Group Review: Batman #21 – Year Zero: Part 1

No hell hasn’t frozen over; it’s just our first DC Comics group review! The “Year Zero” storyline has been met with a lot of anticipation and speculation and so the Comic Bastards team is here to tell you want we think of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s latest Batman story arc. If you’re unfamiliar with the group review format its simple, each writer/review from Comic Bastards will give their opinion and score of: Buy, Borrow or Pass. Here’s a quick blurb from DC about the issue and then straight on into the reviews. Witness The New 52 origin of The Dark Knight in BATMAN: ZERO YEAR! Twists and turns are around every corner as Bruce Wayne takes the final steps toward his destiny! And in the backup story, learn more about how different Gotham City was at this dangerous point in time.

Zero YearEd: Borrow

I’ve seen the “Zero Year” hype-train rolling through social-media town but I simply don’t see how so many commentators have found cause to celebrate this issue like it’s the second coming of Bat-Christ. It’s certainly not a bad comic but beyond the intrigue of the opening and the very cool rooftop van-driving escape it doesn't feel particularly substantial to me. That’s partly a consequence of how the issue is structured - starting with a jump backward in time, jumping back again, back even further, then forward (to shortly after Batman issue #0), and finally jumping further back again - to give us these snippets of a younger Batman/Bruce’s history, yet in doing so it barely advances any of the plot threads Snyder introduces. I expect that future issues will get into meat of the storylines but (it pains me to say this about another comic) Zero Year has the feel of a comic that's written for trade, though I should add that the issue is helped by the addition of a done-in-one backup story.

Speaking of the backup, I was impressed by Albuquerque's lively and dynamic artwork, perfectly complementing the pace of a 6 page short that’s focused around an intense car chase in Brazil. Let’s have some more things like that please DC. As for the rest of Batman #21, the scratchy precision of Capullo’s fine line looks fantastic in the first few pages of the comic, where we’re shown a vision of Gotham in a state of overgrown ruins and a wild motor biking Batman brought to life in saturated golden daytime colors and a well-drawn rooftop escape, but in the later pages the art seems a little rougher. It’s fair to say that Capullo’s style is much better suited to high-impact action and nightmarish horror than it is to the more subdued scenes of extended dialogue that take up most of the issue and as the arc progresses I’d like to see more opportunities for Capullo to stretch his creative legs by drawing a lot more of the ruined Gotham City.

All my complaints aside, there’s some real potential for a great Batman story to develop here and I think the regular Batman readers are going to get a kick out of moments like the villain reveal, so here’s hoping that we see a lot more of the ruined Gotham in future issues and a faster moving plot.

Steve: Borrow

Like everyone else who has been mostly enjoying Snyder’s Batman run, I was clearly looking forward to this book. At the same time, I’m not a massive fan of the origin story rehash, and despite the mollifying words from the creative team leading up to its release, I wasn’t convinced it was going to be anything otherwise. After its first few pages, though, I was hopeful this would be a much different kind of Batman story - one in which he is fighting up rather than back. This was then followed up by a great bit of pre-suit Batman stuff facing off against the Red Hood and his gang, but even after this hugely entertaining scene, I think the rest of this book mostly fell back into familiar territory, structurally speaking.

The story - or at least the setting - feels different enough, and I think it’s going to get very interesting based on what was established early on to follow soon. I’m also a big Riddler fan. Capullo’s art continues to be spectacular, and his work with colorist Plascencia feels much brighter and more optimistic than both previous arcs, giving this book a different breathing rhythm than most modern Batman titles, which was refreshing.

However, I’ve still gotta give this one a “borrow”, mostly because much of this issue just feels like filler around “that moment Batman popped the bird” ... and I’m not making an innuendo about a lonely night inside Robin the Batcave. Everything that follows you can figure out for yourself - training, new focus and motivation from a green, altruistic Bruce Wayne. If you haven’t already snapped it up for whatever reason, I’d hold off until this arc gets a bit better, which admittedly is weird advice, but this needs some time to grow into what it could be ... just like Bruce himself.

Samantha: Borrow

It is hard for me to say what I feel about this comic. Hate me all you want but I don’t read many Batman comics. It is not that I don’t like Batman it is just when I am at the comic store I always find something else I want to read more.

After picking up my issue of Snyder’s Superman Unchained and reading it intently, I thought that maybe I would enjoy this Batman. I thought if Superman’s new comic had tons of glowing action then Batman must have that dark accomplishment too. Well… the story was boring for me. Maybe I just don’t get it since I am not a fan but there was a lot of bro talking between Alfred and Bruce and not enough mystery. I get that this is an origin, so we can’t break into it right away but with so much time jumping why not show the action in these parts.

See the first panel is six years prior but then we jump five months before that. When we get to see Batman on his bike looking all ripped and ready in the first panels show me something. Show me what is to come with his skills. I am not saying I hated the comic and maybe this will be a kick started for me to read more Batman. For now though just borrow it unless you want to frame that cover because for some reason the simplicity of it makes me love it.

Dustin: Borrow

Where to start with this issue? I guess I’ll start by saying that a timeline is important when telling a story. The fact is, this issue assumes that you get the gist of whenever thing is taking place in the timeline of Bruce Wayne without actually saying it. Sure when the story jumps around we know how much time has passed, but that’s about it. Also, I pretty much loathe any story that shows the ending first and then dives into the real story; its lazy writing and mostly just a gimmick to tease the audience. That shit does not work on me.

Really that’s how I would describe this entire issue: lazy writing. The Riddler is introduced, he’s a terrible character and revamped with a higher IQ and yet instead of being Batman’s Moriarty, he’s like Batman’s Rainman. The storyline of Bruce’s uncle wanting him to take over Wayne Corp for the sake of the public image is forced upon the plot as much as it is Bruce himself. My biggest problem with the Uncle is that he knows everywhere Bruce has been, making his secret training… not so secret. The Red Hood seems smarter and his gimmick improved, but he wasn’t evil. He was a dick, but he didn’t do anything evil other than putting Bruce in a position of choice.

Probably the biggest insult was Bruce flipping the Red Hood the bird. I’m sure some fans shit their pants upon seeing this and thought it was the coolest thing Batman’s done since creating a motorcycle out of the wreckage of the Bat-Tumbler. For me, it was a terrible insult to the character. I understand that this is a young Bruce still finding his way towards becoming Batman, but he’s also more focused and dedicated than at any other point in his life. Currently the world thinks he’s dead and the only thing that matters to him is his mission. He’s in full blown soldier mode and you’re telling me that he’d take the time to flip off the bad guy with half of his face hanging out from underneath his fake mask… I doubt it. That’s not some rookie shit, that’s some bull-shit.

I’m giving this a “borrow” because I know some of you won’t be able to stay away from it. Frankly, too many of you have probably already purchased it. For those of you that haven’t, then just borrow it to satisfy your curiosity. For me “Year Zero” is already over and done with. I can peg this transparent storyline a mile away and really all it does is revamp his rogues with no real consequences to the story.

Score: Borrow It

Writer: Scott Snyder

Artist: Greg Capullo

Publisher: DC Comics

Price: $3.99

Release Date: 6/12/13