Review: Batman #29 "Zero Year: Dark City"

Every issue could be your first issue, even if that issue happens to be more than halfway through the point of a story. I’ve been reading Batman only in bits and pieces since Death of the Family concluded, meaning I’ve not been very up-to-date on the Zero Year storyline.

But the basic gist comes across very quickly when you start reading issue #29, which made me interested in going back and collecting up all the rest of the storyline. Writer Scott Snyder is riffing on some familiar themes with the storyline, retelling the death of Batman’s parents, giving us a battered but not-defeated James Gordon, and over the top villainous distractions from The Riddler. But there’s something intriguing and interesting about this ramshackle collection of story elements, when placed together in this bizarre order.

First things first: this is an issue which is dominated entirely by Fco Plascencia, whose colouring makes a lot of bright and bold and unexpected choices. He’s asked to do all the most difficult things in colouring – drawing water, sequences during a rainstorm, night scenes – only to pull off everything asked of him. One of the best parts of the issue is the framing device, which wraps the death of Batman’s parents around the current storyline, attempting to tie the two moments together and show how damaged Bruce Wayne is.

Whilst that doesn’t altogether work – the final page of a young Bruce Wayne watching his parents die as in the present moment, older Bruce Wayne watches the Riddler carry off a series of murderous strikes on Gotham comes across as somewhat too melodramatic to have an emotional weight – Plascencia’s colouring conveys a sense of melancholy. Eschewing sepia in favour of a warmer, but still faded colouring palette, he emphasises the brightness of the eyes, making them feel incredibly alive and present.

And Greg Capullo, at this point, is basically showing off. He starts off the flashback sequence without a panel border, then draws a seven-panel page sequence which all-but-invites you to look at the sequence as short, captured moments of memory before breaking out of the panel borders again as we fade away from these memories and back to the present. Elsewhere, he shows a continued remarkable ability to keep to a monthly schedule whilst pushing every aspect of his work.

You can see the familial resemblance between Bruce and his father, just as you can see every background detail of the city scenes, just as you can see a carefully choreographed and tightly-drawn fight sequence. It’s easy to forget just how strong Capullo is as an artist, or take it for granted – this issue offers him many, many chances to re-demonstrate his technical ability.

The issue has a longer page count that past issues have, which is a smart move – the more space you allow a writer like Snyder, the most he can pull off. He likes to build up to events, as though writing a slow-burn horror film, and that requires him to lay out the options for a character before taking them away one by one. I wasn’t particularly swayed by the attempt to create a thematic link between Bruce Wayne’s sense of childhood loss and his failure to stop this event – the idea of Batman as being full of an impotent, helpless rage doesn’t interest as much as the repressed, impotent weirdo.

But this does seem to be, thus far, Snyder’s best work on Batman so far. He’s created a vast city for this issue, filled it with a sense of location and distance, and dotted interesting characters at various venues around Gotham. You do get the sense of scale here, which was perhaps missing somewhat during the Night of Owls storyline.

Overall I rather enjoyed this issue. The story is going in a direction I can’t predict, which I enjoy a lot, and Plascencia’s bold, neon, Joel Schumacher-esque sense of colour creates something which is immediately striking and different. Above all else, I think that’s what’s worked so well about this storyline in particular: Batman stories tend to be dark and gritty and foreboding, and here the entire creative team have decided to branch away and go for a full-on, exciting action story.

And it’s working.

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