[17 September 2012]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
There are three words to describe Batman #0: opportunity, structure and characterization. They represent what this issue is, what it does and what it means. As the opening line says, “What was once old… will be new again.”
DC’s Zero Month issues are as much a celebration of the New 52’s one year anniversary as they are about reminding readers this is a new era. A new era where what readers get now may be familiar, but it is not the same. From first page to last page, main feature to back-up feature, everything changes.
Batman #0 represents an opportunity. While some of the DC zero issues have given insights into back story or introduced new characters, Batman’s zero issue mixes the idea of backstory with preparation for the next story arc. The Joker is coming, so why not start his New 52 Batman era with a story from the Red Hood days.
The opportunity is to present a story that feeds into the next storyarc, build momentum and get readers excited. That is exactly what writer Scott Snyder does. The potential for the zero issues to interrupt the narrative flow of most titles is very real, but when they are devised and developed as Batman #0 is, than that danger is mitigated. Even the backup feature by writer James Tynion IV works within the idea of adding to the title, although it does operate under the premise of clearing up back story.
If for nothing else, Batman #0 seizes the potential of a zero issue and uses it for its own gain.
The main feature and the backup feature are each structured in four parts. This structure allows for both stories to flow very well. There is clear separation between each tale. Within this structure the art team shines.
Main feature artist Greg Capullo renders a thrilling opening scene, adding intensity with dynamic and subtle movement of the characters. His facial expression work as the issue goes on highlights the dialogue and adds emphasis to the conversation between Bruce Wayne and James Gordon. He is able to switch gears, from action to dramatic, in this issue with pinpoint precision.
Andy Clarke for his part of the backup feature works very well with facial expressions too. His few panels of action are intense and gripping, adding to the flow of the story. The movement is dramatic and inspiring. It is a rather refined look at the kids inspired by the Batman.
Both artists are impactful in their parts of the issue, but it is the subtle color work of colorist FCO Plascencia and the workman ink work of inker Jonathan Glapion that brings all of the visual elements together. Without taking anything away from Capullo and Clarke, it is easy to say that Plascenia and Glapion have done an excellent job.
If you weren’t sure that the New 52 has changed the status quo for Batman, then the zero issue will confirm that. While Bruce Wayne and James Gordon remain fairly intact from what has been shown thus far—revised compared to their pre-New 52 incarnations, but still within the context of that understanding—it is the eventual Joker and the eventual Robins who are vastly different from previous incarnations.
The Red Hood is a bank-robbing psychopath. Gone is the idea that one bad day can turn a man insane. Rather, Snyder crafts a sequence that is surprisingly similar to The Dark Knight film. That has a certain amount of corporate synergy, whether intentional or not. While it is very much a subtle nod to the vast history of Batman, the reversal of the Joker to being a nihilistic psycho prior to the chemical bath is a strong and profound choice. How that will impact the upcoming Joker storyarc-which surely it must—remains to be seen.
Yet even more striking is the revisionary work done on Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake. The compressed timeline aspect aside, two of these three soon-to-be Batman sidekicks are remarkably different. They each represent a singular aspect of Batman. Dick is the compassion, Jason is the wrath and Tim is the confidence. Add Barbara Gordon as the wonder and you have a bright Four Horsemen.
Dick is too much of a blank to elaborate on, but Jason, however, is written by Tynion as a culpable accomplice to murder rather than the petty street criminal he once was. His anger management issues aside, the unintentional ambiguity of whether or not Jason kills his robbery partner (he doesn’t but the scene could have been put together better) offers a much more terrifying Jason.
Tim Drake is probably the most changed. In this story, he is cocky and near obnoxious as he reveals how he figured out the crimes of his school’s headmaster. Prior to the New 52, Tim was just as much of a genius detective, but had a strong sense of humility, especially in his early stories. He was determined and capable, but never bratty. From his dialogue to his facial expressions, this is a new Tim Drake who is only remotely related to his previous version.
None of the characterizations are bad, they are just different. Each character as they stand in this issue plays their parts and fit neatly into the narrative. It will be what’s to come that will determine how they hold up.
For the all the opportunity Batman #0 has, the issue is very much a mixed bag. It is wholly a product of the New 52 and in many ways is an example of what the New 52 means. The structure is part action and part drama, with the backup story leaning heavily on the drama. In some ways the entire issue is a tribute to the new Batman. While the creators definitely intended to pay tribute to what had come before and what is now, what we mostly have is a celebration of the now. If the New 52 is to succeed, that must be the case. Nostalgia be damned.