Today, Shelby and Spencer are discussing Batman 32, originally released June 25th, 2014.
Shelby: I prefer playing games where everyone knows the rules. Sure, there are some PC games out there where you’re just dumped in the game universe and have to figure out what to do and how to do it (Myst, I’m looking at you), but that’s different. That’s more me trying to solve a puzzle than not knowing the rules. If I’m going to play a game with other people, I want everyone to know the rules; what’s the fun in beating someone at a game they don’t know how to play? In Zero Year, Scott Snyder has had a very young Batman pitted against the Riddler in a game our hero has consistently lost. Personally, I think there are two big reasons Batman has been losing this fight: he assumes he knows the rules of the game, and he assumes the bad guy will actually abide by them.
Batman, Jim Gordon and his team of SEALS, and Lucius Fox are launching an assault against Nygma in the old Wayne Tower building. They believe that, with Jim’s team going through the flooded subway tunnels, Batman descending from an abandoned elevator shaft, and Lucius coordinating from the ground, they can finally stop Nygma. It’s not until one of the SEALS casually reveals they all have com links on their belts to signal their base to send in an airstrike that Batman figures it out. Nygma’s not there; he’s killed communication across the whole city, filled the tunnels below Gotham with explosives, and remotely triggered the SEALS com links. The city will sink in about 40 minutes, and the team has one more shot in the dark to stop it. Batman figures out the pattern from Nygma’s signals, and heads to where he thinks/hopes Nygma is hiding. Nygma is there, and he’s got a
funky disco party elaborate trap already set.
Oh Batman, when will you learn? Like I said in the intro, Batman’s failing this whole arc has been in his assuming he knows the rules of the game being played, and assuming the Riddler will follow them. This isn’t crime at the scale of some guy murdering a couple in an alley, or a mobster becoming a crime lord, this is psychopathy at its finest. This is a man who has no real motive outside of causing mayhem. Batman continues to operate under the misconception that he understands how this is going to play out. For all his ingenuity in trying to deal with the Riddler, he’s still thinking too much inside the box. It’s bit him on the ass time and time again, and this is his last chance to get it right. It’s interesting to think about this encounter in comparison to what Batman will face later, with the Court of Owls and especially with the Joker. The Riddler is like Joker Lite: Same Great Taste, with Half the Crazy! With the Joker, all bets are off, he is chaos incarnate. Nothing is sacred to the Joker, there are no rules. But the Riddler is playing a game, and there are rules to be followed. They’re loose rules, and they can change at the drop of a hat, but they exist.
I love that last panel; you can barely make out Batman clinging to the drone as they fall out of the sky. The effect is emphasized by the lack of background or panel dividers; it’s literally Batman just falling in empty space, with nothing to ground him. It highlights the enormity of the battle Batman is engaged in, and how small he is in the face of it. I wonder if we’re seeing things as the Riddler, for whom Batman is nothing more than a small annoyance, or as Batman, for whom this battle is so large as to be unwinnable. Spencer, what did you think of the penultimate issue of Zero Year? I for one have a hard time imagining this title going back to being anything BUT Zero Year, what about you?
Spencer: It’s been Zero Year for so long now that it does seem strange to think that soon we’ll be back to business as usual, and yeah Shelby, I’ll admit that I’m gonna miss this storyline. That said, I’m also eager to see what Synder and Capullo do next when we return to the present, not to mention how/if they use the events of Zero Year to inform these new stories.
Anyway Shelby, I love the idea you bring up about playing a game without knowing all the rules. Growing up I had a lot of friends who would “conveniently” forget to tell me some of the rules of a game so they could score a quick win (and I’m sure I probably did it to a few people too). These kids didn’t want to have fun and they didn’t even want the satisfaction that comes with beating a worthy opponent; all they wanted was the glory and quick ego boost of winning the game, no matter what they had to do to win it.
The Riddler is essentially just one of those kids. No matter what he’s told Gotham in the past, he’s not interested in challenging them nor in being challenged; he just wants to lord his “superior intelligence” above the people of Gotham to inflate his ego. He wants to be seen as infallible, so when someone like Batman comes along and proves to be a real challenge he has to cheat, to change the rules, because he can’t lose, he can’t fail, he can’t let people see him as weak. More than anything, the Riddler can’t learn from his mistakes — he likely can’t even admit to himself that he can make mistakes — and that makes him a stark contrast to Batman himself.
Stories from early in Batman’s career have always been popular, and one of the major reasons is because they give us a chance to see a Batman who is flawed, a Batman who can make mistakes and will, often. But unlike the Riddler, making mistakes and recovering from them allows Batman to learn and better himself. Moreover, knowing that he can keep fighting no matter how badly he screws up is a form of strength for Batman. Batman never gives up!
This is where Snyder and Capullo justify their choice of the Riddler as the big villain of Zero Year. Don’t get me wrong, even before this they had set Riddler up as somebody who — unlike many of his previous interpretations — was capable, dangerous, and downright scary, but he was still a strange choice to use in Batman’s origin story, if only because it had never been done before. Now, though, the Riddler’s inclusion makes perfect sense: not only does he run Batman through a gauntlet that makes him a better crime-fighter in every way, shape, and form, but the Riddler shows Batman the kind of man he can be just by being the exact opposite, the egocentric, brittle-willed coward to Batman’s tenacious, selfless knight.
Shelby, I too love how Capullo so often makes Batman small in this issue, and while I agree with your take on this approach, I also think it really helps add some oomph when Capullo finally does allow Batman to take up more space.
This page follows directly after the previous one I posted, and opens on Batman admitting he probably won’t make it back from this mission and telling Alfred he loves him; Capullo gives this beat the space it needs to play out with the proper gravity, but then immediately begins closing the camera in on Batman, with Batman growing larger and larger as his confidence grows, or perhaps as his patience for playing Nygma’s games finally reaches its breaking point. Either way, it’s no coincidence that Batman first takes command of a page just as he finally manages to come face-to-face with the Riddler.
Capullo, along with inker Danny Miki and colorist FCO Plascencia, also treat us to this gem of a page:
I don’t even have anything to say about it from a storytelling perspective, I just think this page is absolutely gorgeous and lovingly rendered, even if I’m not sure exactly who is responsible for all that detail on the glass window. It appears that this is part of a door at Arkham Asylum, though, and that makes me wonder, what does Arkham have to do with this issue? We never do find out where Riddler’s lair is, and Snyder seems to be going out of his way to avoid mentioning the location in the dialogue. Is Riddler’s lair in Gotham? If so, what significance does that have — and why does Snyder seem to determined to keep up the mystery surrounding this plot point? While we’re on unanswered questions, what does Bruce want with his new butler?
There’s still a lot of questions up in the air, which means that the grand finale of Zero Year should be absolutely phenomenal. Not that I ever doubted Snyder and Capullo, of course; from issue one this series has been quality, and it’s only gotten better since Zero Year began. Much like Batman, Snyder and Capullo never give up, never stop trying to top themselves no matter how high they set the bar each month, and that makes for some terrifically compelling comics.
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?