Batman 0

Alternating Currents: Batman 0, Drew and ShelbyToday, 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?

26 comments on “Batman 0

  1. Hey, look at that – some Tim Drake action in the New 52 that I liked! I love seeing him as a detective (just as I love seeing Jason as sort of a thug and Dick as a show-off daredevil acrobat). Maybe that could have extended over to Babs – she didn’t really do anything Babs-y.

    • Haha, yeah, Tim is such a smug little shit in this. It’s okay, since he’s on the side of angels, but he’s still a bit of a dick. It fits the more Holmesian characterization of him that I’m so fond of.

  2. I don’t think the intention is to reference Killing Joke here. One of the possible Joker origins in Killing Joke shows Joker as an unwitting pawn forced to take the wrap for the Red Hood gang. I believe this is more of a shout-out to Detective Comics 168, the golden age comic which originally gave Joker’s origin to be the criminal Red Hood (which was an intentional and on-going gig for him in this original version)

    • Actually to comment again, it seems the purpose of this story is specifically to UNDO Killing Joke – in Killing Joke Moore gives multiple possible origins to re-affirm the fact that we have NO IDEA who Joker used to be (while still sort of shouting out DC 168) but here Snyder seems to be restoring a definitive origin to the character. Interesting since the mystery origin seems to have been a fan-favorite aspect of the character through the modern age of comics

      • I still kind of suspect that the Red Hood won’t turn out to be the Joker. Snyder has put in a lot of clues that they’re one in the same, but it feels like he’s trying to throw us off the trail.

      • Or we are speculating for the sake of speculation. I still feel like the missing #5 red hood thug COULD have been Joker. But we have no ground to confirm or deny that Scott wished to “undo” anything, namely something as historical as Moore’s Killing Joke.

        • It’s just my suspicion based on his tendency to much reference the tone or events of Moore’s Swamp Thing in his own run, and his Batman work seems little inspired by Moore either… more of a Dini style. I don’t suspect Snyder is much of a Moore fan

        • Continuity in the New 52 is pretty sticky, since we know the events of The Killing Joke occur (or at least portions of them), but that doesn’t mean the Joker’s memories actually happened. It’s not so much that I’m interested in Snyder’s motivations as I am interested in what it might mean, and to draw any conclusions, we need to speculate a bit.

        • I think the nature of the continuity of the New is such that you can’t say that any storyline did or did not occur. The Killing Joke “happened” only in so much as we’ve seen those events revisited in the New 52 (i.e. all that business in Batgirl 7 and 8). And even then – like you say Drew – that only confirms that portions of those events happened. But I don’t think that discounts the value (or the fun) in speculation – it just means that whenever we think we’re speaking with authority that we’re really just making educated guesses. Frankly, that makes it more fun.

        • Well we didn’t know if the origin events in Killing Joke ever occurred even in Killing Joke… the different origins given contradict each other and are meant to indicate Joker’s madness or failing memory. The point there was not to give a verifiable origin but instead to say “the Joker himself doesn’t even know who he is” more than anything. I think this is a definite step away from that since this is clearly not just in someone’s mind but actual events happening

        • Right, but I’m still unconvinced that the Red Hood in this issue is the Joker (or will become the Joker). There’s a lot of evidence to hold up that reading, but I hesitate to latch onto any of them, mostly because my gut says “fake-out.”

        • Oh yeah I definitely wouldn’t rule it out, but even if we find out Joker wasn’t Red Hood that’s confirming something definite right? And thus making the “we don’t know” aspect of Killing Joke moot

        • Ah. I understand what you’re saying now. I think there could be a way to show that this Red Hood didn’t become the Joker, while still being coy about the Joker’s origin. I’m a fan of the “we don’t know” origin, so that’s what I’m pulling for, anyway.

        • I agree since Killing Joke is a masterpiece IMO, but I do get a little thrilled when a good writer attempts a big-time shake-up of some kind, so I’m on the fence. Between this and Lincoln March he definitely has fans speculating though, which is always a good thing

  3. I’m a little confused, if other writers have posited Joker origin stories, and that hasn’t tarnished the ambiguity of the character’s roots, how is this potentially any different? Assuming that this is a Joker origin, of course.

    • Well the only time he had a definite origin was back in the early 50’s in that DetCom issue, and that was barely the Joker we recognize today. Since the evolution of Joker into the Joker we know-and-love-to-hate in the early 70’s he has never had a definite origin. Killing Joke was the closest thing – it shouts out the original origin but then makes it a point that this probably never happened or at least not the way described in the story

      • Right, but I still don’t see how Snyder maybe using this as the Joker origin for his universe at all removes that scary ambiguity the Joker is known for. There have been multiple origin stories for the Phantom Stranger, and (though Didio is definitely on the Judas train at the moment) he is still a wholly ambiguous character. We don’t know who exactly he is or where he came from.

        • I think pining down a past for him does remove some of that scary ambiguity. To me, he’s WAY scarier if he doesn’t have a past. The thought of him just emerging, fully formed, is much more interesting to me than seeing a normal guy fall into a vat of chemicals and emerge a psychopath. The less info we have about his past, the better.

        • There actually are a lot of people out there cranky about Phantom Stranger getting an identity even if its only implied… I’m fine with that one though. I’m going to see how the Joker thing plays out. I would have been like “Batman getting a super-villian brother is SO STUPID” if somebody had told me that was going to happen before I read the actual story… I think we’re in decent hands here for whatever happens. I hope so anyway

        • Oh yeah, no matter what, this story is going to be good, which is probably why I feel so comfortable speculating.

          As far as the Phantom Stranger, it seems like they still have given themselves enough wiggle-room for it to not be Judas, even if they’re implying it as hard as they can.

        • I think it’s basically okay since Deadman answers to a Hindu godess and Wonder Woman is part of the greek/roman pantheon now… why not acknowledge other existing religions as being confirmed influences on the DCU. As long as you’re not DISCREDITING any existing and especially any practiced religion with a well-known mythology anywhere

        • Oh, I wasn’t even considering it bothering somebody for religious reasons. I think the idea of trying to reconcile Christian theism with a council of wizards is kind of fun.

        • LOL, yeah most comic fans are just more upset because Didio changed the status quo of his origin… I find the priority of concern fanboys take to be comforting somehow

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