Batman 24

batman 24Today, Scott and Spencer are discussing Batman 24, originally released October 9th, 2013.

Scott: It’s not enough just to tell a Batman origin story anymore. We know that story. The Bruce Wayne story. Bruce watches his parents die, he runs away, he trains, he becomes a great warrior, he returns to his city and his fortune, he fights crime, yada yada yada. It’s a great story and it’s fun to read, it’s just that, in this Bat-saturated day-in-age, it’s not enough. It’s not enough to see how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, we need to see how Batman becomes Batman: The Legend. Finally, Scott Snyder is giving us a look at how the myth of Batman is born, or rather, carefully constructed by Bruce and his trusty aide, Alfred Pennyworth. The ensuing story doesn’t just feel like new. It feels like enough. (And I mean that in a very good way.)

Batman 24 opens with a scene we’ve seen dozens of times in comics, films and on television: a group of criminals are toiling away in the dark of night when one of them becomes afraid. Afraid of the masked vigilante they keep hearing about, the one who lurks in the shadows. Of course, the leader of the group denies the existence of this figure, writes it off as a myth, but it’s the familiarity of this doubt that solidifies the truth behind the fear. This scene always plays out the same way and we know it. Scott Snyder knows it. Does that mean it’s overdone? Lazy storytelling? Hardly. This scene reoccurs so often because it is an essential part of Batman. Batman doesn’t exist without the fear. Or the doubt. This is Snyder letting us know, before we see it, that Batman is out there. Be afraid.

Welcome to Bat CountrySo, at last, we have Batman. It feels good. But his presence won’t stop the Red Hood Gang. In fact, it will only hasten their efforts. Bruce knows the Gang has been stealing large quantities of chemicals from around Gotham, but can’t figure out their end game. And he’s running out of time. Finally, he sees it: they’re planning to explode poisonous chemicals all around the city on the 15th anniversary of the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne.

Bruce leads TV crews, and the cops, to the chemical plant where the Red Hood Gang is operating. The gang causes enough of a distraction to allow Bruce entry into the plant, where he enacts his own plan- with Alfred’s help. They shut off the power at the plant, and in the darkness Bruce becomes Batman. But they’ve fiddled with the Gang’s night-vision goggles to make it look as if Batman saves Bruce.

Seeing double

This is a brilliant touch by Snyder. As Alfred later says, “Batman’s legend begins with the rescue of Bruce Wayne. Their separation is cemented into the foundation of the mythos.” Now, no news stories, water-cooler conversations or playground chatter could ever speculate that Bruce Wayne is the man behind the mask. Batman’s veritability comes from being seen alongside Bruce Wayne. Alfred’s larger point is that no one will connect Bruce to Batman simply because they want to believe in Batman as something larger than life – and believing means never knowing who is under the mask. I like this idea, too, but I also think there’s enough cynicism in Gotham that somebody will eventually point out that Bruce always has to run to the bathroom right before Batman appears. Making this distinction between them will go a long way.

Batman stops the Red Hood Gang and, as the chemical plant is going up in flames, attempts to save their leader, Red Hood One. Instead, Red Hood One willingly dives into a vat of acid. End of story, right? Not so fast. Other Gang Members identify Red Hood One as Liam Distal, whose body is soon found not in the vat, but rather in a barrel of lye near Amusement Mile. Translation: at some point, someone killed Distal and took over as Red Hood One, though it’s impossible to say when this happened. Bruce even speculates that the man who fell into the vat wasn’t Red Hood One, but some patsy, while the real leader of the Gang — the guy who killed Distal — escaped into the night.  It’s certainly tempting to believe this theory as part of an origin story for the Joker.

My brother Drew, a much more astute reader and well-versed Batman historian than I, made a great observation about this issue. The name Liam Distal is likely an oblique reference to early Batman writer Bill Finger (Liam being the Irish version of William; distal meaning a part situated far from the center of a body, ie. a finger or toe). Oblique as it may be, the reference does have some significance. Many believe Finger played a role in creating Batman, but since Bob Kane takes sole credit for the character, it’s unclear how significant Finger’s contributions may have been. It’s also unclear what role Liam Distal plays in this story, and whether Bruce ever interacted with him at all, but it remains possible that his actions led directly to the creation of Batman. I’m sure Spencer or Drew will have deeper insights as to what Snyder means by this reference (as well as the more direct and unflattering reference to Bob, that is Phillip Kane).

So Spencer, what was your take on this issue? I was blown away by Snyder’s effort to build up the myth around Batman, but there is so much else going on that I didn’t get to mention. Also, at the beginning of the issue we’re introduced to a Red Hood member who claims to be a chemistry teacher. A chemistry teacher who turns to a life of crime? Am I allowed to take this as a nod to Walter White, or is that just my grief over Breaking Bad ending getting the better of me?

