This article was originally published at DC Infinite on July 23, 2014.
Endings are a difficult thing. No matter what comes before them in a story, the ending is ultimately the conceit. It is the final chapter that must capture the key thematic elements while still remaining true to the characters and plot structured over dozens or hundreds of previous pages. An ending must be all things, while still telling a story with ease and grace. Add the tension of working on a character worth millions to a corporation and the difficulty increases further still.
Despite all of those challenges, Batman #33 is a perfect ending to “Zero Year”.
The issue begins amidst its climax. Batman #32 set up the elements of battle for all of the characters trapped in the Riddler’s version of Gotham City. Inbound fighter jets, underground explosives, nefarious deathtraps, and complex gizmos are already laid out so the opening sequence may begin with tension high. It only increases from there.
Greg Capullo does a wonderful job of walking Batman along a knife’s edge, where (quite literally) one wrong move will destroy Gotham City. He provides that same sense to the reader. The Riddler is in constant motion during this face off, tempting fate with his cane. Small motion lines and a clear sense of depth make the risk in each panel a clear and present danger. FCO Plascencia’s colors, specifically with the laser array, clarify Capullo’s line work and vivisect panels in a dazzling display of colors.
Batman is not the only person fighting for Gotham’s future in this though. “Zero Year” was never a story just about Batman. It was a story about Gotham City and the people that love it. Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s “Batman: Year One” focused on the duo of Batman and Gordon. “Zero Year” extends its reach to a quartet, adding Alfred and Lucius Fox as key characters.
Each of them has a task integral to the survival of Gotham City and keyed to their unique set of skills. After eleven issues each of these characters has progressed to a moment where they can become the icons of DC Comics that reader’s know them to be. Acting in concert and with great heroism, each of them achieves their goal. In doing so, they not only introduce important elements of the Batman mythos, ranging from trophies to more significant objects, but also stunning panels. Capullo’s work in rendering their individual victories will cause readers to gasp time and again. There is one moment in particular after a double-page splash of darkness that will bring forth tears.
The group effort that ultimately saves Gotham City highlights one of the most important themes of “Zero Year”, the value of community. Batman’s journey in this story has not been focused on defeating villains or traveling the world (although both have been featured plentifully), but in gaining friends, allies, and a new family. The key realization of the “Savage City” arc has been that Batman cannot stand alone, but must be part of Gotham City in order to save it. This finale writes that idea across its pages in large neon letters, impossible to miss.
From the very start of “Zero Year” there was no doubt that Gotham City and the protagonists of the comic would survive. The audience is aware this is a prologue to current continuity where all of these characters and places still exist. The tension never lay with the question of whether they would succeed, but rather how they would?
The payoff in that regard is nothing short of brilliant. Each person accomplishes feats of courage, wisdom, and fortitude. In their actions, they reflect what makes Batman and his allies such potent heroic ideals. The key does not lie in how cool they appear, nor in how they manage to always defeat impossible odds. It lies in their friendships, their willingness to sacrifice, and their love for one another and Gotham City.
To some it may seem to contradict what Batman is, but “Zero Year” is a story about inspiration, hope, and, most importantly, love.
Snyder, Capullo, and the rest of their team have crafted a tale that not only distills what makes the character of Batman so beloved, but one that makes him feel brave and new after 75 years. Stunning.