Drew: Adults are very good at pretending to know what they’re doing. Indeed, they’re so good, most folks don’t figure this out until they’re already in the midst of pretending to know what they’re doing themselves, and by then, they’re already adults. It’s almost a secret that there’s basically nothing that qualifies us to have jobs, pay rent, get married, have kids, and whatever else it is that grownups do. You’re not going to be adequately prepared for these things by the time you start doing them, and you’re only going to get better through trial and error. It’s that “error” part that’s scary — nobody wants to lose their job, home, spouse, or kids — but fortunately for us, the stakes of any single mistake are relatively low. Batman, on the other hand, has always played for much higher stakes — typically the wellbeing of his hometown — and Batman 30 explores just what happens when he isn’t up to the challenge.
This issue finds Bruce waking up in the midst of Zero Year. He survived the weather balloon crash, but just barely, and was nursed back to health by a family living in the Bell Towers. He’s missed a lot, as the Riddler has established his own riff on No Man’s Land/Knightfall/The Dark Knight Rises, where Gotham is held hostage until one of its residents can stump him with a riddle. Meanwhile, Gordon has been coordinating with some federal agency in hopes of taking the Riddler down. Of course, the Riddler discovers them, and would have killed them if not for the quick thinking of a newly recovered Batman.
I hope the list of similar stories didn’t sound too dismissive — while these are certainly elements we’ve seen in Batman stories before, I think they’re given new life by being part of Batman’s earliest days. This story isn’t just interesting because it’s the biggest thing we’ve seen Batman face (because let’s be honest: they all are the biggest thing he’s ever faced), but because he’s still learning, he’s still screwing up, he’s still getting better. Zero Year is part of the crucible that forged the ever-capable, ever-in-control, über-competent, very grown-up Batman we’re already so familiar with.
Indeed, the story is so much about Bruce’s worthiness that it’s hard not to see some of writer Scott Snyder’s anxiety about writing the origin creeping in. Snyder has a reputation as a particularly cerebral writer, so it makes sense that the Riddler would be his ultimate adversary — but what does the Riddler represent?
I’m going to go ahead and suggest that he’s a twisted manifestation of overgrown fandom, the kind of continuity-philes that would concern themselves with a writer’s “qualifications” for re-writing the origin of their favorite character. Note the tweaks to Nygma’s appearance: the scruffy, ill-advised facial hair and the swapping out of the traditional bowler for a fedora — the calling card of nerd assholes everywhere. I don’t mean to suggest that Snyder feels this way about all of his fans, or even that he dislikes the fans that the Riddler seems to embody here — indeed, as with most Riddler stories, I suspect this will only be resolved with Batman beating Nygma at his own game, thus honoring the riddle while still asserting his dominance. It’s a “have your cake and eat it, too” setup, and I think it’s the best possible response to anyone besmirching Snyder’s ability to re-write Batman history.
Heck, it may actually be Snyder trying to convince himself. For all of the justification we get in the Zero Year portion of the story, the flashback bits (the “How I Came To Be” stuff) takes up only a tiny fraction of the issue — two pages — and largely serves only to remind us of the impact the Wayne’s murders had on Bruce. Snyder and artist Greg Capullo pull off a similar — albeit much subtler — effect later in the issue, as they give Bruce a moment to question his motives before he moves to act.
This scene comes on the heels of Alfred imploring Bruce to give up the Batman — he can do more good from the Manor, the argument goes — but seeing that street lamp (the streetlamp, under which his parents were killed) is all the reminder Bruce needs for why he fights. The scene loses some power by virtue of the fact that we already know Bruce would never give up (honestly, this issue spent a lot of time dwelling on what was for me an entirely foregone conclusion), but it’s strong enough to make me willing to pretend that there was some doubt.
What do you think, Scott? Maybe that scene is a bit more autobiography, and Snyder really did consider throwing in the towel (or at least writing something safer)? I do like the idea that simply reaffirming Bruce’s origins is enough to keep him going, but maybe I’m reading too far into it. Shoot. I’m the Riddler, aren’t I?
I didn’t pick up on the autobiographical overtones you mentioned, but I like what you’re getting at. Bat-nerds slide into the role of the Riddler nicely — restless with the Gotham-held-hostage retread the same way Nygma is bored with Gotham’s failure to challenge his intelligence. Snyder is surely aware that this set-up isn’t wholly original, and is putting himself into a dangerous spot; now he/Batman needs to thwart the expectations of fans/Nygma while respecting Batman history/the riddle. While we can be fairly confident Batman won’t fail, Snyder still could. Disappointing fans is an ever-present risk for writers, but Snyder is playing for exceptionally high stakes. The next few issues could cement or muddy his Batman legacy.
The main problem I see with setting an arc six years in the past is that it doesn’t allow for anything too surprising to happen. No, Bruce isn’t going to give up and Gotham isn’t going to be irreparably destroyed. Snyder draws extra attention to that dilemma by having Nygma pontificate about the future — a future we’ve already seen!
There’s a brilliant irony behind his rant. It’s possible Gotham may someday succumb to rising tides or overpopulation, but what’s certain is that it will be seized by another maniac with equally grand ideas. This scenario will happen again. And again. Just not in the manner Nygma envisions. Be it Bane or whomever, copycat supervillains are Gotham’s true future.
Drew, the streetlamp you mentioned serves as motivation for Bruce, but for Snyder’s part it’s also a clever take on the lightbulb-going-off-in-someone’s-head moment. Maybe a broken streetlamp represents an idea that isn’t fully formed, but in this case is worth trying anyway. Bruce isn’t sure how things will shake out, but he’s going for broke. Perhaps we can say the same about Snyder.
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?