Zero Year

Zero YearSummary: Six years ago, the legend of Batman emerged amid the greatest catastrophe Gotham had ever endured. A maniac calling himself The Riddler shut down all electric power mere days before a terrifying superstorm. But the Dark Knight isn’t the only hero to surface during this moment in time known only as the ZERO YEAR!

Journey back to the Zero Year to see the early tales of heroes and heroines such as Nightwing, Green Arrow, Batgirl, Superman, Birds of Prey, Catwoman and more!

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Zero Year, by various authors and artists 7.25

Honestly, I haven’t been paying attention to DC Comics since they rebooted all their comics to create what they dubbed “The New 52”, with completely revamped titles and characters. I’m so tired of the big two redoing everything, and I hate having to relearn all of my favourite characters over and over again.

Especially since they are sometimes redesigned substantially.

But ‘Zero Year’ seemed appealing to me, because it suggested the origins of many of DC’s “new and improved” superheroes and superheroines; it finds early incarnations of the characters set in or around a blacked-out Gotham, during a record-setting hurricane that has people fleeing their flooded homes.

‘Zero Year’ is not a graphic novel so much as a collection of various comic books that had tied into the “Zero Year” storyline. So, naturally, it’s written and drawn by completely different crews. And they don’t really tie into each other, aside for the setting; you rarely find the characters interacting.

Batman: This one produces a younger Bruce Wayne dealing with the Red Hood Gang. Here he’s just getting started, building his Batcave with Alfred, after having disappeared for many years, presumed dead. He discovers that his uncle is tied to the gang and figures out what their plan is, so he decides to make a public comeback to draw attention to them. This sets up an explosive confrontation with the Red Hood Gang. I like the new Batsuit, the art is quite good and it reads rather well. But I think there are details, like giving Bruce a scar on his lip, which inevitably would match Batman’s, which are short-sighted.

Superman: This young Superman, who is nothing like the humble Kansas-raised farmboy I know, is portrayed as a bit of a dick: he’s cocky, laughs at people’s weaknesses, has less concern for the general public and revels in his power. Interesting idea, but it’s not Superman. Maybe DC could create a similar character called Superdude or Powerman and explore those ideas with that character instead. Anyway, ultimately he tries to prevent two huge cargo ships from crashing into each other – one of which (coincidentally enough) is piloted by Lana Lang. The art is okay, if a bit disproportionate at times. *shrugs*

Batgirl: In which Barbara Gordon is asked to defend the homestead and protect her kid brother while her dad, Commissioner Gordon, is called in to work. After being forced to evacuate and huddling with dozens of other Gothamites trying to get to safety, she comes to the conclusion that the homestead is Gotham, not her house. I suppose this sets the stage for her future superheroine adventures. But it didn’t move me in any way. Plus which the pencils were so-so, weak on detail and with some of the action being completely impossible.

Batwing: In which we discover how Luke Fox trained in martial arts and how a close friend of his, Russ, who was bullied at school, became that which he loathed and his greatest nemesis. It reads well and the art is decent. But I’m not so sure about the villain, though, given his age and the flimsiness of some of his gear (ex: tubes that are easy to pull out). It just didn’t seem probable to me at all. I know, I know… they’re superhero comics, but I couldn’t help it.

Batwoman: This one was plagued by different art styles over the course of its few pages, and not all of them were appealing. But at least the story is somewhat compelling, finding Kate Sawyer moonlighting on the streets of Gotham and preventing a theft along the way. She is celebrated by the city, but her dad is less than pleased with her dangerous nighttime activities. Keeps her humble, I guess.

Black Canary: Dinah Drake has taken up ownership of her master’s dojo after his death of cancer, and has to deal with local thugs who don’t respect her authority like they did her predecessor. We are also treated to her origins, how her master gave her a place to live and trained her. She ends up defending a man being attacked by ninjas in an alley, which leads to a gig with a government agency. At its best, the artwork here is pretty good, and I found the layouts dynamic. But, again, it changes midway, and it’s not all good. But it reads really nicely.