Spencer: You know, I’ve still yet to actually watch Breaking Bad (it’s in my Netflix queue I swear), but it’s still the obvious connection to make to that Red Hood member, so nah, I don’t think it’s just grief.

As for the Bill Finger and Bob Kane observation, I too think it’s spot-on (nice work there Drew), but comparing Philip Kane to Bob Kane might actually be letting Bob Kane off too easily. Philip Kane ultimately redeems himself in this issue, giving Bruce vital information and sacrificing himself to save Batman’s life (and he doesn’t even know Batman is Bruce, thus making his actions even more selfless), while Bob Kane…well…let’s just say that, while we may never know the exact circumstances behind Batman’s creation, history makes a pretty damning argument against Kane. Check out this article about Bob Kane from ComicAlliance’s Batman Historian Chris Sims (and while you’re reading it, be sure to check out the picture of Bob Kane’s tombstoneyikes—and the linked article about comic legend Jim Steranko’s encounter with Kane). I dunno, ol’ Phil is starting to look like a saint in comparison.

Anyway, I think Snyder’s biggest success with Zero Year so far has been the fact that he’s created an origin story that is respectful and, to an extent, even faithful to what came before, yet he’s also very much made it his own, and this issue exemplifies this, down to its tiniest details. Take this scene with Commissioner Lieutenant Gordon, for example:

The ol "fake gun" trick; fools em every time!I don’t know how many of you have read early Batman comics, but the first year or so of his publication (back around 1939-1940) looks very weird to modern readers, and a large part of that is because Batman was still developing as a character. For example, for the first few issues he used guns. It wasn’t uncommon to see Batman straight up pop a cap in his opponent Grand Theft Auto style, and one title page even has Batman hunched, about to attack, his hand on a gun in a holster on his utility belt. It’s all very disarming to read nowadays, and I can’t help but view the above scene with Gordon as a reference to those old issues. Just like in those old issues, it’s disarming to see Batman pull a gun on Gordon, but it turns out it’s just a bean bag gun, and it seems to put just enough doubt in Gordon that he allows Batman to escape. Again, here’s Snyder referencing what came before, but clearly making it his own, and I love it.

(The rest of this issue was filled with other Easter Eggs too. Take a look again at that first image Scott posted; it’s a loving homage to the cover of Detective Comics 27, which featured the very first Batman story:

det27Batman’s prototype costume here also comes equipped with garish purple gloves, which was a feature of Batman’s original 1939 costume, and hey, did any of you notice any familiar Gotham faces on Philip Kane’s wall?

I'm sure everything worked out fine for those twins, right?A story cannot subsist of references alone, but when the story is as strong as what Snyder gives us this issue, than finding these Easter Eggs turns into a fun game and a thrilling compliment to the rest of the issue.)

Snyder also gives us Bruce’s stirring monologue on why he loves Gotham City. Bruce claims that Gotham puts its citizens to the test and brings them out as better people in the end, which is a theory Snyder has been pushing ever since his earliest Batman stories with Dick Grayson over in Detective Comics. While I love the idea of treating Gotham like a character in its own right, I’ve always had a tiny bit of an issue with this interpretation. I mean, it’s all well and good if Gotham makes you a better person, but you’re much more likely to die or become a villain than to make it through in one piece, and personally, I’d much rather live a life of wasted potential in some other city than die bettering myself in Gotham.

Despite that, though, I enjoyed this scene. Bruce’s speech is a welcome, uplifting contrast to Red Hood One’s nihilism, and it goes a long way towards not only justifying why people actually stay in Gotham, but also to explain why Bruce is so adamant about protecting it above all else. Gotham is so important to Batman that it becomes important to me as well, no matter how much I’d hate to actually live there.

It probably goes without saying, but Snyder doesn’t deserve all the credit on this issue. Penciller Greg Capullo (and the rest of his art team) does amazing work as always. I love his new Bat-suit design; it doesn’t look sloppy or hastily thrown together, but it’s still obviously a first draft.

With this issue’s expanded page count, meanwhile, Capullo has the chance to go all-out with his fight scenes, bringing us battles that are dynamic, brutal, creative, and occasionally even humorous.

Bat-RodeoHonestly, this issue was just an absolute joy to read. I actually got into a minor argument with some random guy on Twitter about whether $6.99 is too much for a single issue, but whether it is or not, I think it was worth every single penny (giant or otherwise). There’s something for everyone: exciting, cinematic storytelling and action, insight into Batman, Bruce Wayne, and Alfred, a respectful Joker origin story and equally respectful homages to Batman’s past, gorgeous artwork, and even a chance to dig deeper and assign this story our own meaning. Zero Year might just be the best year ever.

