Zero year: Secret city

Dodano: 25 June 2014

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The author of the review is PhD Paweł Ciołkiewicz – a sociologist involved in the discourse analysis and sociology of media. He is currently conducting research on popular culture.

The New 52 – Batman’s new beginning in the Secret City

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 “Zero Year” is a story concerning the birth of Batman which is supposed to be a counterpart of “Year One” by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli for “The New 52”. Scott Snyder (script) Greg Capullo and Danny Miki (pencil, ink) and FCO Plascencia (colours) present a breathtaking twelve episode story about how young Bruce Wayne looks for an effective way to fight crime destroying Gotham and about the process of constructing Batman’s identity. It is the latter aspect that is one of the strongest points of the story. The story which according to Snyder’s words published in “Batman: Zero Year: Directors Cut” #1 is to a kind of “Anti-Year One”. It is not, of course, the case of disrespect for the Miller’s work – in virtually every interview Snyder emphasizes that this is an excellent story that nothing else can compete with – but aiming to create something completely different. It is about the creation of the new beginning in terms of the new DC Universe being shaped. The writer imagines the “Zero Year” as a modern, dynamic and rapid story about punk-rock Batman which is also to be full of deeper meanings and symbols.

Twelve episodes (#21-27; #29-33) is a lot and, of course, it is far too early to assess to what extent Snyder’s team managed to realize their designs but we can attempt to comment on what we have seen so far. First of all, “Zero Year” comprises of three parts: “Secret City” (#21-23), “Dark City” (#24-27, 29) and finally “Savage City” (#30-33). After reading the first issues it can be said that the story is surely going to gain in value in collected edition, in which it will be possible to familiarise oneself immediately with multi-layered entirety. Reading the comic from month to month, there is no way to follow all the threads of the whole story. It’s a great read and the ending of each comic book makes waiting for the next one a real torment, yet this kind of reading necessarily involves concentration on action rather than on working out hidden meanings or complex symbolism. It is not until the second or even the third reading of larger portions that the reader is set to appreciate fragments of various threads appearing in the comic book, which gradually starts to become a spectacular, multifaceted entirety. Bearing in mind that the story is not over, let’s look at what we got so far and consider the major events that led to the birth of Batman.

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In the “Secret City” Snyder presents events in two time lines. Firstly, we can see young Wayne putting on different masks, trying to face the Red Hood’s gang – a group which represents a new type of delinquency threatening Gotham. He leads the guerrilla fight while keeping his true identity hidden – Bruce Wayne is officially presumed dead. Secondly, thanks to flashbacks, we learn about the childhood of the future Batman. Being a kid, Bruce likes to hang around the city where it is easy to hide his true identity. During a conversation with his father which took place after one of his wanders, Bruce admits that he loves Gotham and explains why („That’s why I love Gotham, dad. Because it’s a place where you can be anyone. Where I can be … not Bruce Wayne. I mean, nobody knows who I am there. Not like school. The city lets me be anyone I want”). And that slightly chaotic, youthful and furious struggle carried on while wearing diverse masks, as well as, Bruce Wayne’s childish rambles in Gotham, set the frameworks of the story about the secret city.

Therefore, the first theme of the story is the issue of concealing the true identity. “Secret City” presents the story of a young, rebellious, angry, impulsive and somewhat short-tempered man who does not know how to act. He has the energy and the will to do something good for the city, but he does not see any motif of this activity. He also does not know how to give meaning to this struggle for better future. He is only sure that in order to realize his mission effectively he must hide his true face. Bruce Wayne both as a child and adult man keeps his identity unknown. In the first case in order to observe the true face of the city, and in the second – to fight for it.

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The second theme appearing in the “Secret City” is related to responsibility. Bruce Wayne suffers from severe trauma caused by the death of his parents and it is that experience which determines his further choices. It’s worth noting that in Secret City Snyder talks about the death of his parents only indirectly, allusively – Alfred mentions it; Red Hood also evokes memories concerning these deaths but we can’t see here the iconic scene which appears in almost every story about Batman’s beginnings. In any case, in the interviews Synder himself emphasises that, he wanted to differentiate between “Secret City” and other stories about the birth of the Dark Knight in this aspect as well. He introduces, in a new way, his own version of events causing the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne only in “Dark City”. Striving for improvement of the situation in Gotham becomes a justification for Wayne’s fight– he doesn’t want anyone else to go through everything he had to deal with as a child. In brief, the fight he is involved in is an embodiment of the youthful way of understanding responsibility for the fate of the city and its inhabitants. This idea, however, collides with two others, let’s call them more mature, points of view: the first one presented by Alfred Pennyworth, whereas the second  by uncle Philip Kane.

Alfred does not support Wayne’s guerrilla operations and even accuses him of cowardice. He believes that Bruce damages Waynes’ reputation and wastes their inheritance. During one of the most dramatic conversations with Bruce, Alfred accuses him of allowing Wayne Enterprises, which is run by Bruce’s uncle Philip Kane, to provide the Red Hood Gang with weapons. At the end, he states that his parents would be ashamed of what Bruce does. The talk ends with a spectacular scene in which Alfred slaps Bruce’s face after being accused of cowardice himself. At this moment, young Wayne’s characteristic features appear – he is a rebellious, angry, impulsive and unpredictable young man who has no intention of listening to the elderly, nagging men.

