Today, Drew and Shelby are discussing Batman 0, originally released September 12, 2012. Batman 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.
Drew: If I may, I’d like to offer a bit of my own zero issue: One year ago, I had never purchased a monthly comic. Comics culture struck me as insular and impenetrable, and I saw fans as hyper-vigilant of petty continuity issues. Today, I’m a regular Wednesday warrior, and — more surprisingly — have become a nascent continuity-phile. That tendency has reared its head most fiercely in our coverage of the Before Watchmen prequel series, where I’ve argued that strict observance of continuity is an important means to observe the source material. It’s an opinion that has lead to a few clashes with Shelby, who would much rather enjoy a comic than obsess over details — an opinion I can totally respect, and am striving towards. What better test, then, when another creative team I respect immensely revisits beloved, seminal works?
Those works would be Batman: Year One, and The Killing Joke, specifically, which Snyder shuffles together with surprising ease. The issue begins six years ago, as Gotham National Bank is christening its new headquarters. Their festivities are cut short as the Red Hood gang shows up to rob their glistening new vaults. During the robbery, Red Hood sniffs out that one of his goons is an imposter — Bruce, as it turns out. Bruce narrowly escapes, cursing himself for going undercover before he was fully prepared. Back at his brownstone — Bruce has set-up camp in Crime Alley, in spite of Alfred’s insistence to return to the manor — Bruce is confronted by none other than Lieutenant James Gordon, who alerts Bruce that Philip Kane may be involving Wayne Enterprises in some shady dealings. He also offers a soft warning about aiding and abetting this vigilante that folks are talking about. Meanwhile, Red Hood plots to blow up Bruce’s new home.
The more I think about it, the less I’m sure Scott Snyder is revisiting either of those books. He’s clearly paying homage, but do these references imply that those stories are true? I’m inclined to believe that they are true in spirit, but perhaps not in details, which raises my continuity hackles a bit, even if it totally makes sense.
And it does totally make sense. Snyder’s tech-savy Bruce (who already has motorcycles stashed in strategic locations and comm-links to Alfred sitting at a super-computer) would never venture out for reconnaissance with so little as a skull-cap and fake scar. It’s kind of weird to think that Bruce would pick random fights with pimps if he’s already been working to take down one of the most notorious gangs in Gotham. My point is, this Bruce is different from Miller’s (which is in turn different from Kane’s or Loeb’s or Nolan’s), so we can’t expect Year One to jibe exactly with the story here. We still know Bruce will have a failure that causes him to question his mission, we still know he’ll find himself bleeding and listless in his father’s study, and we still know an errant bat will inspire him — the details (as Shelby would point out) just get in the way of having fun.
The connection to The Killing Joke is a bit more tenuous. The Joker flashbacks in that book have long been treated as an origin story, not the origin story, which is a reading I’ve always loved. The Joker is too elemental to have an origin; he just is. Writers like to make allusions to the Red Hood origin myth, but I tend to favor that as a meta-textual allusion — that is, not something in-universe the characters might recognize. Treating that story as canon misses the point of the Joker (and I think The Killing Joke); the Joker isn’t the product of a single, terrible day — he’s something else entirely.
Where this gets sticky is that it isn’t clear that this Red Hood is the Joker, though I think Snyder and Greg Capullo go out of their way to imply it. Take, for example, the first appearance of the Red Hood in this issue: he’s telling a joke, he’s wearing a corsage, and he’s casually holding a gun in a way that reminded me of when the Joker shot Babs.
Moreover, his plan includes needlessly poisoning a group of hostages he could have easily controlled via threat of violence — if that doesn’t sound like the Joker, I don’t know what does. The issue ends with the line “The story continues in 2013” suggesting that it will play out as part of the upcoming Death of the Family arc, which will prominently feature the Joker.
But here’s the thing: I think Snyder is trying to fake us out. I trust that he has too much respect for the Joker to pin him down to a specific origin myth. If he did want to go with the story as presented in The Killing Joke, I would trust that he’d have too much respect for that story to change it as much as he would be here. The Joker’s Red Hood is not a psychopathic mastermind — he’s a hapless stooge who’d never broken the law in his life. I suspect Snyder wants us to think it’s the Joker, only to pull the rug out from under us down the line. He’s good at that kind of thing.
So now that I’ve managed to reconcile this issue with my perception of continuity, what did I actually think of it? Well, it’s hard to say. This isn’t so much a standalone one-off as it is a prologue to Snyder’s next arc. It has me excited for that arc (though let’s be honest, horse tranquilizers would still get me excited for that arc), but there’s not much in the way of substance here — it feels very prologue-y.
For substance, I was far more impressed by James Tynion IV’s back-up, which features all of Batman’s closest disciples in the earliest days of his existence. We catch brief glimpses of the lives of Jim, Babs, Tim, Jason, and Dick, just before the bat-signal is turned on for the first time. It’s a clever essay on the symbolic power of Batman, all the more impressive in that Bruce never makes an appearance. There’s so much to say about this issue, but I’ll have to save it for the comments. Instead, I’ll turn it over to Shelby with my favorite panel from that back-up, where Babs allows herself a private moment to bask in the awe of the signal herself.
Shelby: Drew, I’m going to be honest with you. After I read this title, I was really happy you were writing lead, because there are a lot of details to unpack, and I wasn’t sure where to begin. I’ll start with the “who is this Red Hood?” question. Obviously, my first thought was the Joker, and not just because of The Killing Joke. The only part of this guy we really see is that smile. That’s the feature the Joker is best known for, and it’s the only feature we have to identify with here. And, honestly, I wouldn’t mind if this was Snyder’s Joker origin. I don’t think taking this particular Joker origin and mooshing it to fit in the Gotham Snyder has created does any damage to the ambiguity of the Joker. I think a big part of making this (possible) origin story work will be anonymity; I don’t ever want to see this man as not the Joker. I don’t want to know his name. I don’t want to see the rest of his face. I want him to be Red Hood #1 in that ridiculous tube helmetmask until he becomes The Joker. Snyder may be sticking with elements of an origin we already know, but he’s retaining the idea that The Joker is only The Joker. He has no other past, he could be anyone; for me, that retains the elemental, horrifying nature the Joker has come to embody.
I loved Tynion’s backup story. It so simply and clearly lays out the influence Batman has had on Gotham; it sounds corny, but I immediately identified with Tim, Jason, Dick, and Babs as they looked up at that symbol in the sky. That adolescent awe they felt mirrored my own back in the day when I first discovered Batman. In those few short pages, I became another kid with them, looking up at the sky and day-dreaming about what that symbol means, what I could do with a domino mask and cape. If we possibly needed a reminder of why we love this character and universe so much, it’s right there on those kids’ faces as they look up at the Symbol in the sky.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?