When Scott Snyder announced his intention to add something to the established origin story by releasing the thirteen-issue set called Zero Year for DC's New 52, I was, of course, excited though still a bit skeptical. But pleasantly enough, this volume, Secret City is teeming with great potentials and can certainly expand the Batman mythos pertaining to Bruce Wayne's quest to become a symbol of hope and justice for Gotham City.
The story starts with Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham after his 'presumed dead' status. An organized group of criminals who identify themselves simply as Red Hood (insert number here) has plagued the city, stealing, killing and rampaging across the streets. Bruce tries his best to derail their plans but he can get too impulsive and clumsy in his pursuit. It's notable that this is definitely before he even took up the mask and symbol of the bat, and so he struggles his way as a novice vigilante for this issue. I really like the fact that this Bruce Wayne is quite selfish and evasive with a one-track mind and a thirst for easy vengeance. I also like the flashback moments about his father, and his interactions with an uncle who tries to push him back into the Wayne spotlight, to take up that mantle and be the man his parents want him to be.
Bruce isn't interested in that life at all because he knows he can do more hands-on things to stop the crimes in Gotham. But it's also apparent that he is heavily misguided, unable to truly understand the importance and scope of his goals.
I'm glad that Snyder is taking a step back from the present timeline to explore the makings of Bruce Wayne as a self-made caped crusader in the same style as Nolan did for Batman Begins but with a better literary restraint, more creative freedom, and greater knowledge and understanding of why Bruce operates the way he does. The tone and atmosphere for this series is top-notch so far. I like the storytelling structure where we go back and forth to the past with young Bruce Wayne, and the present with the Red Hood plot. Edward Nygma (who will become the Riddler) is another added bonus for me. Seeing Bruce experiment and fail in his determination to stop the Red Hood gang is also juxtaposed with the last pages where we see him in some country, training with a guy who is an expert at something Bruce himself could use once he becomes Batman.
It's amusing to see Bruce Wayne pursue the Red Hood gang viciously and yet he still fails to disband them or break down their systematized criminal operations that seem pretty basic enough. Batman would have had them running scared and badly injured in no time, but Snyder shows us that this Bruce Wayne acting as a vigilante without his iconic mask and trademark theatrics is less effective and does not produce real results at all. It's also worth noting that, just like the previous issue, the second part of Secret City is a non-linear story where we also get snippets of Bruce's childhood. In this case, we see him falling into a cave and facing an attack from a swarm of bats that surrounded that place. It's a familiar image from anyone who watched Nolan's Batman Begins movie. Snyder was not afraid to apply the same atmospheric condition for that scene.
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.
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.
Everything about this volume screams a well-executed symphony of action, symbolism and enigma.