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On the other hand, we observe a confrontation between Bruce and already mentioned uncle Philip who tries to persuade Bruce to his own understanding of responsibility. Philip Kane coaxes Bruce to engage in Wayne Enterprises activity. Kane, who took up running Martha and Thomas’ business after their death, wants their son to become the face of this business. For him, it would be the symbol that Gotham needs. Kane, during a conversation in front of the Wayne Enterprises new building, mentions Bruce’s sense of responsibility and suggests that he should take up this challenge. He also tells his own story of how he had had to give up his passion (he wanted to be a geologist) in order to take over duties of his father when he’d found out about his terminal illness. “(…) Some of us have a responsibility. We give things up, to do what supposed to be done”. It’s also worth mentioning that such analogies between Bruce and his uncle are abundant in the whole story.

Therefore, both Alfred and Philip Kane try to influence Bruce and force him to behave in a specific way. They refer to his sense of responsibility and evoke the memory of his parents. In both situations, however, conditions of this insistence differ significantly. Alfred is motivated by genuine commitment and involvement, while it is difficult to believe in Kane’s good intentions, since his main drive is to enhance the image of the company hated by the citizens of Gotham. What is more, they both choose different strategies; after an argument, Alfred walks away leaving Bruce alone with his guerrilla fight, whereas Kane decides on a more radical action and makes public the fact of the return of young Wayne to Gotham. Interestingly, he compares his move to his father’s, who dragged him out of the cave where Kane carried out research as a geology student, forcing him to abandon his dreams: “This is me, coming to your cave and dragging you out”.

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When the information about Bruce Wayne being alive and saying in Gotham comes out, it turns out that there are people in the city who aren’t particularly happy with his return (we will get to know them over time – each of them has their own reason to take revenge on the heir of Wayne family’s fortune). The first one to appear is Red Hood who at the request of Edward Nygma, Philip Kane’s strategic advisor, tries to kill Bruce. Paradoxically, this unsuccessful assassination attempt is when Batman comes into being. This is the central point of this episode, and perhaps even the central point of the whole story. When Red Hood is sure that Bruce will be dead in a moment, he reveals sincerely that the inspiration for the criminal activity of the gang was the death of Wayne’s parents. As it turns out, the event changed not only the life of future Batman, but also had an inspiring influence on potential villains. One could say that in this way Red Hood puts his oar in the issue of responsibility.

Afterthe escape from the burning flat by the skin of his teeth (it was hardly possible to survive such attractions prepared by the members of the Red Hood Gang), Bruce manages to get to the Wayne’s estate. After being treated by Alfred, he enters the living room where he can see the bust of his father. Here, the key scene takes place, which is frequently referred to in Batman mythology, when a flash appears. The scene is familiar but the way Snyder presents it and Capullo draws it is unique. On the one hand, there is a reference to “Year One” , yet on the other hand, the authors contemporise it and add a wide range of new elements.

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In the first place, Snyder connects this scene directly with another crucial moment in Bruce’s life – the moment when, as a child, he fell into a dark cave full of bats. Thanks to an advanced video camera able to record and play 3D images of interiors, a three-dimensional picture of the cave is displayed in the living room in the Wayne’s mansion (at the moment of the accident Bruce had this camera, given as a gift by his father, and which recorded the interior of the cave). The living room changes into a cave filled with bats and Wayne again experiences the fear he felt before. Although bats that build the atmosphere of terror are holograms, when the video camera falls from the table and breaks, it turns out that one of the bats is real. And the same bat stares at young Wayne, sitting on the bust of his father. At this point, the famous words are uttered: “Yes Father. I shall become a bat” which alter the reality as if they were a magic spell.

In his interviews, Scott Snyder underlines that it was not his intention to show how Wayne looks for a symbol which will be a terror to criminals (as for example in “Year One”). Instead, he wanted to describe searching for an appropriate form of fight for the Wayne’s good name. Bruised Bruce is worried that by his previous actions he wasted everything what his parents had gained and he desperately looks for a way to fix this situation. The theme of responsibility is here rather clear. The monologue delivered in the living room echoes an earlier conversation with Alfred. Primarily, taking responsibility and giving a sense to the life is of main importance.

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The first episode of “Zero Year” ends in a turning point for Bruce Wayne. A twenty-year-old severely beaten by Red Hood Gang and a scared child in the cave full of bats are two central figures in the story. Bats, which scared him stiff years ago, this time carry an important message. Adult Bruce is afraid of something else than as a kid. Namely, he is anxious that because of the lack of prudence he irretrievably lost his parents’ legacy; that he let all the dreams they wanted to fulfill to be shattered now and their death has become an inspiration for criminals such as Red Hood. The hologram displayed in the living room is thus a kind of message from the afterlife – the message from his father, who once again, like years ago, drags Bruce out of the cave. It offers him a sense of security and gives meaning to his life. The bat in this version of the beginning of Batman is not only a symbol that would evoke fear in villains, but also a symbol that gives meaning to the activities Batman’s activities and brings Wayne hope that maybe somehow he will manage to commemorate his parents appropriately. The scene in the living room is a kind of rite of passage, in which Bruce reaches adulthood and becomes valuable for his community (for the citizens of Gotham). From this point of view, the final of “Secret City” should be considered optimistic. Our hero, although he was beaten but not defeated, was able to pick himself up and give meaning to his struggle. He became a bat and regained hope to honour the memory of his parents. The real fight, however, has just begun.

Proofreader: Klementyna Dec

Translated by Monika Cach

„Batman” Vol. 4: „Zero Year – Secret City” HC

Writers: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV

Pencillers: Greg Capullo, Rafael Albuquerque

Inkers: Danny Miki, Rafael Albuquerque

Letterers: Nick J. Napolitano, Taylor Esposito

Colorosts: FCO Plascencia, Dave McCaig

Publisher: DC Comics (New 52)

Collects: „Batman” (Vol. 2) #21-24, „Batman Zero Year”: „Director’s Cut” #1

Date of release: 13.05.2014

Pages: 176

Cover: HC

Paper: Art paper, color

Prize: US $24.99

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