Review – Batman, Vol. 4: Zero Year-Secret City [No Spoilers]

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So I’m getting tired of the Joker, I think.

I thought Death of the Family was a great Joker story–it was deep, and like Court of Owls before it, it shows Scott Snyder’s incredible knowledge and understanding of the character of Batman/Bruce Wayne. It was a welcome arc at the time, as New 52 hadn’t seen the Joker since Detective Comics #1, which was also quite good.

Batman V.4This time around, it gets a bit redundant. In Zero Year-Secret City, we get the story of the first days of Batman in Gotham City, which again, is a welcome story for a skilled writer to tell, but what we get comes off as strained, forced, and ultimately redundant. This is, I think, because we get not just Batman’s origin story, but also that of the Joker’s. And the problem that comes with that is the problem that has faced theBatman mythos since a certain movie came out in 2008:

Is this Batman’s story, or is this the Joker’s story?

I honestly can’t tell which anymore. There is so much focus on the Joker in this collection, in his numerous monologues, and Bruce Wayne and Alfred spend so much time talkingabout the Joker, that the development of the character of Batman really takes a backseat to the Joker’s grandstanding. The force ofThe Dark Knight, and what it did for the popularity of an already very popular character, has reached a break point, in that a talented, knowledgeable writer is now churning out issues that use Batman to develop the Joker. Death of the Family knocked it out of the park–especially in Batman #17–but all the revisiting of those ideas and the underscoring of how this story is structured makes Batman tired for the first time under Snyder’s supervision.

What results is the weakest collection of Batman comics of the New 52. Snyder made his point about the nature of the relationship between Batman and the Joker expertly , thoroughly, and finally in the previous arc, and to go backward at this point seems the wrong play. There’s a richness to the Bat-verse that seems to be left on the table with each of these huge-concept, Joker-centric story arcs, and while we get a look at the Riddler as a sort of up-and-comer, DC only packages four issues in this collection (#21-24), so that becomes a cliffhanger to a story that has only been marginally developed throughout this particular, scant, and story-redundant trade paperback.

The two strengths of this collection can’t go un-discussed: Greg Capullo is in top form again, lending incredible detail to both the characters (the Zero Year Batsuit is off-the-charts cool) and to Gotham City that this might be the best work he’s done since he took on penciling duties for the book. The other nice surprise was the three backup features included at the end of this collection, in which we get short vignettes about how Bruce learned to do the stone cold things that Batman can do: drive, invent, and fight. There are Russian madmen, South American criminals, and one-eyed Viking queens to help him along, and even though they’re relatively short, Tynion and Snyder make the most of the short pages they have for these shorts and really show us some interesting, new moments from Batman’s in-training years.

Batman will probably always be my favorite comic book character, but I hope to see more focus on Batmanhimself in future volumes after Convergence. Since Volume 5 focuses on finishing the Zero Year event, and Volume 7 will tell yet another six-issue Joker story in Endgame, it might be a while before we get some distance between Batman and his archenemy. But with the rich pool of villains who have gone ignored for the past three-and-a-half years, I hope to see DC’s top creative team take on some of those characters before their run ends. Their work is top-notch, but I think it’ll be more remembered for how it treats the Joker rather than the hero who will always defeat him.

–  Vandal