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Review: ‘Batman’ Volume 5 “Zero Year – Dark City”

David Kane ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

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The creative team of DC’s comic series Batman has done it again with volume five: “Zero Year – Dark City,” written by Scott Snyder, penciled by Greg Capullo, and inked by Danny Miki. Vibrant art and an action-adventure plot come together to show us Batman’s full origin in the New 52. The story continues from the events of volume four, which ended with the Riddler triggering a citywide blackout in Gotham. “Dark City” opens in the still dark Gotham City with Batman on the run from the police, who do little to stop the Riddler from taking over and making things harder for the Dark Knight both physically and mentally. Batman is introduced multitasking his investigations of the Riddler and a string of grisly murders perpetrated by a new villain, Dr. Death, who adds a bit of horror to the story. The way he handles these cases characterize him as a fledging detective bent on repairing the city that madmen are trying to destroy.

Capullo draws Batman as no one ever has, adding light colors that reminisce of his lighter years while also retaining the dark content that comes with a story of deception and murder. As with “Secret City” the purples and oranges bring to mind a sunset that prepares us for the long dark night of Batman’s career. Zero Year represents the first major challenge he must overcome to save his city, threatened by his first major villain. Snyder’s dialogue is on point as usual. The story takes a look at Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Jim Gordon; Batman starts out trying to prove he doesn’t need help to save the city. One twist Snyder adds is Bruce’s hatred of Jim because of a heartbreaking scene from his childhood. Of course the mutual goal of stopping the Riddler brings them together, and by the end Bruce recognizes a valuable partner in Gordon just as Gordon recognizes a new hope in Batman. This burgeoning partnership happens a little too fast to believably resolve Wayne’s anger at Gordon, but the conflict between them is welcome.

Capullo’s use of splash-panels in “Dark City” sets it apart from his other work. From Dr. Death’s gnarled figure to the reveal of overgrown Gotham City, the page-sized images stand out in the kinetic and emotional landscape of Capullo’s visual story telling. One particular moment that moved me was when Batman leaps through a lightning storm in homage to the famous image in Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The creative team knows how to honor the work of past creators while forging a new path in Batman’s history. Dr. Death is an amazing new character whose physicality provides Capullo a chance to showcase the more grotesque elements of his talent. Death’s tragic back-story make him worthy as a Batman villain, but his motivation was murky, and he gets shoved aside once the Riddler takes the stage. I felt he was underused.

The spirit of the “Zero Year” arc is retelling Batman’s origin with unique twists, the big one here is the major event similar to the 90’s mega-arc “No Man’s Land.” Riddler has taken over the city using drones and chemical weapon threats, challenging the people of Gotham to smarten up and take their city back. Batman hasn’t been intellectually pushed to this extent before, so it makes for an exciting story. The Riddler instigates Batman’s first major-scale adventure that requires more wits than fists or gadgets. My one qualm with this element is that the takeover happens late in the book, giving them little room to explore Zero Year Gotham. It’s still paced out well, but I would have enjoyed a stronger focus on how the event affects the citizens rather than how the heroes plan to end it.

Fans expecting the popular imposing monolithic image of Batman will be let down, as Capullo strips Bruce of his cape and arms him with a steam-powered motorcycle. The “Zero Year” design for Batman looks very human, like an amalgamation of broken pieces put together. It plays with the idea of Bruce Wayne being a broken person who needs to become Batman not only to fix Gotham but also himself. The theme of pieces coming together can be found throughout this book, especially on each issue’s title page; they include panels of seemingly random images relating to other parts of the story, made relevant later on. It conjures the idea of a riddle’s seemingly random words hiding clues to its answer. These images are flashbacks that link characters like Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon, and even Dr. Death in surprising ways. The thematic use of images and ideas in tandem is Snyder’s style and never fails to impress.

Snyder’s Riddler sets the standard for any modernized version of the character. He uses drones and spouts off smart-alecky facts, clearly enamored with his own genius. But Snyder doesn’t forget that the heart of his character is asking riddles. Behind all the technology he employs to fight Batman, the Riddler asks a question, and the correct answer will save the day. It’s a basic element that informs all other aspects of the Riddler and makes him an even more interesting villain. Batman actually fails several times throughout the story, barely escaping with his life. He admits to his own doubts after these instances, escalating the tension as he nears the climatic showdown that really pushes him to his limit.

“Dark City” is a satisfying conclusion to the “Zero Year” saga, and with “Secret City” Snyder and Capullo give us a complete vision of their Batman’s beginning. It’s an exhilarating story that teaches us more about Batman than he thought we knew, which is the kind of story Snyder always writes and Capullo always draws. In Batman volume five, “Zero Year – Dark City,” Gotham feels like home, and Bruce Wayne feels like a Batman.

Overall Grade: 9 out of 10

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