David Kane ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Written by Scott Snyder, penciled by Greg Capullo, and inked by Danny Miki, Batman volume 4: “Zero Year – Secret City” jumps back six years and throws us into Bruce Wayne’s early days as a fledging vigilante, desperately trying to catch up with the Red Hood Gang’s rampage of random violence through Gotham City. During this war, Bruce realizes he must become more than a man in the fight against the gang’s nihilistic leader who is also heading to a darker fate.
Yet again, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo prove to be a dynamic duo in visual storytelling. Snyder’s intelligent dialogue and winding narrative synchronize perfectly with Capullo’s unique drawing style that brings the characters and actions to life. Snyder refurbishes the Caped Crusader’s familiar origin story with original direction while also paying homage to definitive works like Year One and The Killing Joke. These stories have become cemented in the character’s mythology, and the authors of this book understand the legendary examples they are following. But they do a great job matching the quality of those classics while differing from them in style.
Unlike Moore or Miller, Snyder writes a more action-packed, city-spanning adventure with a lighter edge. Capullo’s art is not as gritty and dark as one would expect from a Batman story; his Bruce is not rugged and disturbed but young and doubtful, as he would be in his first outings. The eyes that Capullo draws become an emotional window into the minds that produce Snyder’s dialogue. They all talk from the heart, be it filled with light or darkness. To add more contrast to earlier works, these very real human beings are surrounded by a world that is vibrant instead of brooding; inker Danny Miki floods most of the pages with bright color-schemes involving oranges, reds, and even purples. It brings to mind the image of dusk, when the sun is about to descend below the horizon and usher in the night. This theme runs throughout the volume, preparing us for what is come during the rest of “Zero Year.”
One personal issue I take with this version of Batman’s origins is his classic foe, The Red Hood (referred to by the serial number “Red Hood One”). The hooded leader of the complex gang talks an awful lot like the Joker, and his plan involves citywide chaos fueled by an amoral ideology. It’s almost as if he doesn’t need the chemical bath at the end to become Batman’s cackling arch-nemesis. His outlook on the meaningless of life and his dedication to destroying Gotham City are both already in place, which makes his physical transformation into the Clown Prince of Crime a merely cosmetic change, which I believe does injustice to the character.
His dialogue is still enjoyable and his voice crafted clearly, so while I may not agree with Snyder’s direction for the Red Hood/Joker, at least he’s going at it well. Another strange addition to the roster is Phillip Kane, acting head of Wayne Enterprises and Bruce’s uncle on his mother’s side. The fact that Bruce had a possible parental figure other than Alfred in his life is swept aside, as Kane’s place in the plot is minor. Creating an entirely new relative for Bruce, especially one so close, raises so many questions that aren’t answered satisfactorily. These issues didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the work, which is astounding in all other facets.
The electrifying action in this volume involves science-fiction elements that, throughout his run, Snyder has made a staple of his modern Batman. The showcase of cool gadgets always makes for an awesome superhero adventure, and the escalation of Bruce’s use of them runs parallel to his ascension to the cape and cowl, taking us on a well-paced but constantly engaging path toward his destiny. Another central part of this take on the character is the emotional depth the story explores. In one charged back-and-forth, Bruce argues with Alfred about his failing war against crime and negligence of the Wayne legacy. It sets the stage for a breath-taking scene of Bruce’s self-discovery, which includes the clever use of sci-fi tech and mythological references.
The dialogue throughout the volume shows the characters’ well-defined voices and complex psychologies that Snyder understands deeply. It’s not so much a story about discovering Batman, but a story about discovering Bruce Wayne and how he can live up to the memory of this parents as a son and philanthropist for the city. The reader follows him on the deadly and transformative path that turns him into the hero he was always capable of being, with or without the mask. The story is emotionally affecting while also just plain entertaining. Together, Snyder, Capullo, and Miki craft a masterful origin story that shows the literal and figurative forging of Batman.