Batman Volume 5: Zero Year: Dark City
Medium: comic
Year: 2014
Writer: Scott Snyder, James T Tynion IV
Artist: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki
Keywords: superhero
Format: Batman 25-27, 29-33
Series: << Batman >>
Website category: Batman
Review date: 13 December 2021
It's much better than Zero Year's first half, but it's not a Batman origin story. Forget that idea. It's not even remotely convincing as such (and he's only the New 52 Batman anyway, so who cares?) It does, though, have decent villains.
The sub-villain is Dr Death, a guy with gross bone mutations. Imagine what Swamp Thing does to plants, then add freaky teeth. He's got a bone toxin. None of this is complicated storytelling, but it looks cool and it works.
The main villain's the Riddler, who's a bigger supervillain here than he's ever been. He could threaten Superman. He thinks the world undervalues intelligence, so he's going to take Gotham hostage and make it solve his riddles or die. Improve brains, the Darwinian way! This is fun. The Riddler's rule of Gotham is apocalyptic and colourful (jackals and lions), but more importantly I was almost cheering for him. Yeah, he's a murdering lunatic, but nobody's perfect. Are his judgements wrong?
I like the story's focus on intelligence. This Riddler's a genius. Batman, though... uh, um. Well, on paper he's clever. He solves riddles. Snyder's script has all that covered. Unfortunately, though, I look at Capullo's Bruce Wayne and say "no". He looks twelve. You wouldn't think he had two brain cells to rub together. The script says he's clever, but what we're seeing is a jovial, not-too-bright student who went travelling on his gap year before university. He's probably studying rugby. He was in the rowing club at school.
Until a misunderstanding's cleared up, he's a dick to Jim Gordon. (It's a major character beat when he gets over himself and does something non-moronic.) He has police communication failures that'll make you howl "idiots". Miller's Commissioner Loeb was practically a gangster, so he hated Batman. Snyder's Loeb, though, has no reason to be this dumb. He's neither evil nor corrupt. He's not in the pay of criminals. Instead, he's just stupid. During a story arc that has Gotham twice under the rule of supervillains, even in a blackout and a state of emergency, Loeb's obsessed with Batman. "Even in the midst of a terrorist attack and a coming super-storm, all Loeb sees is Batman. A vigilante who's popular is an embarrassment to him."
But never mind. The good news, though, is you can ignore the nonsense about this being an origin story. It loses all resemblance to one we're past the predictable and stupid business with Gordon. Thereafter, it's just another random Batman adventure, bar some unimportant ongoing business with Alfred. This is an established Batman, with all his tricks and toys. If you read this book on its own, you might not even realise that this was supposedly his early days.
There's some odd near-continuity. One of Gotham's cops is called Dan Corrigan... which is reminiscent of Jim Corrigan, a deceased ex-cop and DC's The Spectre. There have been various Jim Corrigans and the most recent had indeed been a Gotham cop, in Brubaker and Rucka's Gotham Central less than ten years before.
Incidentally, I still like Snyder's detailed vision of Gotham's layout, history, geography, etc. He makes the city feel real.
Despite hiccups, I enjoyed this volume. It's a one-of-a-kind Riddler story, doing spectacular things with a villain who's never been as first-rank as you might have expected. He's got name recognition, yes, and he appears in films and TV shows, but he's usually a gimmick. That said, though, Batman himself is one of this volume's weak points and I enjoyed this mostly by forgetting about the Zero Year thing, so anyone who can't do that might find this year-long story arc long and boring. (Quite a few readers quit at the time, only returning for Endgame.) I suspect it works better in a collected edition.