Zero Year had its share of downs. The first three issues (Secret City) challenged Snyder and co. to set up important pieces before they go in motion for the next installments, often favoring emotionally-nuanced characterizations than action-oriented sequences to tell the story, which eventually paid off when Dark City's issues #24 and #25 rolled around because these two are definitely the best of the series for me because all that build-up I witnessed on the first three arcs was realized in their well-balanced and tantalizing pages. However, there had been pacing issues on #26 and #27 (the former suffered anti-climactic brevity, while the latter suffered having too much story to tell with little room to expound on them). And then we took a break from the series to get a sneak preview of Batman: Eternal for issue #28 which was quite an effective decision for readers to truly look forward to the double-sized issue #29. That last installment of Dark City was at least emotionally satisfying for me even with a couple of misses here and there that are mostly technical or have grating implications (like that big-ass Bat-blimp. I mean, Bruce Wayne has made a donation of blimps for the city so how the hell won't the GCPD make the connection sooner or later that the prodigal Bruce might also the caped crusader since his return and Batman's appearance are already so perfectly timed together? Wouldn't that make them incompetent imbeciles if right after Zero Year wraps up, they won't follow the lead on that Bat-limp?)
But I digress. It has been a great ride that didn't disappoint fans (and only annoys every now and then but only when you really nitpick), all thanks to Synder, Capullo, Miki and FCO. Next, we have Savage City. It opens up with a dream sequence from Bruce Wayne. He wakes up from that and finds himself in an almost fairy tale-esque setting: Gotham City is presently infested with shrubbery and forestry (thanks to Pamela Isley's plant formula which the Riddler stole) while its despondent citizenry haplessly shuffle through their lives, waiting for a hero who has only woken up, and one who is still unsure how to undo the terrible 'curse' that intellectual narcissist Edward Nygma has cast. Looking through the illustrations, my mind just started having nostalgic recollections of Sleeping Beauty and it certainly fits the atmospheric tone and mood of the entire issue.
This is the foremost reason the storytelling itself spoke to me resonantly. I love a murky setting which most fairy tales have, especially when there's the general good and evil forces thrown into the mix. Nygma as the Riddler is a pompous, self-serving man who claims to have the higher ground by challenging the city to 'get smart or die', taunting them to one-up him through a sick game of riddles. So far, no one has defeated him in this mental battle and this is definitely the side of the Riddler than I can get into because Edward Nygma had always believed he is intellectually gifted and it distraught him to be surrounded by lesser minds. This riddle game of his is also his way to show off and make people around him inferior which definitely strokes that bombastic ego of his. The expanse of the artwork and illustrations by Capullo, Miki and FCO are (and I cannot stress this any more than I already have since the beginning of Zero Year) is sheer perfection; the attention to detail and coloring are staggering. Each page is just so full of lush; even the grittier action sequences look pretty.
The comic book medium is a rich tapestry that combines the elements of storytelling narrative and visual artistry so in reading, reviewing and appreciating the content of a comic book issue, one must never neglect to take the aesthetic appeal that complements the written passages within. Scott Snyder's Zero Year issues have been widely acclaimed not only for its scope of story but also the splendid collaboration among Greg Capullo (penciler), Danny Miki (inker) and FCO (colorist) to produce some of the most engaging and stunning artwork and illustrations that truly capture the essence of Snyder's stories as they come to life in the pages. Another thing to commend for this saga are the covers which range from minimalist depictions of objects to beautifully detailed portraits that have symbolic meanings. The cover for this volume, the second installment for Savage City, falls on the latter category. One of the most iconic images of Batman is whenever he's standing on a skyscraper somewhere, his figure but a shadow across the ominous dark sky. However, in this cover, we see Batman crouching almost in defeat on top of a gargoyle that is covered in shrubbery while the sun sets on his side. Batman has a bow but no arrow which could indicate his aimlessness as well. It evokes an emotion of hopelessness as if Batman himself has been weighed down by something so heavy he can't stand anymore. And yet hope is on the horizon as signified by the sun rising. It's really a moving illustration and one that paints the events inside this comic book issue so accurately.
Readers will be so lost in the story and action in the past issues that we might overlook Bruce Wayne's character development in all of this, but we will see how far he has come along from the early issues where he is angry and vindictive because finally, he understands that being Batman is not some sort of mission to avenge his parents alone. It's not just about striking fear in the hearts of criminals. It's a true act of altruism foremost where he has to stop being just a man with a haunted past but become more of an unkillable ideal that lives on for hope's sake. Bruce has acknowledged that he wants to be a hero, one who is flawed yet determined to stand back up again in every failure.
He has acknowledged that this isn't a self-serving mission he is carrying out; being Batman also means championing the citizens of Gotham; showing them that there is always going to be a fighting chance in hell as long as you keep holding on to the belief that the darkest of times will always be followed by the brightest. I recommend this series for three reasons:
- You're a long-time Batman fan and you probably had this on your bookshelf for a while, waiting for the series to end and making sure the reviews are positive: Fear not, Bat-geek. You won't be disappointed when you get around to reading this, preferably by also dropping everything right now and just go for it!
- You only knew and enjoyed Batman through television or the Nolan trilogy: This will definitely be a good side-by-side comparison with Batman Begins which is essentially a great origin story for Bats. However, Zero Year offers more nuanced characterizations, plot lines and callbacks to previous adaptations in all mediums that Batman had embodied throughout the years. There is a strong cinematic style in Capullo's illustrations that will be visually appealing as well.
- You want to start reading comics and Batman is a superhero you hugely favor and you want to start from the beginning: Though this is the New 52 where DC comics in general have been rebooted, I think Zero Year is a great place to start with in correlation to the classic Bat origin story Year One. It makes little difference if you decide on that one or this one first as long as you BOTH read them.