Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Batman 27, originally released January 22nd, 2014.
Shelby: We all know why Bruce Wayne became Batman: parents killed, city corrupted, a cowardly and superstitious lot, etc. We get it, we get Batman. But that has never been enough for Scott Snyder. Throughout his run on Batman, Snyder has forced Bruce to recognize his allies, and nearly lose them. In Night of the Owls, the very city of Gotham seemed to turn on Batman, and Death of the Family saw Bruce realize how important the Bat-family is to him just in time to nearly lose it (or actually lose it, the family certainly hasn’t been the same since). While on its surface, Zero Year is another retelling of the Batman origin, Snyder actually gives us a much closer look at Bruce’s motivations, and the beginnings of those relationships he grew to value so dearly.
Plot-wise, the story progresses along nicely. Nygma told the cops Batman used to be his ally, and then told them where he’d be and the best way to shoot him. Desperate, Batman ends up in the water on his own, until Gordon shows up in a boat to give him a hand. With the evidence he’d gathered from his encounter with Dr. Death, Bruce figures out his secret layer is appropriately located in Gotham’s catacombs, which Greg Capullo renders just as stunningly as one would expect.
There, Batman discovers that Death’s murder spree is just a by-product of his stealing stuff from his victims for a doomsday device which his boss, one E. Nygma, plans to detonate. Nygma logs on to the workstation computer long enough to confirm Batman’s suspicions, use a remote trigger to blow a hole in the wall, and gloat about his impending victory as the chamber fills up and Batman looks to drown in ocean and bone.
The two things I want to talk the most about are things I glossed over in my recap: a conversation with Gordon in the boat and a conversation with Alfred in the cave. These two men come to represent the two things most dear to Bruce, his city and his extended family, and here Snyder gives us a little more insight into these men. Gordon tells Batman he’s helping him because of Bruce Wayne. Remember last issue, Bruce’s story about feeling such hope to see the people of Gotham protected and grateful for that protection? Well, the rest of the story is that the coat was a bribe so the tailor shop could run a dog fighting ring. Gordon had a hunch, tried to stop it, and nearly got himself torn apart by animals for his trouble. He kept the coat as both a reminder to the rest of the force that he knows and is watching (like a certain be-cowled someone we all know) and as a reminder to himself for the shame he felt that night. The key part of this interaction for me is the trust that is built between these two men. Gordon urges Batman to take off his damaged cowl before it hurts him further, and he in turn gives Batman his glasses. That means Batman has to trust that Gordon can’t see him, but also that Gordon has to trust Batman to steer them through the night because he can’t fucking see anything.
Unbeknownst to Gordon is the fact that he is also winning the trust of Bruce. Hearing Gordon’s side of what happened that night gives Bruce a chance to see Gordon for what he is: a good man working within the confines of a corrupt system. Bruce and Batman showed up to fight a fight that Gordon had been losing because he was on his own, and I think this is the point Bruce begins to see Gordon as the ally he will become.
Not only do we get some closure on the image of the dogs tearing apart the bloody cloth last month, we also get closure on Bruce’s mysterious phone call from his “father.” That was actually Alfred, trying to find Bruce when he was on the lam. Then, he figured Bruce didn’t answer the phone because it had always been Alfred’s job to keep an eye on his behavior; Alfred was there to reign Bruce in as a child, so why would he help him to run now? But now, after seeing the Bat, Alfred figures Bruce pushed him and everyone else away because he’s angry. There was no one there for Bruce when he needed someone the most in that dark alley, so now he rather petulantly figures, “fine, I don’t need anyone anyway.”
