Review: Batman Zero Year Part 1: Secret City

by GregFahlgren

Reviewing Part One of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s masterful re-imagining of the origin of the Caped Crusader!

Batman is one of the oldest, most popular, and by far THE most profitable comic book character in history. In the nearly 80 years of the characters existence, the story of Bruce Wayne, the orphan who saw his parents gunned down in Crime Alley and became Batman, has been told and retold literally dozens of times. Every movie, every TV show, every new launch of DC Comics, his origin is one again brought into the light. Thus, when Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo announced that they were writing a new origin story for DC’s New 52 line, I was a little dubious, frankly getting tired of seeing that same origin played out in front of me over and over again. But, once I sat down and read Secret City, I realize how foolish I had been, the book quickly replacing Year One as my go to origin for Batman, Capullo and Snyder outdoing themselves by telling a brand new take on an old story, and exceeding all expectations.

Thus, I implore you to come with me as I break down the first arc of Zero Year, and tell you all why it was the start of what in my mind will become the definitive Batman origin story for decades to come.

Personnel

Before I get into my review, let us first as always so hello to the awesome creators that brought us this book!

Writers: Scott Snyder (main story), James Tynion IV (back issues)

Artists: Greg Capullo (main story), Danny Miki/Rafael Albuquerque (back issues)

Colorist: Fco Plascencia (main story), Dave McCaig (back issues)

Letterers: Nick Napolitano, Taylor Esposito, Dezi Sienty

Covers: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, Fco Plascencia

Art

A New Gotham

Greg Capullo may well be one of the most talented artists in comic books right now and has many notable projects that have showcased that talent. However, it is his work on Batman that has really made me love his work. Teamed with Scott Snyder, the two men from the beginning have created one of the most memorable Batman runs in recent memory, the art for the entire run superb in every respect. With Zero Year however, my fellow Greg was faced with a different kind of challenge. Instead of drawing an older, more seasoned Batman defending a battle hardened Gotham City, Capullo had to dive into Bruce’s past, portraying a younger, less experienced Master Wayne not yet come into his own as a hero, and a Gotham that was still in the throes of chaos the city’s crime lords had created.

The art throughout this collection was outstanding, capturing the essence of Gotham City, DC’s most famous location both beautiful and horrible at the same time.  Every aspect of the city is brought to full life, creating n uncomfortable yet bright atmosphere for the readers to engulf themselves with. The action sequences are truly astounding, creating some of the most memorable fight scenes I’ve read in a Batman comic. The characters were detailed to a tee, each one captured exactly as you would envision, no detail to small for Capullo to showcase. Greg did an amazing job with this collection, drawing some of the best Gotham City I’ve ever seen, and a perfectly depicting the young Bruce Wayne as he begins to find himself as a hero.

As for the rest of the team, colorist Fco Plascencia did an outstanding job, taking a step away from the usual dark and dreary Gotham City we are used to. Instead, he painted a brighter picture of Batman’s home, giving a feeling of hope for a place that hasn’t had much. Letterer Nick Napolitano also did a great job, and added just the right kind of font for the book’s story and characters. As for the back issues, the art in them is different from the main story, but is still phenomenal as well in its own right, and is definitely worth checking out even if you bought the book for the main story like I did.

All in all, the art of Zero Year is phenomenal all around, and is worth the price of purchase alone.

Story

Old Story, New Truths

The tale of Zero Year brings us back to the very beginning of Batman’s career, before he even donned the cowl and became the Dark Knight. Like I mentioned before, Batman: Year One has long been the standard origin story for Batman, but this story has been told and retold literally dozens of times of the years, so the idea of doing again was not an attractive one at first.

That feeling went away the moment I started reading Secret City, Snyder writing one of the most perfect Batman scripts you could ask for, giving a new take on Batman’s origin that while it stayed faithful to what had been established for decades also built a new foundation for the Dark Knight. Unlike previous incarnations, the return of Bruce Wayne to Gotham City was secretive, and was only revealed against his will be his uncle. Another change was his relationship with Alfred, the loyal butler not supportive of Bruce’s new mission nor his methods in completing it. This created some very tense scenes between the two, and also deepened their relationship further than had been done in years.

The most important part of this retelling was that of the Red Hood. Originally just a thief that may or may not have become the Joker (never truly confirmed in my mind), Snyder revamped the idea into a major crime syndicate known as the Red Hood Gang, the leader forming a very close and volatile relationship with Bruce Wayne. The idea of the gang was that the majority of the members were ordinary people blackmailed into service, making the gang a dangerous and difficult enemy for Batman to overcome. The idea was frankly mind-blowing, and made the Red Hood a truly great villain in Batman’s Rogue Gallery, something a lot of readers didn’t think was possible. Yes, there was some foreshadowing of who the Red Hood might be or who he might become, but Snyder never confirms anything, again keeping enough mystery to want the reader to learn more.

Despite the new direction, there were a lot of old call backs to the original stories. The confrontation at ACE Chemicals, the origins of the Batcave, how Bruce decided to become a bat, they were all there, but revamped and re-imagined for a new generation of Bat-Fans. Snyder truly outdid himself with this book, just the first volume the Zero Year arc, and left us on a cliff hanger which re-established the Riddler as a truly formidable opponent for the Caped Crusader.

Secret City in the end helps redefine Batman’s origins, and is one hell of a launch point for one of the craziest Batman stories ever told.

Final Verdict

A New Standard

Zero Year: Secret City is the first of three collections for the Zero Year story arc, and it definitely started the arc off with a massive bang. Snyder and Capullo continue their incredible run on the character and somehow managed to tell Batman’s origin in a new and exciting way that in my opinion far outstretches Frank Millar’s Year One. Through phenomenal art and superb storytelling, Secret City lays the incredible groundwork for the rest of the Zero Year arc, and begins a story that in my mind will become the definite origin story for the Dark Knight for this generation and beyond.

Bottom line, this book is a must read for Batman fans, and is among Snyder and Capullo’s best work together. Bold statement, but I dare you to pick this book up and tell me it isn’t true when you’re finished.

Check out my Other Reviews!

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Review of the first collected edition for Gail Simone's critically acclaimed Red Sonja run.
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Updated: 09/21/2016, GregFahlgren
 
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