(DC Comics, 2014)
Written by Scott Snyder
Pencils by Greg Capullo
Inks by Danny Miki
Color Artwork by FCO Plascencia
This issue begins the climactic chapter of the Zero Year story entitled “Savage City” with events that were first glimpsed in the opening pages of the epic arc. However now, when viewed in retrospect these images are so much more momentous, not just for the sheer weight of the events but for the calamitous consequences resulting from them that we have now seen unfold. Gotham City in ruin is not a particularly new sight for long time regular readers of Batman but, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have taken a tried and true Bat trope and used it to redefine one of Batman’s oldest and certainly most vexing foes, The Riddler.
Going into Zero Year The Riddler has been cast in many and varied roles within the mythology of the Bat Books from the heroic to the heinous, including; a detective with savant level abilities bordering on the clairvoyant, a sometime accomplice of Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and Catwoman and of course the perplexing puzzler who time and again tried to confuse the Caped Crusader with hidden hints and confounding clues to his elaborate evil enterprises. Now Snyder presents a much more sinister Riddler. He portrays the vexing villain as an obsessed madman with a superiority complex willing to use murder and destruction to display his self-proclaimed genius to the population of Gotham City. The exacerbating threats of the Super Storm and Dr. Death have been dealt with now the Riddler is able to command the spotlight for the final act. Snyder is a master of creating twisted villains with meticulous attention to the motivations and muses that drive these maniacal madmen and he does an amazing job here of redefining The Riddler by examining what makes him tick. The intricate sense of timing and very deliberate pace at which this narrative has developed and unfolded has created a perfect air of anticipation and allowed events to maintain a natural sense of momentum.
In this issue the story comes sharply into focus as the Riddler emerges from the shadows setting himself up as a kind of overlord of Gotham City; like a perverse and cruel version of the great and powerful Oz he holds court from a tower in the center of the city that has become obscenely overgrown with weeds and vines of every kind. At the appointed time he calls forth any citizen either brave or foolish enough to attempt to stump the emperor of enigmas with a brainteaser of their own design. To the any victorious challenger, the Riddler promises to return the city to its former state of sanity and order but thus far all any of them have received for their ill-fated attempts is a one way trip through a trapdoor. The Riddler’s reign of terror is enforced mostly through the threat of violence more so than any actual acts of brutality, proving to be very proficient at wielding intimidation like a well-honed sword.
The relationship between Gordon and Batman is further developed in this issue as well. We see Gordon as a less seasoned lawman held in some degree of contempt by his GCPD colleagues for his connection to the mysterious vigilante in the Bat suit. This does little to shake Gordon’s resolve that Batman is good for Gotham and a potential ally in his personal war on crime. The paradigm of Bruce’s relationship with Alfred is likewise more fully fleshed out; through the events of this arc we have seen the two become an effective working unit. Alfred is beyond competent and more than up to the tasks at hand as he handles the most arduous of requests with aplomb and cool, calm composure for young Master Wayne.
Snyder has gone far beyond a re-telling of Batman’s early experiences, he has re-shaped the character through an intense shift in perspective and re-examination of the supporting cast. The characters surrounding Bruce Wayne are presented as sort of catalysts for continued change and character development; we are easily able to see how these central relationships affect him in his formative years as Batman. This is nothing short of an essential entry in the history of Batman and Snyder has written it with passion and extreme attention to even the most infinitesimal details, nothing is insignificant in his surgical approach to analyze the inner workings of this iconic character. That is why his work on Batman, not only his run on this title but collectively, will be remembered as some of the very best of all time.
Artistically, this issue is a stand out among a plethora of stunning issues. Greg Capullo has created a Gotham City that is exhaustive in detail and alive with all the nuances and minutiae of decay, a city that refuses to die and is even transversely enlivened by the emerald green vines that seek to choke the life from it. His painstaking attention to each brick and every crack in the crumbling facades of the once grand architecture is beyond impressive. Every panel of this issue is perfect; Capullo has raised the bar so high that perhaps only he himself could possibly reach it. He has created such an original look for the Batman of the New 52 that this is sure to be the standard by which all successive artists will be judged. His character designs are becoming iconic in their own right; his young Bruce Wayne with the movie star good looks and smoldering blue eyes that become menacingly white when peering out of that fearsome cowl, his Jim Gordon with the perpetual six o’clock shadow and unkempt shaggy red hair looks to be the embodiment of the overworked, righteously angry Irish-Catholic policeman with all the dignity and nobility that goes along with his heartfelt convictions right there on his sleeve for a corrupt world to see and use against him and then there’s Capullo’s Riddler with shocking red sideburns contrasting with a lime green derby and vest looking for all the world like a man out of time, a man from a Victorian past with punk rock sensibilities and an eye for punctuation inspired fashion. It’s not just Capullo’s imagery that is so inventive and innovative but his approach to storytelling as well. His panel placement enhances the flow of the narrative and moves the story along while guiding your eye deeper into the action and detail of the page. FCO Plascensia’s vibrant colors bring a degree of chromatic beauty to the entire book that further elevates the title above anything on the racks these days. This is a creative dream team and the recent news that they have signed on through issue #50 is welcome indeed.
Overall there is not a single flaw in this issue, in fact as the narrative moves into the final act it seems to be getting better, more captivating and vastly more entertaining, which I didn’t think possible. The story is rich, complex and engrossing even though we know the final outcome in the larger sense; it’s the immediate outcome of these events that keep us breathlessly enthralled and biting our nails until the next issue hits the racks. Snyder and Capullo have not only created comicbook perfection, they have maintained it over 30 issues and counting and that’s an admirable feat by any estimation. So if you are a member of that tiniest of all minorities, those who are not reading Batman, I implore you to remedy whatever ailment is keeping you from reading the most consistently stunning comicbook being produced today and add Batman to your permanent pull list. Although this is certainly not the best jumping on spot, I suggest you get caught up either digitally or by chasing down back issues and then climb aboard for the ride of your life. (5+/5)
Shawn is an aspiring writer/ artist who has been reading, collecting and living comic books for over 30 years. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their son, lots of cats, dogs and other various finned and furry friends.