ZERO YEAR in Review: So Who Is New 52 BATMAN?
CREDIT: DC Comics
With this week's Batman #33, creative team Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo ended their year-long "Zero Year" story that retold the origin of the caped crusader.
It was good timing for DC, as Wednesday was celebrated at comic shops across the country as "Batman Day," a promotion by the publisher meant to commemorate the character's 75th anniversary.
Originally conceived as a way to explain Bruce's revised history in the New 52, the story ended up doing much more than just explaining the origin of the Batcave's giant penny and the Batarang. It also tweaked the character of Batman.
As Snyder explained it in a recent interview with Newsarama, "Zero Year" sets up who Batman is in the New 52 continuity, as written in Batman.
"From here forward, he really is the character that we've made up for ourselves on this run, you know?" Snyder said. "Not to say that 'Court of Owls' and the Joker arcs didn't have the same character. They entirely do, but at the same time, this is the moment where I feel like, for me, he's clearly our version of Batman.
"Doing "Zero Year" — re-imagining his purpose, re-imagining his formative years — makes him feel so much like a character that Greg and I have kind of made our own," he said. "It's our version, love it or hate it."
So now that "Zero Year" has ended, who is the Snyder/Capullo version of Batman?
Looking at the year-long "Zero Year" story — its overall themes as well as its characters' dialogue — Newsarama examined the now established elements of Snyder's Batman and Bruce Wayne.
Who Is Bruce Wayne?
Arkham Twist: In "Zero Year", Batman is human. Fans might love the hero having white slits for eyes in most Batman stories, but "Zero Year" established that, behind the mask, there's a human named Bruce Wayne.
That idea was key to the scene in Batman #33 that established something new regarding Batman's relationship with Arkham Asylum. In Batman stories over the years, the mental health facility known as Arkham Asylum is not only a place where most of Batman's villains are usually housed, but it's a structural symbol of the darker side of Gotham's psyche.
In this week's Batman #33, Batman's relationship with Arkham Asylum — usually portrayed as a hero trying to deal with the depths of Gotham's madness — got a new twist as it was revealed that a young Bruce Wayne was a patient inside Arkham Asylum.
His captivity at the Arkham facility was self-inflicted, and he "paid the doctors" for a certain type of treatment (that he didn't end up getting), but the fact that he's been inside Arkham Asylum as a patient — a person who was actually dealing with a mental health issue — adds a layer to the character that will not only fuel comparisons between "crazy" costumed Batman and his "crazy" villains, but makes New 52 Batman feel more human than many past iterations.
Pursuit of Happiness: Batman #33 also established a new motivation for New 52 Bruce Wayne's crime-fighting — to help him deal with the mental aftereffects of his parents' deaths.
"I had to find some way of fighting through it," Bruce Wayne tells Alfred in Batman #33, describing his mental state as a youth. "I had to find the crazy thing that would keep me from going crazy, if that makes any sense."
And becoming Batman, he says, is "what makes me happy. It's all that makes me happy."
In the New 52, wearing the Batman cowl is something Bruce does to not only to violently fight the demons of his past, but to stay balanced and happy.
Crucial Bruce: Fans have often argued whether Bruce Wayne wears a mask when he's Batman, or whether Batman wears a mask when he's Bruce Wayne — the latter being an idea from Frank Miller's interpretation of the character in The Dark Knight Returns.
Snyder's Batman run already explored the idea of "masks" quite a bit in 2012-2013, when the writer's "Death of the Family" story used Joker's face removal to explore mask-related themes.
But with "Zero Year", Snyder has established that Bruce Wayne isn't just a mask in the New 52. Sure, sometimes Bruce is pretending to be the rich playboy when he'd rather be fighting crime, but that fact doesn't erase the existence of Bruce within the cowl.
This more central role for Bruce Wayne as a person — a man who wears the cowl to stay sane — is something Snyder talked about to Newsarama more than a year ago:
"As I've written him more and more and more, what surprised me was how much I've come to believe that Bruce Wayne has a much deeper meaning to [Batman] than I thought," Snyder said. "My belief about it is, it's a little bit of both. You know? I wouldn't say that Bruce Wayne is a mask and I wouldn't say that Batman is a mask. I think that that gray area is one of the things that makes him so interesting and fascinating all time; it's a really layered and twisted and wonderful sort of relationship between Bruce Wayne and Batman."
