Friday, 20 February 2015

Batman Vol. 4: Zero Year- Secret City (The New 52) Review

Batman Volume 4: Zero Year- Secret City (The New 52)
Mask includes bat-eyebrows.

Writer: Scott Snyder

Artist: Greg Capullo

Collects: Batman #21-24 and Batman Zero Year Directors Cut 1

Background Information:

Since the mid-80s, the definitive Batman origin story was Batman: Year One. It was referenced pretty heavily in Batman Begins, found its way into the DC animated universe, and became Batman’s “official” origin story, even though it was never really part of the DCU.

With that in mind, it’s impressive that a book like this even exists. A book that dares to try and compete with a story so iconic, so readily canonised in the minds of so many fans that to look on it even with indifference is an act of heresy, was likely going to be dismissed at best, burned in effigy at worst. Good thing the book was written by Scott Snyder, a man who, looking at his previous Batman work, can do no wrong.


Writing Batman’s new origin is no simple task. You’ve got to answer to multiple masters, all of whom claim to be showing the “real” Batman- the animated series, the Nolan trilogy, almost anything written by Frank Millar; it’s a difficult job, but Snyder has handled it brilliantly, paying homage to pretty much each version of Batman’s origin.

When he's not Batman, he's not always great at this.
So Gotham’s middle-to-upper class are being manipulated into joining a gang led by a man called the Red Hood. Red Hood’s been having some problems though; a vigilante, a man with a deathwish, it would seem, has been foiling a large part of Red Hood’s plans. No prizes for guessing, but that man is Bruce Wayne. Bruce has been successful thus far, but needs to be something greater.

It doesn’t sound like much of a Batman origin story, I know; there’s no death of parents, being the major difference. But by not letting the readers see Bruce’s mother and father get shot, Snyder does a couple of things that allow for Secret City to be truly great. Firstly, we’re not retreading already familiar ground. Secondly, by not doing so, we can inject our own story of their death. You like the Nolan one? Great! That’s what it was- totally. You like the Burton story? Sure, that’s how it went down! Certain that the death happened after a night time screening of The Mask of Zorro? Of course it did! It’s a level of freedom for the reader that I really wasn’t used to, and I loved it.

That said, there are some scenes that you just don’t leave out. Snyder was wise enough to keep the classic Bruce Wayne line; “Yes father, I shall become the bat,” and keep the gravitas of the moment. That said, he’s injected a new life into the story, grounding it in the tech-fiction that has characterised Snyder’s run so that the whole thing feels fresh. Aside from this Year One excerpt, Snyder also inserts references to The Killing Joke- which I won’t spoil for you. It’s nice references like this that make Secret City near-perfect for new readers- a smorgasbord of samples from the character’s history given a new context, and it works wonderfully.

Sure, there are nitpicks; the fact that this collection is shorter than most is a bummer, as is the fact that this is another Joker story. Death of the Family was great, don’t get me wrong. But that, along with this, along with the current Endgame story arc happening in the floppies, and I’m concerned that we’re going to “Jokered-out” by volume 7 of this series. But they’re small concerns and really don’t hinder your appreciation of the book.

Oh, and side note; Red Hood’s helmet is not a hood, and looks like a giant tablet.

Hey, look, homage!
The art here by Capullo continues to look great, but he does something here that distinguishes Secret City from the other volumes in this series; he uses colour, and a lot of it. The fact that the first scene in the book features Batman in the day should be sufficiently telling of just how different this book is.

Alternatively, maybe Capullo’s just running out of black, grey and brown paint, but the affect is nice, nonetheless.

Secret City is fantastic, there’s no other word for it. It gets a four and a half out of five giant tablets.

**** ½

+ Pays homage to so much.

+ Actual colour in the art

+ Origin somehow avoids retreading.

- Didn’t we just get a Joker story?

Alternate Option: Batman: Zero Year

Something for the gruff old traditionalists.

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