While Batman has had his origin revisited many times across his various multimedia adventures, the Batman epic “Zero Year” was one of the most extreme reinventions of his history in modern comics, with the crossover spreading outside of even Gotham City as a way to reintroduce the character during the New 52 era.
Where stories like Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One took a realistic, gritty approach to Batman’s early days, “Zero Year” created a neon epic that stands as the definitive Batman origin for the 21st century.
Batman: Zero Year was primarily focused on creating a new origin for Batman for the 21st century. The central storyline was contained in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, where it was divided into three sub-arcs. The “Zero Year” banner was used across multiple titles, and it allowed new versions of the DC superheroes to flesh out their earliest stories for the new DC continuity of the New 52 reboot era. However, this story and this incarnation of the character was still in-canon with some past elements of the character, such as the still-running Batman Inc.
While each of these stories helped flesh out the still fresh new DC Universe of this period, the issues aren’t crucial to the overall storyline. Instead, a number of the take place in Gotham during the events of the main story as side-stories about other major characters. This includes Red Hood and the Outlaws #25, Batgirl Vol. 4 #25, and Catwoman Vol. 4 #25, which all take place during the events of “Dark City.”. Other tie-ins like Batman Vol. 2 #23.2, a solo issue about Riddler, and Nightwing Vol. 3 #25 occur in the chaotic time between “Dark City” and “Savage City.”
The first plotline in Batman: Zero Year is “Secret City,” which runs from Batman #21-23. Six weeks after returning to Gotham City from his travels abroad, Bruce Wayne has already dedicated himself to fighting crime in Gotham City, although he doesn’t have his alternate identity as Batman yet. His primary foe early on is the various members of the Red Hood Gang, who are terrorizing Gotham and spreading their number around the city.
Meanwhile, Phillip Kane has successfully taken control of Wayne Enterprises, with the help of his personal strategist, Edward Ngyma. But when Bruce starts to disrupt Ngyma’s plans involving using Bruce for the betterment of the company, he arranges for an attempt on his life to be made by the Red Hood Gang. Crawling from the wreckage of his home in downtown, Bruce discovers a cave under Wayne Manor and takes on a costume inspired by the bats inside.
“Dark City” takes place from Batman Vol. 2 #24-29, and fully introduces this new version of Batman in action. Bruce faces off against the Red Hood Gang and their mysterious leader, who ends up going over the side and falling into a vat at ACE Chemical, setting up his transformation into the Joker. However, power is removed from the entirety of Gotham by the machinations of Ngyma, who is now going by the name the Riddler.
The Riddler challenges Gotham City to a test of knowledge and will only restore power if he’s defeated. Working with Jim Gordon, Batman is able to fight back against the monstrous Karl Helfern. However, this only leaves Gotham completely in control of the Riddler, who quickly unleashes a flood that kills numerous citizens, leaves the city without power, and puts Batman into a coma in Batman Vol. 2 #29.
Picking up months later, Bruce Wayne wakes up from a coma in Batman Vol. 2 #30 in the first part of “Savage City.” Having been watched over by Duke Thomas and his family, Bruce finds a Gotham that’s been overtaken by overgrowth, with Riddler holding nightly challenges for citizens, where he kills them if they fail. Batman ends up joining with others like Gordon and Lucius Fox, developing the means to fight back against Riddler.
Despite his the villain’s efforts to force Batman to kill him to earn a victory, Bruce is able to outthink and defeat the Riddler, while still saving his life and cementing himself as the ultimate protector of Gotham.
Batman’s new origin made some crucial tweaks to the character in the modern era. The series was reflected largely in Snyder’s continued run on the character, with elements like Joker’s eventual campaign against Batman being seeded during this storyline. The mysterious machine that clones Bruce Wayne and inserts a copy of his mind into the new body is quietly introduced in the background of the cave. This device would become crucial for the future of the character, eventually restoring Batman fully when Bruce Wayne ends up amnesiac after the events of “Endgame.”
Other characters who’ve been major focuses of the Batman series since then also made some of their earliest appearances in the story, For one, Duke Thomas, the young boy who helps save Bruce Wayne and would later go on to become the hero known as the Signal. The reinvention of the Riddler as a frequent and fierce cerebral threat would continue further into the New 52, with the character menacing Batman during the “War of Jokes and Riddles” storyline. Even when the events of “Rebirth” ended up seeming to move Batman: Year One back into canon, Batman: Zero Year is still considered as canon alongside the classic Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli story.
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The Batman storyline “Zero Year” offered a very different version of the Dark Knight's earliest days in Gotham City for the New 52 era.