Home > Comics, Storytelling, Weekend Feature > Failing to deliver: a look back at DC’s Zero Month

Failing to deliver: a look back at DC’s Zero Month

DC Comics Zero Month

One of my favourite elements to any superhero is the origin story, because every origin is necessarily a traumatic, often emotional event of self-discovery that serves to define our soon-to-be hero in an exaggerated yet familiar way. When DC Comics announced that September 2012 would be Zero Month, I was excited – and not just because I love pictures of people bursting through paper. DC was pausing its various storylines for one issue to step back and tell the reader where each character came from in the rebooted New 52 universe.

The New 52 reboot was itself meant to make comics more accessible. Everybody knows Bruce Wayne is Batman from movies and TV, but if you haven’t been reading over 50 years of Batman comics, you wouldn’t know that, before the reboot, Dick Grayson (the first Robin) was now Batman, and that three other boys have had the Robin name and the green tights to go with it since Dick’s graduation. DC Comics set things back to square one, and invited new readers to come into a world not burdened by crossovers and continuity changes and new timelines and alternate realities and magic and… there are probably more weird things I’m leaving out.

The reboot got me. I signed on for Batman, then I stretched out a bit and tried some of the other titles. You can easily snag a dozen comic books (one year’s worth of issues) and get caught up on a series. It was all so accessible. When Zero Month hit, I figured it would open up even more. I could pick up a #0 issue and read a character’s origin, and if I liked that character, I could drop into whatever story they were doing for #13 because I’d now know where that character was coming from.

I must’ve bought 20 issues. It was insane. There are 52 titles, by the way, so I did pretty well. I read the characters I knew like Batman, Superman, and the Robins (all four of them). I read the ones I didn’t know but wanted to, like Wonder Woman, Animal Man, and the Flash. And after reading all of them, I was sorely disappointed by how many stories were lead-ups and flashbacks to set up #13 issues, and how many more were old takes on old material.

Remember Batman Returns, when Michelle Pfeiffer got pushed out a window and a bunch of cats licked her back to health (or something)? That’s what Catwoman did in poor style, before teasing at the end that issue #13 would reveal “Selina Kyle’s TRUE origin!” I fully expect them to say she was raised by cats as a child, or that the cats who licked her back to health were genetically advanced super-cats. I’m going to keep my imagined origin story there, because this one was terrible.

Do you know who the Green Lantern is? You’d better, because Green Lantern #0 doesn’t give us the first GL’s origin. It takes a new guy and throws him into a galaxy at war, where everyone has a power ring of a different colour and every page looks like a Skittles wrapper. You’re safer watching Green Lantern: The Animated Series if you’re looking for a fun story.

Batman isn’t interesting because he’s a billionaire with a lot of gadgets. Spider-Man isn’t beloved because he’s acrobatic. Superman isn’t compelling because he’s invincible. We can connect to these characters because they’ve got something more to them, something hidden, a secret identity and a painful history that only we, as observers, share in. Bruce Wayne lost his parents. Not only did Peter Parker never know his parents, but he lost his Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacey because of his actions. Superman may be physically invulnerable, but he is an alien and an orphan, and the people he cares about are his vulnerable point.

Very few of these stories gave us a look at the hero’s vulnerable point. They were more prequels than origin stories. And that’s not to say that they were all bad. Batman #0 was a great heist story showing Bruce Wayne’s first interaction with the man who would be Joker. But that’s a prequel, not an origin.

Batwoman was my favourite of the month, perhaps for the very reason that she isn’t burdened by decades of origin stories and convoluted continuity. She’s pretty much a blank slate, and writer/artist J.H. Williams succinctly showed us what makes Kate Kane tick in this issue. We see her pain when she is kicked out of West Point for being gay. We see how lost she becomes, and how the idea of Batman lifts her up and gives her a new purpose. We see her train with her father. We see her become a superhero. And that’s what this was supposed to be about, wasn’t it?

Batwoman #0

This is an origin.

This one page is what Zero Month should have been about. It’s got everything you need to know about Batwoman. You can see the glamour of the masked vigilante from Kate’s perspective, and if you’ve seen a panel from Batwoman, you know just how beautiful this comic gets when Kate is wearing that costume. We’ve seen Martha Wayne’s pearls bounce in front of Bruce’s eyes countless times; this is Kate Kane’s moment of rebirth, and it’s the first time you’ll see it.

Read Batwoman #0 and you’ll know what the character is about. Animal Man offered another good origin on an obscure hero, while Flash decently set up the character for those who don’t know anything about him beyond the fact that he can run fast. Unfortunately, most of the other stories look as much into the future as they do into the past, and they can be confusing for the uninitiated.

We’ve had another month of comics since Zero Month and the storylines soldier on, many off the backs of Zero Month’s setups.

If you’re looking for a tight origin story for a character you’re interested in, you’re far from guaranteed that if you pick up one of these Zero Issues.

  1. October 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    “Batwoman was my favourite of the month”: Mine too. Maybe it’s the best DC comic I’ve been reading since the reboot started. Team 7 was a great # 0 issue as well. Also, start reading Animal Man from issue # 1: it’s a high quality series.

    • October 30, 2012 at 9:40 pm

      Yeah I’ve heard nothing but good things about Animal Man, I’ll have to check it out. Batwoman IS fantastic – I’ve grabbed everything Batwoman that I can get my hands on, and I love Williams’ art. It’s among the best DC comics in my book.

      • October 31, 2012 at 1:42 am

        Thank you for your reply! : )

  1. November 16, 2012 at 4:56 pm
  2. March 16, 2013 at 7:01 pm

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