I think that, as a reader, I’ve come to be a little spoiled when it comes to Batman’s New 52 revival; Snyder and Capullo's series rises from strength to strength, providing us with revitalised and reinvented character dynamics throughout, consistently beautiful artwork and a Batman origin story arc that feels nothing like an origin story arc. The ‘Zero Year’ storyline has already been going on for months now, starting way back in June, and yet I feel like no time has passed. And I am happy to write that Batman #26 does absolutely nothing to betray this. Batman #26 jumps in time throughout the issue to three significant stages of Bruce's life: his childhood (interestingly before his parents are killed and not afterwards), his years spent training for his return to Gotham, and the present day of shaved-head-Bruce’s encounters with Doctor Death, a younger Jim Gordon, and his early days acting as Batman. I say present day, but this whole arc is set in the past, the present here is just referring to the more recent past. One might worry that these jumps would feel too abrupt, but the entire issue flows effortlessly.
The homages to Batman’s rich and long history are again prominent here, one of my favourites being the opening in which the young Bruce Wayne is arrested while playing truant at the cinema, the film he is watching being ‘The Mask of Zorro’. This refers to other versions of the Batman origin story, in which this is the film which is playing at the theatre the night Bruce’s parents are killed, as well as referring to Bob Kane who regularly cited Zorro as an enormous influence on Batman, and also the animated film ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ featuring Batman leave a “Z” mark on a defeated enemy much like Zorro himself. This, however, isn’t the greatest allusion to Batman’s history within the book, but I will mention that later.
We quickly learn a few things with this issue which change the field of play immediately. Firstly, Lucius was not maliciously attempting to harm Bruce in the previous issue’s climax, but he gave him a vaccine instead against Doctor Death’s serum, which is good as I don't relaly believe Lucius would make a great villian. Secondly, Doctor Death is nowhere near as grounded and human as he was in the golden age, but instead appears here as a fully-fledged monstrous being which reminds us of somewhere between the Joker when injected with Titan formula (see the 2009 videogame ‘Arkham Asylum’ for reference) and the Harry Potter series’ Lord Voldemort. And thirdly, my favourite aspect of the ‘Zero Year’ arc, we are reminded that Bruce is not yet brooding and grim, but is young and making wisecracks, which makes him feel like far more like Nightwing or Spider-Man than a man who dresses like a nocturnal rodent.
However, the scene of dialogue between a hospitalised Bruce and a not-yet-Commissioner James Gordon is easily the highlight of this issue, which is a testament to the consistent high quality this issue has. We learn in these moments why it is that Bruce has such a harsh distaste for Gordon, and we also see a glimpse the wrought-iron Batman we know and love who seems to supercede every one of his physical limits, here having had his skull broken. Oh, and we see Bruce point James’ gun on him in a way which beautifully echoes Joe Chill’s mugging Thomas and Martha Wayne. This is an incredible moment which alone gives reason to buy this issue.
I’m serious. Just start buying the Batman ‘Zero Year’ books. You’ll feel so much better for it.
Reviewed by Josh Clayton