I love this alternate, or additional maybe, interpretation of Bruce’s motives for becoming Batman. At this stage of the game, Bruce suffers from the young person disorder of I Know Better Than My Elders. He sees his quest as noble and holds it in high esteem, and honestly that’s how I’ve always seen it, too. He couldn’t do anything to stop the murder of his parents, but he’ll work to see justice done and to prevent the murder of other children’s parents; that’s noble as all hell. But Alfred’s suggestion that the Batman is born more out of anger and a desire to punish those around him for not doing their jobs reminds us of that darker side of the Batman coin. Alfred sees how easy it would be for Bruce to become a creature of vengeance instead of justice. Alfred is the first in the system of both support and checks and balances that Bruce will eventually find in the Bat-family, and it’s so great to see that starting here.
What with Dr. Death horrifying antics and Capullo’s bitching cover for this issue, I find myself thinking a lot about bones. Our bones hold us up, support and protect us. Snyder has shown us Batman’s bones with his other events: shown us those bones, and broken them. Here, we’re seeing those bones grow, and that is a process that can be just as painful. Drew, your thoughts?
Drew: Shelby, you absolutely nailed it: this issue is very much about Bruce growing into the role of Batman, which adds a sense of change and emotional immediacy that is lacking in a lot of Bat stories. That’s not for a lack of trying — writers are always coming up with ingenious new situations to put Batman in — but as I noted in our discussion of Detective Comics 27, Batman may very well be one of the most-written characters in all of fiction; it’s nearly impossible to say something new about him. Moreover, as an iconic character meant to exist into perpetuity, he can’t really change that much. Sure, you can give him a new sidekick or take away his black undies, but he better be a brooding, bat-themed crime-fighter or you simply aren’t writing Batman.
That leaves a pretty limited emotional range, and virtually no room for profound character development, but Snyder finds a lot of mileage in dialing the clock back. That is: he knows he can’t change the end-point, but that leaves the starting point (and whatever twists and turns in between) pretty mutable. That’s gratifying on an emotional level, but it also makes for a more exciting story: this isn’t the always-prepared, hyper-competent Batman we’re familiar with. He might screw up, he might misjudge people, heck, he might blunder into a criminal’s underground layer with no real plan for escape. His actions are going to surprise us, and surprise is a welcome thing in a Batman comic — especially a retelling of his origin.
That’s not to say this Batman is totally unrecognizable. Indeed, while the plotting has featured many surprises, this issue is rich in references to some of the most seminal Batman stories. I couldn’t help but think of Batman: Year One as Bruce goes toe-to-toe with the SWAT team, eventually making a watery escape, but Snyder made that allusion explicit when he has Gordon let Bruce know that he’s practically blind without his glasses.
It’s a clever re-contexualizing of a line that acts as a fun easter egg for hardcore fans without alienating newcomers. Those kinds of subtle nods are all over the place, from the Dark Knight Returns-esque lighting in the panel Shelby included, to the oddly familiar lyrics of the opening flashback.
As far as I can tell, those lyrics don’t come from any real-world song, but they do strongly recall the Joker’s famous line about the “pale moonlight” from Tim Burton’s Batman. Otherwise, that scene is incredibly opaque. It’s set in Tokyo, 1946, and short of a connection to the phrase “Tokyo Moon,” which has some mysterious significance to the story, we have no idea how this will relate to a Batman story set “six years ago.”
The point is: all of these allusions pay tribute to Batman stories of yore, even as this one seems utterly unbeholden to them. It’s no coincidence that the climax of this issue takes place in Gotham’s catacombs, a tomb so full of dead bodies that it could only accept bits and pieces of the dearly departed.
The skeleton of the story is completely borrowed — with DNA from many different sources — but those bones serve as the foundation of Snyder’s Gotham (and the Batman stories he sets there).
That analogy is too perfect for me to hope to top it, so I’ll conclude by updating you all on my assessment in the comments of our discussion of issue 26 (where I suggested that the second act of Zero Year lost some steam): Snyder has absolutely gotten his scent back. This issue rediscovers the heady mixture of the expected and the unexpected that made the conclusion of the first act so exciting. The conclusion here promises to propel us headlong into the third act, and I only hope next month’s intermission doesn’t drain the action of any momentum.
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