This issue marks the start of “Zero Year,” the new Batman event. Though it may have only been a few issues since “Death of the Family” concluded, “Zero Year” isn’t just some cheap grab to have all the Bat books cross over (though they are having crossovers). Rather, it’s the chance to let Scott Snyder and DC tell the New 52 version of Batman’s origin story. Frankly, this event was a long time coming because ever since the launch of the New 52 the DC Universe’s continuity has been a bit… well… muddled, to put it lightly. Justice League #1 and Action Comics #1 complicated things by declaring on the first page that they took place a mere five years ago, meaning Clark Kent has only been Superman for half a decade. Since not every DC title had its continuity completely rewritten (namely Green Lantern), this has made the timeline confusing, particularly with Batman as Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne were all carried over to the new universe. So… you’re telling me that in the course of five years Bruce Wayne learned how to be Batman, then had four different Robins? What? Also, how does Damian Wayne exist if he’s older than five years at the start of the New 52? Actually, though we haven’t gotten a definitive answer on that (as far as I know, I haven’t been following Batman Inc. outside of the whole “Requiem” thing), it stands to reason that Bruce impregnated Talia al Ghul while training with the League of Assassins (it’s established in this issue that Bruce has been wandering the Earth since he was at least nineteen, so this theory isn’t out of the realm of possibility).
As we learned in Batman #0, a year before the events of Justice League #1 Bruce Wayne was in the infancy of his vigilante days, fighting a powerful Gotham City gang, the Red Hood. Issue #21 opens six years ago with Gotham City seemingly in ruin, the subways flooded, the brownstones and parking lots overgrown with flora. A child Batman rescues in the opening pages refers to the city as having been “killed” and tells Bats that “he thinks you’re dead.” “Good,” Bats replies. “Then he won’t see me coming.” Awesome teaser. Seriously, Scott Snyder is now officially the master of the comic book teaser, between this and last month’s The Wake #1.
So what we know: six years ago, Gotham was ravaged and went under control of a mysterious villain, presumably the leader of the Red Hood gang. The book then jumps back another five months, picking up where the zero issue left off. Bruce is still fighting the Red Hood gang but his inexperience is getting the best of him. He’s learned that no one knows the identity of Red Hood’s leader and that the gang is mostly made up of middle to upper-middle class men and women, presumably blackmailed or threatened into performing criminal acts. This matches up with previous incarnations of the Red Hood, namely the Joker’s origin story in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.
Speaking of the Joker… well, that’s my theory. From what we learned in “Death of the Family,” the Joker’s origin story has largely remained intact in the New 52. He was some sort of common criminal that Batman tossed into acid that transformed into the monster he is today. Batman hinted in issue #17 that he had ascertained the Joker’s true identity, but it’s implied it was nothing more than a bluff. So who he was before the acid incident is unknown… but in the old universe the Joker was just some poor working stiff who fell in with the wrong crowd. Though I get what Moore was going for, and don’t get me wrong I love The Killing Joke, I’ve never really been a fan of that interpretation. The Joker is a force of nature and is most terrifying when portrayed in that manner, which is why Heath Ledger’s portrayal in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is so effective. Who he was before is basically irrelevant, but I have to imagine he wasn’t some upstanding family man because well, that’s not really how human psychology works. Sure, people can snap and go on murderous rampages, but you don’t fall into weird chemicals and then just come out a complete sadist. I prefer The Shining interpretation of the Joker- that he was always a maniac deep down, he just needed something to push him over the edge.
But I digress. The point is I think the “he” mentioned in the teaser and the leader of the Red Hood Gang are one and the same and are also the Joker pre-Joker. I think “Zero Year” will not only be Batman’s origin story, but the Joker’s as well. Thankfully, Snyder is crafting a story much more complex than just another Bats vs. King Clown yarn. Midway through the issue Bruce is approached by his uncle Philip Kane, his mother’s brother, who declared Bruce legally dead (like Rutget Hauer in Batman Begins) but has since learned of his apparent survival. The Kanes (any relation to Kate?) are apparently not the most popular bunch in Gotham, and the merger of their company with Wayne Enterprises was beneficial as the Wayne name is nothing but awesome. Kane is once again getting bad press and is also being robbed blind by the Red Hood Gang, so he implores Bruce to stop playing dead and take over the company to give it a PR boost. Bruce refuses, and we learn in the final pages that Philip has teamed up with Edward Nigma, pre-Riddler, who’s been consulting him on how to fix the company. Using a complex algorithm, Nigma determines the only way for Philip to succeed is to kill Bruce, and that’s where the issue ends.
I have high hopes that this is going to be a fantastic Batman story. I actually really appreciate that the drama comes not from the what but the how. We know Gotham is saved, we know Bruce dons the cowl and that Philip and Nigma fail in their scheme. But how? How did Gotham go from a pile of rubble to the jewel it is six years later? How does Bruce go from some bozo wearing masks to a symbol of fear and justice? That’s the meat of the story, and that’s why it works- if it weren’t for these little mysteries this would be boring as hell because we all know what Batman’s origin is already.
As this is $3.99 we also get a backup story, which is pretty boilerplate- Bruce at nineteen, learning how to drive like a boss from a criminal before handing him over to the cops. There’s not much to it, but I like the idea of getting little glimpses into Bruce’s wandering days throughout the “Zero Year” event.
