I don’t mind long comic book arcs, especially when they’re written by Scott Snyder, drawn by Greg Capullo and feature Batman. What does stink is when they’re set in the past and keep us from reading about the present for months on end.
That’s exactly what Snyder and Capullo’s “Zero Year” arc has been doing. It’s been great finding out more about the early adventures of the New 52 Batman since we don’t really know what was different about his early career compared to the previous continuity (answer: quite a bit), but the story has been slow at times, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling grateful that it’s finally wrapping up.
Fortunately, Batman #33 brings the final curtain down on Zero Year, and it does so in fine fashion. There’s a suspenseful final showdown with the Riddler, who has been firmly established as a formidable threat to a still-learning Batman, and plenty of good character moments with Bruce, Alfred, Lucius Fox and Jim Gordon.
We also get to see Bruce explain exactly why he intends to continue to prioritize his role as Batman going forward, and by the end of the issue, everything is pretty much where it needs to be.
Capullo is great, as he has been for most of the last three years, and his feel for the quieter scenes is as good as his flair for the dramatic when it’s time for the action. The final four pages are especially emotional as they compare what could be to what needs to be, but we can’t touch on those without a …
In classic form, the Riddler has Batman in a predicament where the only way out is to beat him at his own game, answering 12 riddles correctly. The big problem is that there are jets on the way to drop bombs on Gotham (shades of the Arrow Season 2 finale), and even with Gordon and Fox helping out, they might not have enough time.
Snyder does a great job showing how Bruce struggles to keep everything under control, playing along with the Riddler until he’s able to turn the tables. The drama in the showdown isn’t in a physical confrontation — Batman easily bests Riddler when it comes to that, which is as it should be — but in which man will come out on top in the high stakes chess game they’re playing with each other. There’s a big element of trust since none of our heroes can communicate with each other, and Batman is betting on his allies as heavily as they’re relying on him.
One of the parts that will make longtime Batman fans the happiest is that Alfred comes through when Bruce needs him most, bringing Batman back from the brink when he gambles his life for the city he loves. I’m not sure if everyone will dig the way Snyder literally makes Bruce the heart of Gotham City, but it worked for me.
I’ll admit that the last few pages caught me off-guard; I originally thought it was Bruce looking into a possible future for himself without Batman, but after re-reading it, it’s likely that it is Alfred seeing what could be. Alas, he does his duty, knowing that the city needs Batman and Bruce needs to be “married” to that role.
Snyder has come under some criticism for not always wrapping up his long, sweeping arcs in satisfactory fashion, but this conclusion hits all the right notes. I’m still not sure I was fond of the entire voyage to get here, but Zero Year might simply be one of those stories that reads better once it’s collected than it did while it was playing out monthly.
Favorite moment: Riddler thinks Batman has given him the incorrect answer to his riddle, but the Dark Knight has managed to change the whole game.
Final thought: Gotham City is in pretty bad shape during the final act of Zero Year, and I believe it’s in for some rough times when Snyder gets back to stories set in the present. I’m pretty sure in real life, the U.S. government would have declared martial law multiple times by now.