Scott Snyder neatly wraps up the three-part story Secret City of the Zero Year saga last issue with Bruce Wayne discovering through divine intervention what he needs to be in order to fulfill his destiny; and that is to become a bat. These issues were gorgeously crafted, utterly visceral in illustrations and with a writing that's respectful of the previous origin story established by Frank Miller in Year One, but still also manages to be formidable and original on its own.
I trusted Snyder all throughout Secret City even as he gave us a Bruce Wayne who is selfish, deeply vindictive and cowardly because it was a necessary contrast to the hero he will be someday. Showing us the evolution and growth Bruce Wayne in his mid-twenties must undertake had enabled readers, long-time fans and newcomers alike, to appreciate that becoming Batman and maintaining that ideal and symbol is the hardest thing any superhero has ever done for seventy-five years and countless accounts and adaptation of this universal story about the courage of one young boy to overcome his primal fears. In doing so, he becomes a tempered steel, determined to take on a larger role to accept and continue his parents' legacy and the lives of the people in a city that has molded him into a warrior and its protector.
Now Snyder graces us with a 57-paged story (which could easily have been a novella), nourishes and sustains us the myth, and marks the first part of Dark City in which Bruce finally becomes Batman and puts a few gang members of Red Hood in their place by doing something so mesmerizing with the billboard "Welcome to Gotham City". That full-spread page was reminiscent of the very first Batman cover of Detective Comics in May 1939; the iconic issue #27 where Batman was hanging in the yellow skyline while carrying a criminal in a vice grip. Capullo's own visual narrative for it was stunning, giving me chills I have never felt before while looking at such a nostalgic illustration. I have stared at this full-spread image for so long that I could close my eyes and still remember every detail. I mean, just look at it!
Snyder and his artists for the Zero Year stories, Capullo, Miki and FCO, have created the most striking set of visuals ever to take your breath away in a comic book story. There are so many callbacks and references from previous incarnations of Batman in this issue, not just the Miller version. And FCO's colors are such a pleasant assault to the sight that I have the urge to eat the pages! They're just so bright and moody all at once. There are two things that really struck a nerve in me while reading this. First is Bruce Wayne finally making an official public appearance in television, asking Gothamites a question: "Why do you love this city?" and the response is a resounding, dumbfounded silence. And then he gives us this heartfelt speech (and I shit you not, I was lying in bed with my copy and tearing up):
The second thing that hit me so hard is the confrontation inside the A.C.E chemicals which we all know is Alan Moore's version of no other than the Joker's origin story (if the Red Hood helmet isn't already a dead giveaway). However, Snyder ensured that he doesn't blatantly spell out that it's the Joker underneath that helmet. He makes sure that we never really know who he is before he fell into that chemical waste. True to form, the Joker's origin should always remain ambiguous. It's as if the Joker appears with no logical explanation because that's the point of his creation; one day the forces in the universes just decided to bring forth into existence chaos in flesh form, and that is the Joker. That is who Batman will continue to battle in a circular drain for the rest of his life. Everything about this issue screams a well-executed symphony of action, symbolism and enigma. Speaking of the latter, the Riddler finally makes his move. He makes a grand entrance in the Gotham wide screens and then cuts off the power source and electricity, cloaking the whole city in darkness and possible mayhem. Nothing like the dark to bring out Batman from the shadows and I am definitely excited to read the next installment.
*A must-have splendor that any self-respecting Batman fan will never regret including in his/her collection. You can read it over and over and still salivate!