year” arc. This story is not a re-telling of Batman’s origin although it does deal with his early years as a crime fighter but it is a very complex and detailed narrative that shapes Batman from his core and sheds some light on why he is the man he has become beyond the catalyst of his parents’ murders. The villainous Riddler figures largely into the narrative as he has caused a complete black-out all over Gotham leaving all of the citizens without power of any kind but this is not the end of his plan, it’s just the beginning.
The story begins in issue #21 where Snyder presents us with a Bruce Wayne who is still young enough to afford to be idealistic, he is tempered by the ordeal of having his parents brutally ripped from his life but not destroyed by it. This is Bruce before the loss became an obsession and before so many other tragic events and homicidal madmen would turn the man into a machine. This is a look at the man before he became something tougher and more remote, more distant and isolated from the world. This younger Bruce Wayne struggles to find the balance between honoring his parents’ memory and making a difference playing by his own rules. He soon learns that old family friends may not be all that they claim to be and we see that a now classic villain is lurking in the shadows. Snyder has an uncanny understanding of what makes Bruce Wayne who he is and that shines in his dialogue for the character. It’s as though Snyder hears Wayne’s voice and transcribes the words giving his work a genuine sense of authenticity and accuracy. Snyder and Capullo are both masters of making Gotham a viable character in its own right, Snyder through his words and Capullo with his gothic rendering of the city in meticulous detail, all the textures and angles converge to make a living entity.
In issue #22 Snyder continues to flesh out his characterization of Bruce before he dons the cape and cowl. This young Bruce is recognizable yet feels fresh enough to remain engrossing. Snyder infuses the narrative with his dynamic style which lends a sense of newness even to material we are very familiar with but wisely he doesn’t linger on those elements too long. An example of this that works to amazing effect is the scene where Bruce as a child stumbles and falls into what is to become the Bat Cave, Snyder takes a Batman trope that we all know and presents it to us in the light of discovery hence giving it a sense of freshness. Similarly Snyder introduces us to the man who is to become The Riddler, Edward Nygma by having him interact with Bruce in a way that hints at their future. Capullo adds visual weight to this scene by innovatively creating a coiling configuration in lieu of more traditional panels. This works extremely well with Snyder’s scripted dialogue.
Snyder begins to hit his stride with issue #23 which opens with an incredible scene of The Red Hood Gang’s leader as he re-counts his own origin story which may or may not be total misdirection for Bruce’s benefit. This is Snyder using symmetrical narratives to stunningly effective ends; Bruce’s past and present collide on a personal plane while his foe uses that trauma for inspiration in concocting his own fiction. There are some poignant examples of character building between Bruce and Alfred; it’s wonderful to see that relationship at such an early stage and to have the chance to see it grow into what it is today. This issue is also one of Capullo’s strongest artistically, he captures the tonal transitions in the narrative masterfully through use of shadows and highlights in his composition. Snyder begins to focus more on Nygma and his involvement with the Wayne family’s company as well as the Red Hood Gang’s anarchistic transgressions.
In issue #24 Snyder brings one mystery to its conclusion and begins another. The Red Hood Gang has played their part now they bow out as a new adversary prepares to make his presence known. This younger more arrogant Bruce that Snyder has thrown headlong into danger has yet to appreciate his own mortality thus far perhaps that is what contributes to his brashness and cocky self-assurance that has defined the character to this point. Capullo’s kinetic style energizes this issue’s main story but as the tone becomes subdued for the second part of the story written by James Tynion IV, Rafael Albuquerque takes over and does a bang up job. It’s a less bombastic narrative but still very meaningful.
That brings us to the current issue #25 in which Snyder and Capullo begins Dark City, the second story in the over- arching “Zero Year” event. This narrative takes place in the black-out inflicted on Gotham City by The Riddler and the catastrophic effects it is having. Although the story is set during The Riddler’s act of terror he is not the main villain of this issue, that honor goes to Dr. Death, a deeply disturbed madman who is victimizing the Wayne team of scientists. He has synthesized a serum that causes the bones and teeth to grow out of control and twist like tree branches ripping the flesh as they continue unabated until the victim takes the appearance of a lifeless, deformed scarecrow.
Snyder continues to build the relationship between Bruce and Alfred by adding more shared moments on a deeper personal level, Bruce lets Alfred see the man behind the ideal. All of the interpersonal associations between the characters here are being more fully developed; introductions and budding relationships on many diverse levels are being explored and defined by Snyder. His acute sense of characterization has never been more evident than in this story.
Visually Capullo and colorist FCO Plascencia seem to have lightened and brightened the Gotham landscape to reflect Bruce’s inner world view before loss and cynicism have had the chance to completely darken his perception of things. However that tonal shift is all but totally dissipated by the end of this issue when Capullo returns to his arsenal of dark delights to introduce us to the monstrously misshapen malcontent, Dr. Death in a full page portrait of Gotham’s grotesque ghoul. Capullo pulls out all the stops here as he renders the villain’s jagged jaw of torturous teeth in painstaking detail; the eyes appear empty like those of a neglected doll peering lifelessly from their sockets beneath the heavy Cro-Magnon brow ridge, this is Capullo in his glory. From his early days on Spawn to his macabre Joker of “Death of the Family”, Capullo has always been and continues to be a master of monster design and creation. He also gives an artistic nod to “Batman: The Animated Series” in the first few pages of this issue with a scene of blips probing the streets of Gotham from the starless night sky with the beams of their searchlights. The whole composition calls to mind the opening of the 90’s animated show with its timeless sensibilities and iconic gothic skyline. The contrast of past and future follow the narrative in which Snyder’s Bruce Wayne comes to grips with his cathartic past by promising himself a future built of conquering the kind of evil that has brought him to this place, Gotham is as much a metaphor as it is a physical city in that it represents the dark place where Bruce was born and where Batman was as well.
“Zero Year” has been an engrossing, gripping and poignant look at the formative years of the greatest comic book hero of all time. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are creating their contribution to the history of this beloved and revered character and they are doing so with dynamic style and originality. This arc is only getting better the deeper they dig into Bruce’s past the more light they shed on Batman’s present and future. This creative team consistently tops the incredible work they do every time with something more complex, inspired and brilliant. They followed “Court of Owls” with “Death of the Family” and they have done it again with “Zero Year”, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next.
Well that’s going to do it for this “special” Zero Year edition of The Weekly Bat-Signals, I hope you enjoyed reading it and maybe even found it useful in your journey into “Zero Year”, please join us here next week same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.
Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter: @shawnwarner629