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?

27 comments on “Batman 24

  1. Not a big fan of the haircut, to be frank. Now Spencer, I’m sorry to derail your earth-shaking fashion debate, but I’ve been waiting since last Wednesday to discuss Red Hood One/Joker, so here goes the hi-jack!

    My question to everyone is, what theory do you subscribe to as this Joker’s origin. Snyder gives us several possibilities but honestly, there’s only one that really seems plausible to me, and that’s Joker taking over for RH1 before Batman ran into him the first time. For one thing, I’m pretty sure Batman having trained to be a great detective (though obviously he’s still lacking experience), he’d have noticed a switch-a-roo if RH1 had been a different guy in successive encounters. Plus, this Liam Distal character was a known thug, how likely is it that he’d have no DNA record to match what Bats got off of RH1 a few issues back.

    Aside from that, the other theories don’t really seem to add up logically. Back in the Killing Joke, the crooks convince “Joe” of putting on the Hood because it’s supposed to not be dangerous and they have leverage on him. In the scenario where RH1 flees the scene at ACE chems and leaves the Hood to someone else, how do you convince a poor schmuck that an exploding chemical plant is gonna turn out ok? How would this guy happen to look and sound enough like RH1 not to raise Batman’s suspicions? Where would the crook beneath the Hood be ever since these events, turned straight? Seems doubtful. I think the same argument stands for the theory that RH1 wasn’t at the plant at all and sent a decoy; he’d need some serious convincing and some major acting chops, plus a stature/chin that fit the part.

    So, even though I really dig Alfred’s line of Bruce playing “multiple choice” as an homage to Joker saying if he has a past, he’d rather it be multiple choice, it seems to me that the only plausible origin for our new Joker is that he took over for RH1 willingly and masterminded the gang’s actions for some time, meaning he was a crook (and possibly a bit nuts) before the chemical bath. I don’t know how I feel about it yet, being as that’s quite a departure from what we knew before, but I know that Snyder’s theories seem to be mostly smoke in mirrors to avoid major backlash for giving Joker a definite origin.

    What do y’all think?

    • I personally have no problem with the Joker being a criminal before he fell into those chemicals, it’s actually closer to the Paul Dini version in Batman: Black and White and the Animated Series. I never really thought The Killing Joke’s origin was that good, to be honest, and I certainly never thought of it as the truth. Even if the Red Hood One we came to know was indeed the Joker, I think it doesn’t preclude him from having “one bad day” that changed his life, it just wasn’t the same day he got that chemical bath. That’s really the only significant difference here, that the Joker may’ve developed some of his nihilistic ideas before he fell into those chemicals. Otherwise, he’s still very much a mystery. I don’t know, I personally have really enjoyed this version of the Red Hood.

      All in all, this really was a fantastic issue. With the added page count it may be the best single issue of the run yet. Unlike a lot of people, I wasn’t instantly on board with Snyder on Batman totally, but at this point he’s really earned the hype he gets in my opinion.

      • Like I said, I don’t necessarily hate the idea that he was a criminal before the chemicals, and your “one bad day” argument coming earlier in life totally works. Mostly, I just think the other “options” Snyder gives for who fell into the vat don’t really hold up.

        Also, and this is for you or anyone else, but I feel like I’m the only fan who doesn’t think this story is the best thing since sliced bread. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s quite good, but to me the first 2 arcs were better (Court and Joker), and maybe that’s my problem really; I loved those so much that everything else seems to pale in comparison. Still, Snyder’s always delivered thus far so I trust this’ll grab me more eventually.

        Lastly, and this is somewhat off-topic, but I’m still ultra-disappointed that I couldn’t get my hands on the variant cover for this issue. My local shop is small and they were only ordering 13 copies and you needed at least 25 to get a variant, and online the prices have already rocketed to like 25-30$ a copy. I would have gladly shelled out like 15$ for it, but not 30, and not on top of having already bought the regular issue at cover price.

      • Joker origin in The Killing Joke was the best.Joker as gangster before he became Joker is stupid for me.This dramatic and sad origin in Killing Joke was more convincing.

        Read this two opinions:

        “The Killing Joke is a comic book filled with mirrors. It even takes place in a House of Mirrors. The Joker’s origin story is meant to reflect Batman’s. Batman was a rich kid who lost his mind when his parents were killed so it makes sense that Joker would be a poor guy who lost his wife and kid and went insane as a result of it.

