Scott Snyder’s take on Batman’s origin story, called Zero Year, is told in three parts over the course of twelve issues. The first part, entitled “Secret City,” is collected in Batman Volume 4, whereas Volume 5, reviewed here, collects the remaining two parts of the story, “Dark City” and “Savage City.” Zero Year is a masterful retelling and a genuinely interesting, fresh take on the legendary origin story you probably know and love. That said, if you haven’t read the first arc of the story you’re going to want to pick up Volume 4 as well so that you can read the story in its entirety.
Every good Batman origin story needs to answer a few core questions about the character. Batman’s relationship to Gotham and to its villains; what he stands for; why Bruce cares and is willing to sacrifice himself to become Batman and for what reasons does he become Batman in the first place? These are just a couple of the core questions that a good origin story needs to answer in order to make for an incredibly compelling origin story.
Zero Year draws from and pays homage to a whole range of Batman stories; stories like Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, No Man’s Land, the original Detective Comics #27, and a perhaps not-so-surprising amount of Batman Begins. Even a little Batman: The Animated Series is reflected in Snyder’s take on the story. What I really love about the run is how well Snyder and Greg Capullo update the iconic stories and visuals that represent them, and how everything goes to answering the important questions at the core of the character.
The first act of the story, told in Volume 4, is the first step in a series of lessons that Bruce learns before becoming the Batman he needs to become. In “Secret City,” and in issue where Bruce finally dons the cowl, Bruce gives a speech when he realizes what he loves about Gotham and that he wants to become a symbol, an inspiration, for it. Bruce tells us that Gotham is a place that challenges its residents to become the best version of themselves they can be, if they can survive. In the second act of the story, Bruce has to come to terms with himself and why he dons the cowl in the first place. The reasons for becoming Batman are as important as the reason for donning the cowl in the first place. It’s also in this leg of the story that Alfred really shines as a character, even more so than the first part of the story.
The third, final act of the story is where Bruce has to come to terms with the ramifications of becoming Batman and the sacrifice it requires. “Savage City” is the biggest departure from the more familiar grounds that are reminiscent of Year One, but is also the most satisfying because of it. Snyder shows a Batman that is familiar, but that is very different from the one we read about in Year One or, in particular, The Dark Knight Returns. The final match-up in the end is a perfect choice for Batman, the world’s greatest detective, and it’s one of those stories that only gets better when you ruminate on it or go back in for a reread.
Snyder has repeatedly said that he wanted this to be an updated origin story for a new generation, like Year One was for him, and he could not have done a better job. He picks up and runs with a lot of great ideas from classic works and from the Nolan movies, but has his own answers that redefine the character such that I can’t imagine a better story to get new readers hooked on Batman. Consistently producing the best artwork and writing in a single comic book, Batman remains my most anticipated comic every month (and that’s saying something for a lifelong Marvel fan). Whether you’ve been a Batman fan your whole life or you haven’t read a single Batman comic, Zero Year is a masterpiece that is sure to draw you in and leave you with a profound sense of accomplishment after you finish it.