Batman Volume 4: Zero Year: Secret City
Medium: comic
Year: 2013
Writer: Scott Snyder, James T Tynion IV
Artist: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki
Keywords: superhero
Format: Batman 21-24 and Batman Zero Year: The Director's Cut
Series: << Batman >>
Website category: Batman
Review date: 12 December 2021
It's the origin story for the New 52 Batman. Here's the start of Snyder's script:
"Hey guys! One note before we start - the feel of this issue (and the next three) should be bold, fun, fast, bright! We want to cut 180 degrees AWAY from the other origin stories. This is where we'll surprise people and make something totally our own - our story is organically brighter and more kinetic and more bombastic, with action, adventure, even touches of sci-fi! So let's celebrate that! Innovative cutting, creative paneling, fast storytelling... I want this to be like an anti-Year One, because it genuinely is by nature. That story is intimate, crim, gritty, realistic and dark, artistically and storywise - it's a masterpiece, untouchably good, and one of my favorite books ever. But it's mob, crime, grit, blood, corruption... This is intended as an innovative, bright, and layered Batman origin for today's generation."
He achieved that, yes, but I'm not a fan. I was self-consciously trying to be fair and not an old fogey, but eventually I realised that this had become "bending over backwards to look for positives in a book I don't like." There's nothing actually wrong with it, though. It's okay. I'd have had no strong opinion if this hadn't been an origin story, although I'd have forgotten about its contents almost before I'd finished reading.
For a Genesis of Batman, that's pretty damning.
Ultimately, I don't care. For me, this isn't Batman. It's not the real thing. He's too young, too smug and too glossy. It's a New 52 reboot who'll himself get rebooted away before he's finished saying hello. Everything's breezy and colourful. The story's underlining his enormous wealth as the heir to Wayne Industries, in which he takes no interest and stays incognito, telling Alfred that "Bruce Wayne would get in the way". (In other words, as well as being obscenely mega-privileged, he's also being a teenager about it.) He has mega-gadgets, computers and whizzy toys.
He gets a couple of good scenes. There's a big Bruce-Alfred argument, while I quite like this version of "yes, father, I will become a bat". (The credit for that goes to the artists, though.) Essentially, though, he's a glossy brat in a glossy throwaway romp. The story's passable, but I didn't really see the point in it.
His opponents sort of, maybe, ish, could be argued to have weight. I'll go no further than that. They've efficiently taken criminal control of Gotham, but they're also cartoonish comic book villains and as scary as a baby. They're (literally) faceless goons. Their boss is another goon. Technically, he's the Red Hood, but even so you'll be waiting for the real baddie to show up.
Again, there's continuity and reminders of the classics that do Snyder no favours. The Red Hood to me says "The Killing Joke", although of course that's a modern reaction and he's really from the "The Man Behind The Red Hood!" in 1951. The weird backstory slowed me down, with Bruce having been declared dead six years ago or something. We start six years ago with Batman in the Bat-suit (I think?), then rewind an additional five months to a time when he wasn't and I'm wondering how this fits with Batman having a ten-year-old son called Damian with Talia al Ghul. Even the title's reminding me of Year One, but the two books are so different in quality and tone that it's actually jarring to meet this unrelated Commissioner Loeb. Oh, and this was also yet another big DC crossover, encompassing Batman #21-27 and 29-33, Action Comics #25, Batgirl #25, Batman Annual #2, Batwing #25, Batwoman #25, Birds of Prey #25, Catwoman #25, Detective Comics #25, The Flash #25, Green Arrow #25, Green Lantern Corps #25, Nightwing #25 and Red Hood and the Outlaws #25.
The volume also contains some bonus mini-stories about the globetrotting Bruce Wayne before he became Batman. They're fairly pointless too.
This book isn't for me. One day, I'll probably give it another chance... and then decide that it's still forgettable. A lot of my problem is generational, yes, and maybe the New 52 attracted lots of new readers who love this story. It's possible. If they later read Year One, though, they'll be blown away. A Year One fan who reads this book will at best turn pages for a while and then read something else. (In my opinion, anyway.)
That said, though, Snyder clearly achieves that "anti-Year One" goal of his. That paragraph I quoted describes this book pretty well.