Catwoman: In which Selina Kyle decides to help a senior being bullied by a man in a suit – by stealing his bag and, thus, distracting him. After which she uses the mountain climbing gear she finds in the bag to undo some criminals and confront a local tycoon who has closed down the local corner store for his own benefit – even though there already wasn’t enough food and supplies around for all the locals. The story is a bit uneven, but the ideas are good. And the art is superb.

Commissioner Gordon: I rather liked this one. It was a gritty tale showing then-Lieutenant Gordon confronting and defying his boss so that he can take down a  bunch of corrupt cops on the force, as he begins to discover that the rot has set in all around him. It felt more realistic than the others, with the exception of Gordon surviving a murder attempt – which is only explained at the end. I liked his inner monologue and the way the way the story turned out. Plus which the art was solid through and through.

The Flash: This one finds Barry Allen being transferred to Gotham City Police Department temporarily, to help out with the upcoming hurricane. He becomes focused on trying to find the source of a new drug, Icarus, which is killing a lot of homeless people. The Gotham police are unconcerned about the junkies, so he breaks off on his own with a journalist to figure out what’s happening. I loved how this one tackled the inner workings of the police force, what their priorities are, how they watch out for their own, …etc. The art is fairly pleasing if a bit minimalistic at times. Until it’s not – when another artist comes in.

Green Arrow: Returning to the world after having disappeared for years, Oliver Queen goes to Gotham to find his mother, who had decided to go there to help the needy; he’s worried about her safety, even though she has Queen Industry’s security with her. Naturally, a supervillain will pop up and, unexpectedly, so does Batman. I don’t know, I didn’t find the character of Oliver Queen compelling at all, and the art is merely serviceable. This left me indifferent. The best part was the villain (The Moth? Mothman?).

John Stewart: I had no idea who John Stewart was, having never been much of a Green Lantern comics reader. This takes place before he becomes a GL, and it finds him part of a marine contingent sent to Gotham to help rescue a few hundred homeless Gothamites huddled in a stadium. Unfortunately, when they arrive, they find thousands instead of hundreds, as well as a group of militants bent on fighting the power. The story’s saving grace is that there’s another tale of past civil unrest being told in tandem. That made things interesting. Otherwise, I found Stewart’s story contrived and unlikely at best.

Nightwing: This one finds Dick Grayson trapped in Gotham during the hurricane, having gone to town from the circus to see a movie. However, when the lights cut out, while the movie was playing, he’s trampled and rescued by a few teens. They then take him along as they try to find their way to a more secure location. Unfortunately for them, a mutant who escaped a nearby hospital during the blackout is lurking in the alley… This one was merely okay, nothing special.

Red Hood Gang: This one finds Jason Todd helping Talia al Ghul find the Red Hood Gang all the while fending off a bandaged precursor of The Joker. In the process, al Ghul also trains Todd a little bit, discovering that he’s far more talented than anyone might have imagined. It’s okay as a stand alone story, but its main feature is the bandaged creep – even though he’s nothing like The Joker. At least not yet. The art is serviceable.

Zero Year: Dark City: Although this is a full comic, it’s a sampler of a larger “Zero Year” storyline. It finds Batman and Lieutenant Gordon separately investigating a series of murders that involve Wayne Enterprise scientists who were given a serum that made their bones mutate and grow, killing them in horrific ways. I liked that this was more plot-driven than action-orientated; that’s what I envision Batman comics to be. So I liked this one; it left me intrigued. But there was one detail that really put me off: Batman drives a hotrod for a Batmobile – it looks out of place and its wheels are exposed to damage, looking flimsy. But, to make matters worse, somehow it transforms so that it can magnetically ride on the top of a tunnel. WTF? Absolutely ridiculous!

All told, I found this collection entertaining enough. But I wasn’t drawn in by most of the stories; these superheroes and heroines simply aren’t compelling in this form. And, frankly, I was never a huge DC fan, so it’s not fanboy criticism; I’m not attached to any of them other than Superman and, to some degree, Batman.

But you really have to care about the characters for a story to have any significance and, with only one issue each, there wasn’t enough substance for this to happen. So this collection may be worth it if you’re a fan of the characters, but you might as well skip it altogether if not. Otherwise, it’s easily forgotten.

From that perspective, “Zero Year” is a rather fitting title.

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