        The chemicals had nothing to do with it really. The “one bad day” did this to him, just like it transformed Bruce Wayne into Batman. If the chemicals had something to do with it, the comparison just would not work as well. Basically, the chemicals are just there to illustrate the difference between who he was and who he has become, exactly like Batman’s costume.

        I really hope the Red Hood Leader turns out to be someone else because him being the Joker just would not work as well thematically. The transformation from who he was to the Joker needs to reflect the transformation from Bruce Wayne to Batman. The 1951 original origin story was fine but it would really be a shame to go from something as elaborate as what Moore did with it to something so lame and meaningless.”

        “I absolutely agree with both these statements. The crux of the Joker’s character is that not only is he a failure of Batman’s efforts on his mission to save Gotham, he is also a twisted mirror of who Batman is. One bad day turned him into who he is just as one bad day started Bruce down his path. They’re reflections on each other and it’s villains like this that bring out the best confrontation with the hero. Despite me liking some of Snyder’s work such as Court of Owls and Superman Unchained, I do feel his recent Batman work has suffered from stale storytelling and a lack of thematic elements.

        If this is a hinted Joker origin, it removes the mystery of the character or to quote a no longer present Viner “There was nothing before the Joker, there was a man who had no yet become. It was a chrysalis state. It is like telling a butterfly that it was once a caterpillar in a cocoon. That no longer matters, because it is a butterfly now. The Joker exists. That is what matters to him. The past is just something to play with, it holds no merit. Nothing does to the Joker.” That sums up what the Joker is more than what Snyder has done.”

        • This is a compelling argument for a compelling interpretation, but honestly, I think the most compelling thing about the Joker is that there isn’t a fixed origin story. I mean, yes, from one point of view, the thought of Joker being the product of one bad day provides a compelling reflection of Batman’s origin, but from another point of view, the thought of him having no fixed origin, in contrast with Batman’s well-known origin, provides the most satisfying contrast.

          My point is not to advocate for one or the other, but to say that how we evaluate these is totally subjective. If you approach a new story with “why isn’t this as good as the thing I already like?” you’ll come up with some very compelling reasons why it’s inferior, but approaching that same story with “what does this reveal about the characters that the old story didn’t?” you might end up thinking about the old story in new ways. That’s not to say you won’t still prefer the Killing Joke, but you’ll most certainly get more out of Zero Year.

    • For me, it doesn’t matter. The Joker didn’t exist before the Joker started existing — whoever became the Joker decidedly was not the Joker before that moment. That said, I think it’s interesting that the questions are only brought up in the back-up — the feature more or less presents this as Joker’s origin. I think that question mark is important, but this is actually a fantastic definitive version of the Joker’s origin, right down to the dilated pupils RH1 has when he gets his first good look at Batman.

      Still, I’m happy to let the question mark stand. We don’t know — and I don’t think we should know — who Joker was before this, or if he may or may not have been someone Batman interacted with before that night (it’s also possible that whoever became the Joker didn’t fall into that tank).

      I’m much more interested in how that question mark fits with the questions surrounding the creation of Batman. The opinion that Finger played a key role is popular and likely correct, but it’s still only Kane’s name that appears under the “created by” line, so it seems like there’s room for controversy. I can’t help but think Snyder and Tynion made the reference so oblique to “get away” with a suggestion they might not be able to get into the issue otherwise.

  2. My favorite thing about this issue was the “people want to believe in Batman” speech. Snyder’s run has always been a love letter by-way-of-remix to the character, the mythos, and their many iterations, but that speech really got down to the magic of Batman specifically, and fiction more generally. Batman has power because we want him to have power. Actually, it also elevates the importance of the audience in making Batman Batman, which is the perfect fit for an issue that’s already full of elevating the power of the fiction and its creators.

    I’m so jealous I didn’t get to write this issue up.

    • There’s actually a lot of good meta-messaging about the power of these stories how they actually help us deal with life. Like the whole speech about Gotham making you stronger… it doesn’t mean much to say that a fictional city teaches fictional characters how to be tougher, but there’s a direct connection to the way we take in these little morality plays and apply the lessons to our own lives.

      As this issue came out so close to our up-and-down experience at NYCC, I couldn’t help but read it as a comment on superhero comics in general. It’s true that there’s a lot of shit to wade through – cross-overs and shitty fans and cash-grabs – but we take it all in because there is something totally worth it at the heart of reading comics.

  3. Great issue. I really like that Riddler’s going to be the overarching villain of the whole run. It’s about time my favorite bat-rogue got a defining story. His motivation is weird though. “Making Gotham smarter” just seems ripe for Snyder to spout out some huge metaphor rather than give reasoning behind his motivation.

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