“Zero Year” has defied expectations. Every time it seems like the story’s a new version of (insert “Batman” storyline), the book’s taken a swerve, added a new element, or just plain confounded expectations. At this point, I’ve given up trying to guess what Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are doing in “Batman” (it’s not “Year One” or the flashback from “The Killing Joke” or “Cataclysm” or “Detective Comics” #29), and am just sitting back and enjoying the ride. Needless to say, that’s the best attitude to take.
Now more than ever, “Batman” #25 feels like Snyder’s attempt to do what the New 52 was supposed to have done all along to the DC Universe; take advantage of starting things over and give everything a fresh coat of paint. “Batman” #25 recasts a lot of Batman’s origin into a modern viewpoint. It’s hard to not look at the looming super-storm Rene and think of super-storm Sandy, or even hurricane Katrina. It’s instantly identifiable to modern comic readers, and hopefully grabs their attention in a way that speaks to them. At the same time, though, there are some nods to the old city nature of Gotham. The souped-up Batmobile (which eagle-eyed readers might remember from an earlier issue, in a slightly different form) is a mix of old-school greased lightning and retro drag, and there’s something attention-grabbing about the police piloting zeppelins across Gotham’s skyline. It feels wonderfully inventive and strange and enticing, which is just what I want from a comic.
There are some fun nods to the past, though. A villain that appears at the end of the issue goes all the way back to some of the earliest “Detective Comics” stories with Batman, and that’s to say nothing of other familiar faces like Pamela Isley or Lucius Fox. With the Red Hood Gang off in the background for now, it’s also a chance for new mysteries to start to get picked apart, like the formula causing victims’ bones to grow hideously out of control. It’s there that Capullo is at his strongest, drawing the strange and twisted end result in a way that needs to be seen from multiple angles to truly understand what’s happened. On the whole, this is definitely one of Capullo’s nicer issues; lots of strange things to draw, and I like how he draws a stream of bats to look almost like a series of shadows escaping from the underground. Their silhouettes are far more effective than a perfectly rendered bat ever would be, and it was absolutely the right decision. I do wish that FCO Plascencia had toned down some of the colors, though; there are a few scenes — anything in the Batcave in particular — that feel like they’ve been attacked by a blacklight, with their unnatural glow.
The backup story this month by Snyder, James Tynion IV and Andy Clarke brings Harper Row and her brother Cullen back into the picture, but at a younger age amidst the events of “Zero Year.” It’s really more of a mood piece than anything else, letting readers see not only what they’re like at that age but how the world is viewed by kids as the heroes all start to appear across the DC Universe. It’s honestly a little forgettable, but pleasant, and Clarke’s meticulously drawn pages sure are gorgeous as ever.
There’s still so much up in the air with “Batman” #25 that it’s almost a relief to know that anything can happen. With unexplained elements like the “holy door in the floor” still floating around (and which is especially attention-grabbing thanks to the way that Capullo draws it being opened up), to say nothing of Rene bearing down on Gotham City and the Riddler still at large, there’s a lot that remains to be seen. With each new chapter, “Zero Year” feels like a story that will best be appreciated once it’s complete. It’s already a lot of fun, but watching all the pieces snap into place should prove to be that much more rewarding.