“What do you love about Gotham, Bruce?”
In “Batman Volume 4: Zero Year – Secret City”, writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo begin their epic, exciting, and very personal story of Bruce Wayne’s journey from inquisitive child who suffers the horrendous loss of his parents to a man who molds himself into Gotham City’s protector. When Bruce’s father, Thomas, asks his son why he loves Gotham, the boy responds by saying that the city allows him to be anyone he wants to be. When exploring the city unattended, Bruce isn’t a member of the storied Wayne family that has a rich history and deep ties to the city. He can simply be a blank slate with which to build an identity of his choosing. Beneath the thrilling spectacle, intelligence, and deceptively bright world of Gotham (thanks to FCO Plascencia’s indispensable colors and Danny Miki’s distinct inking) lies the simple journey of a man who, through sheer will and determination (as well as heart) gains an identity and becomes who he was meant to be: a hero.
In the first few pages of the story, the reader is introduced to a Gotham City in ruins. A boy spears a fish in the bright blue water of a submerged subway. A post-apocalyptic Gotham is on display, with hoodlums chasing the boy in a desolate city during a bright dawn. FCO Plascencia’s colors add to Capullo’s detailed and horrendously gorgeous Gotham that jars the reader’s expectations of what’s to transpire in Snyder’s winding operatic story that effortlessly weaves Bruce’s past and present. The origin of Bruce’s iconic traits and gadgets are given new life in Snyder and Caullo’s opus. The reader is introduced to a man who will become the world’s greatest detective, a man built of sheer will and determination, and a man who always retained his inquisitive nature and ability to care deeply for others. And those wonderful toys don’t appear from the ether, but are actually a byproduct of Bruce’s ingenuity and training.
In “Secret City”, Snyder documents the blossoming of a lost young man searching for identity and purpose into a man on a mission. His Bruce Wayne is very much human and imperfect when he returns from his training missions around the world (which are fun back-ups in the first three issues that are co-written by Snyder and James Tynion IV, with superlative art by Rafael Albuquerque and painterly colors by Dave McCaig) . In one scene with Alfred Pennyworth, the reader observes the immature hotheaded young billionaire that the current Batman would find unrecognizable. Alfred chastises Bruce for wanting to keep the Bruce Wayne identity dead. After Alfred calls him a coward and says his parents would be ashamed, Bruce asks, “What good have you done in the world? Who’s the real coward?” Alfred slaps Bruce and the response of the two men that Capullo depicts through his are is perfection: two panels side by side have an eye of Alfred and an eye of Bruce. Through those two panels, reaction of shock and horror is truly palpable. He may be reckless with words and deeds, but Snyder’s pre-Batman Bruce still has that unrefined sense of mission bubbling up within him. This is a man that Snyder is definitely going to test so he may grow into the Dark Knight Detective that everyone is so familiar with.
The most important aspect of Batman’s identity is that mission. In one scene, Alfred asks Bruce why he is going after the Red Hood Gang. Bruce responds in the only way Batman would: “Dammit, Alfred–so no one has to go through what I did that night…that’s why. That’s the mission.” With tense face and intense eyes, the essence of Batman is broken down to those simple words of a man who lost his innocence at a young age and will stop at nothing to prevent the same thing from happening to others. Snyder, in his story, makes Bruce empathetic and into a fully realized character. As a child, Bruce’s descent into the cave that will eventually become the Bat-cave is depicted in scenes interspersed throughout the story. The cave scenes are just some of Capullo’s artistic triumphs in this book. Bruce’s battle with the leader of the Red Hood Gang and his minions in his torched Crime Alley living quarters is prefaced with a page of Thomas Wayne looking down the hole leading to the cave. He calls Bruce’s name as Plascencia’s use of fiery red and orange light the sky above Thomas. Blood trickles down the stark black of the page as a panel focuses on a lock. Symbols and cave imagery such as this are shown with no context, yet are revisited later on in powerful, almost operatic, ways.
Greg Capullo is a master of dynamic, and often fist-pumping-inducing action sequences. Many of these moves are made by Batman during his battle against the Red Hood Gang at A.C.E. Chemical. In one gorgeous page, the horror of a flying human bat is displayed hovering over the gang as one yells, “It’s the bat!” Batman is graceful in battle, as one leg kicks as the other bends behind him as he flies through the air. Even in physical confrontations, Batman is artful. When he flips upside down, in an almost balletic fashion, he lands a kick right to the face with satisfaction emanating from even the simple whites of the Bat-cowl’s eye slits. In two panels, he even utilizes stairs in a fun way. With the use of a grappling hook and a gang member, he rides the goon like a bucking bronco down a flight of stairs and utters, “Yee-ha”, proving that, yes, Batman does have a sense of humor. As he goes up the flight of stairs, he uses tumbling goons as human stairs in another display of a mixture of the ridiculous and the awesome. Capullo, as evidenced by this scene alone, is shown to be as adept with scenes of personal interaction as he is with good old fashioned fight scenes.
Symbolism is prevalent throughout the story, which is appropriate for a man who dresses as a bat. When Bruce meets Edward Nygma (the future Riddler), the reader is able to see the first encounter between a future hero and villain in the Egyptian wing of a museum. Capullo, through yet another inventive storytelling technique, has the conversation between Bruce and Edward occur within an oroboros, which, according to Edward, is “the circular beast that recreates itself by eating its own parts.” Bruce becomes angry with a riddle that Edward poses to Bruce and which is easily solved by the future Dark Knight. The oroboros is certainly symbolic of what both Bruce and Edward will go through as they evolve and transform into something new and more powerful than their old selves.
In Bruce’s speech to Gotham City, he describes his hometown as “transformative”. Gotham is a hellhole of a place. He wonders why the denizens of the city remain in a place that seems to only bring everyone down to the darkest depths of despair. Yet if one perseveres through the trials and “fire”, “you will emerge changed. Burned down to that self you knew was there all along, the one you came here to be. The hero.” Snyder (as well as co-writer Tynion in the back-up stories of the first three issues) and Capullo eloquently allow Bruce’s love of his city to transform him into a hero. He may have suffered horribly over the loss of his parents, but that Bruce sheds any youthful insecurity and recklessness to become reborn as a symbol and a “bigger truth” as Batman. Bruce loves Gotham because it transformed him into the man and hero he was meant to be. It needs his protection.
This opening salvo of Scott Snyder’s origin of Batman in “Zero Year – Secret City” is the beginning of a story that can stand deservedly alongside the best of Batman’s many classic tales. Along with Snyder, artist Greg Capullo, inker Danny Miki, and colorist FCO Plascencia, the Bat has a team of creators that truly love the character and his mythos. Theses creators’ symbiotic relationship elevates the writing and art to a level that transforms a complex story into one that seems effortless and natural.
Batman Volume 4: Zero Year – Secret City
Written by: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV (back-up stories)
Art: Greg Capullo and Rafael Albuquerque (back-up stories)
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: FCO Plascencia and Dave McCaig (back-up stories)
Letters: Nick Napolitano, Taylor Esposito, and Dezi Sienty
Publisher: DC Comics
Original Publication Date: May 14, 2014