An instant bat-classic without the bat, Zero Year brilliantly exploits the messy, mistake-riddled path to adulthood. And in Batman #22, young Bruce Wayne’s screw-ups are a runaway freight train about to leave the tracks.
Brash and reckless, Bruce Wayne has a mission but not a method. Gone are the polish and calculated skill of the Dark Knight because this cocky twentysomething isn’t Batman yet.
Issue #22 begins with the Red Hood Gang shooting up one of the Penguin’s zeppelins and gaining control of a set of Wayne Industries weapons. Disguised as the Penguin, Bruce makes a foolish attempt to directly assault Red Hood One. After his failure and capture, Bruce is offered a job with the gang and witnesses first-hand the killing power of the once non-lethal weapons. He violently declines, of course, and loses his disguise in the process. Keeping his face hidden, he narrowly escapes with the real Penguin.
Snyder isn’t content to just show Bruce in action, however; his penchant for building well-rounded characters takes center stage when Bruce and Alfred talk following the zeppelin fiasco. It’s the scene you never thought you’d see in a Batman comic as Alfred takes Bruce to task for the way he is fighting his war.
“Alfred, if you have something to say, just say it. You’re never this quiet. I can practically feel the waves of disdain rolling off you.”
“What’s there to say, sir? If you can’t see the state of things clearly now, there’s no point.”
Unhappy Alfred we’ve seen, but Blunt Alfred we have not. And it’s a gut-wrenching thing to see them on opposite sides. Alfred is disappointed in Bruce, who doesn’t take the criticism well, making the whole scene emotionally disturbing. But Bruce needs these reality checks if he’s to become the world’s greatest detective, even if he won’t admit it. After reading this scene, you’ll want to slap Bruce upside his head and hug Alfred. Thanks a lot, Scott.
Bruce has to face a more public challenge as his evil uncle outs him as alive to the world with a surprise party at the museum. Fleeing the party, Bruce encounters Edward Nygma and their first “riddle me this” session doesn’t disappoint.
Greg Capullo and Danny Miki are turning out some gorgeous artwork for this story. It isn’t every day you get to draw a zeppelin or a sphinx, or a latex mask being torn from a face, and they handle the challenges of Snyder’s script with a seemingly straight-forward approach. But the delightful panel layouts defy any predictable pattern and lend a frantic urgency to the story, even during scenes with heavy dialogue. Don’t sweep through the pages without taking some time to appreciate the flashbacks; they let the readers see what Bruce doesn’t. The past is the key to his future.
Scott Snyder (W), Greg Capullo, (P), Danny Miki (I) • DC Comics, $3.99, July 10, 2013.