Goddamn, Scott Snyder, why are you so good. You’re my hero.
So… Constantine. It exists. Should it exist? I’m not sure yet. It definitely lacks the grit and charm of its predecessor, the more mature Vertigo series Hellblazer. I love seeing John in the DCU and interacting with other franchise characters but does he really deserve his own series?
I’m not convinced he does. The first three issues dealt with John’s fight against his nemeses, the Cult of the Cold Flame who he of course, totally pwned. It was pretty standard stuff, but Jeff Lemire has a knack for the character and is a solid writer (though he only has story credit here, scripting duties fell on Ray Fawkes). But to be honest, I kinda prefer it when John is interacting with other members of Justice League Dark or making cameos in other books like he did way back when in the now deceased I, Vampire.
There’s basically no plot to Constantine #4. John just wanders around New York doing stuff. Normally this kinda filler crap would piss me off, but I dunno, I found it all kinda pleasant. “A Day in the Life of John Constantine,” if you will. I really liked the idea that John is at his heart, just a con man. He’s a thief and a grifter first, a mage second. He’s a magical thief and that’s pretty freaking cool. So I enjoyed hearing him talk to the old lady about her husband/his thief mentor and his inner monologue about the grift his stalker pulled at the convenience store. I also liked all the stuff with Zatanna because, well…
I have a confession to make.
I have a crush on Zatanna. Of all the DC women (straight ones at least, Kate Kane is still the best) Zatanna is my favorite. She’s hot, she’s got a cool outfit and she’s a badass mage. The backwards spell thing is cute, and I dunno, she just does it for me. Since her fallout with the Justice League Dark, she hasn’t been around much so it was nice to catch up with her again. There’s some forced foreshadowing of Trinity War (Contantine and Lex Luthor team up, whaaaaaaaa) and some good ol’ fashioned relationship talk melodrama. I feel like corporate superhero comics are always wary about openly stating that their heroes are fucking. Every once in a while you get Frank Miller having Supes and Wonder Woman bone in the sky, but most of the time they keep it on the down low, because you know, this shit is mostly for children (kinda, it’s always extremely violent. You know how America is. Boo sex!! Yay violence!!). So I enjoyed hearing Zatanna openly talk about John coming into her bed and the idea that whenever he does something bad, which is like, all the time, he comes to her for pity sex to make himself feel better. That’s a bit of realism that takes you out of this otherwise hackneyed story.
Because yeah, the Papa Midnite stuff sucked (isn’t that guy in the Keanu Reeves movie?). Who? What? Why? What was the point of that? To have a talking torso be creepy? Ooohh, creepy, skeleton, guess you got your monthly quota of creepy weird shit because this is the “Dark” imprint after all.
You wanna do “A Day in the Life of John Constantine?” Then do “A Day in the Life of John Constantine.” No big conflict, no fights, no endless cycle of John getting the upper hand on his enemies. Just have him wander around New York. I would have preferred that.
Superman Unchained #1
I’ll be honest: I don’t even really like Superman. I liked him in the mildest way possible as a kid, and probably only because he was on The Batman/Superman Adventures. I’ve just never understood the character, mainly because he’s so powerful that I never feel any sense of tension or drama in any of his stories. Sure, there’s Kryptonite but that’s deus ex machina if I’ve ever seen it. He seems like a hero for a bygone age, and as such I always gravitated to the delicious broodiness that is Batman. Also, glasses aren’t a disguise. That’s stupid.
I followed Action Comics for eight or nine issues before I was laid off and couldn’t afford to buy comics anymore, but mostly because it was a New 52 launch title and because Grant Morrison was writing it. It was okay. I liked the initial arc about a jeans-wearing Superman first getting his feet wet in the superhero game, and that random issue where the Superman from an alternate timeline was basically Obama. But when I picked the hobby back up I ignored the Superman titles because well, I’m not into him.
But now the aforementioned Scott Snyder (my hero) has teamed up with DC’s big gun, Jim Lee for a new series that’s basically one giant promotional vehicle for Man of Steel (what a coincidence that they both come out the same week!). In the hands of any other creative team this probably would have come off as a shallow money grab and an unnecessary addition to an already crowded Superman lineup, but Snyder and Lee have the chops to make this the freshest take on the Man of Steel I’ve yet seen. Snyder gives Clark an inner voice that helps to humanize him and sets the stage for what could be a pretty cool story. It’s got Lex Luthor in it, General Lane and a scary anti-Superman of some sort, and of course, it wouldn’t be a Scott Snyder book if there wasn’t some creepy shit going on beneath the ocean.
The real winner here is Jim Lee. The guy can draw comic books, no argument there, and this issue gave me one of the biggest joys I’ve had in a while reading comics. Near the beginning of the issue, Lee presents the reader with a massive, four-page fold out poster, double sided. Basically two of the issue’s 32 pages were so awesome, they had to be four times as big. They’re beautiful shots, one of Superman plowing through a plummeting space station, and another, closer shot of him ripping it asunder. Totally worth the extra dollar.
So they did it. They got me back into Superman. I’ll be following this one now, so check back for my reviews of future issues.
Also can I just say… that’s a helluva dress to wear to work, Lois. Damn.