Who is Batman?
Lightning Rod: Characters in Batman's world — and many readers — have often wondered if Gotham City wouldn't be practically villain-free if it wasn't for Batman. Couldn't all the kooky costumed villains in Gotham have emerged in response to Batman himself?
But in Batman #33, Snyder appears to be negating that idea — or at least, he's establishing that Bruce Wayne doesn't buy it.
"In the city today, Alfred, now more than ever, evil men, sick men, they step from the shadows to kill and terrify," Bruce Wayne says in Batman #33. "And Batman will draw their fire. He will be the lightning rod."
In other words, the villains are already out there, and Batman merely keeps them from killing innocent people by drawing their fire toward him.
The use of the phrase "draw their fire" is reminiscent of the explanation given for Batman's former yellow symbol, which he wore on his chest. In The Dark Knight Returns, it was explained that the yellow ellipse design was an intentional target, meant to draw enemy fire toward his armor, and away from Batman's more exposed head and body — an idea that has been echoed in subsequent stories and creator interviews.
Now, Snyder is establishing Batman as a human version of that logo — a hero that draws the fire of already-existing "sick men" so that Gotham doesn't get hurt.
Justice With All: In former issues, "Zero Year" explored the idea that Batman should be an agent justice, not vengeance — but it's also been emphasized in "Zero Year" that Batman cannot isolate himself in the process of enacting that justice.
Past versions of Batman might have been loners, wearing a scowl under the cowl and hiding in the dark of the Batcave. And although there are still elements of that iconic image in Snyder's Batman (see the ending of "Death of the Family" for a familiar scene of Batman alienating others), "Zero Year" has established that Bruce Wayne understands that teams are more effective.
So while New 52 Batman might lean toward working alone, "Zero Year" establishes that he knows he's more effective if he doesn't.
Nowhere was that more apparent than this week's Batman #33. Readers expected to see a compelling, one-on-one battle of wits between Batman and the Riddler — and they did — but they also saw important contributions from other characters in the Batman cast, including Jim Gordon, Lucius Fox and Alfred Pennyworth.
This is an important concept to emphasize about New 52 Batman, as he's supposed to have a Robin again soon, and he's working with a huge cast of characters — some new, some old — in Batman Eternal.
All Things Batman: The last few issues of "Zero Year" also embraced many of the more campy concepts of Batman's past — from the costumed hero fighting a pack of lions to a giant penny acting as a superconductor — making them feel less ridiculous by clothing them in a realistic story about a relatable, fallible man.
Yes, the story was about a guy who's obsessed with riddles, and a city that's being held captive by toxic balloons and mysterious power grids, but "Zero Year" never lost its concurrent focus on Batman's developing relationships and his fight against demons — both his own and those represented by crime.
In that way, it's fitting that "Zero Year"'s finale came on "Batman Day," as it paid tribute to the unrealistic concepts that make Batman stories so fun to read, but also brought in modern, universal themes that make this Batman his own in the New 52.
Gotham Symbol: According to Snyder, the first third of "Zero Year" was about Bruce learning the lesson that Batman needs to mean something to the people of Gotham City. "He can't just be a ghost, the vigilante that represents this mission that he doesn't announce to anyone," Snyder told Newsarama. "So the lesson really is, Batman needs to be inspiring."
In this week's Batman #33, Snyder emphasizes the importance of that purpose for New 52 Batman. "He will show the people of Gotham not to be afraid," Bruce tells Alfred.
Of course, this isn't the first time that Snyder has spotlighted the connection between Batman and Gotham City. It's been a theme in most of the writer's stories since even before he relaunched Batman in 2011.
In Batman #33, the symbolic connection between Bruce Wayne and his city becomes practically literal. Batman has to stop his heart and "reboot" his own life in order to stop the Riddler's control of Gotham and "reboot" the city.
Yes, there's a bit of metatext in the "reboot" stuff, and it happens again during Bruce Wayne's speech at the end of #33, as he talks about Gotham "always changing" — "poof! It's gone," he says, "and a new city stands in its place."
Snyder admitted to Newsarama that Bruce Wayne was talking about Snyder's feelings on re-writing Bruce Wayne's origin. "This is our Gotham right now, in "Zero Year", but I hope in 10 years, or 15 years, if the cultural climate changes, someone else will take a stab at doing the origin in a way that reflects that moment."